Before you ask what your customers want, define what you want

When I was given initiatives as an operations manager in a product group, I often failed to ask my internal stakeholders what they wanted. In 2005, I organized a winter party for a group of 200 people with a committee of 10 volunteers. If I had just asked what the team wanted, it would have taken more time that we had available to get started.

Two words: stress, inefficient

Rather than just starting with a ‘blank page’, I needed to narrow the choices to help focus the discussion. I did my homework. I searched online, talked to vendors and got feedback from past event volunteers. Past chairs taught me the do’s and don’ts of event planning.  They also informed me of the themes we tried in the past. I internalized the information, defined the objectives and the flow of the event.

I gave my “customers” something to react to

When it came time to meet, I presented five themes and concepts for the winter party.  I presented this and allowed the committee to be critics.  I made it clear that these were suggestions and I welcomed changes and modifications, but it gave the team a trigger to spur ideas.

Here is the key trick: You need to keep everyone focused, not let them divert you in different directions.

You need to know when to give them room and when to stay firm to drive consensus to a final decision. To do that, you need to have a clear objective that you define upfront. Your objective serves as the guiding light on when to say yes or no.

This framework and approach applies to both product development and marketing.

As marketers, we tend to focus on what our customers want. That’s one approach. We understand our customers’ pain points and challenges, and then we define our products, even our messaging and content creation. I’ve discovered we can also start with the question “What do we want?”

We define what we want first, and then we create something for our customers to react to.

If you’re assigned to write a value proposition, you can do research with your product team; then draft three value proposition options and have your customers provide feedback.

If you manage content creation, you may have three to five ideas about the types of content you envision. These ideas are based on your understanding of your company’s products, services and desired outcomes.

Create these ideas first.

If your content is in a digital format, you are likely able to edit and modify it later. Bring your ideas to life as a catalyst so that others can chime in to refine or shape the outcomes.

Once you have something they can react to, it’s time to incorporate what your customers want.

Asking customers what they want comes after you know what YOU want. Now is a great time to further listen to and understand your customers. We can’t simply ask general questions, such as, “What do you want?” We need to be specific, such as, “What are your challenges?” “What do you want to solve?” or “What specific features would you add to our existing products?”

It’s all about asking the right questions to get additional insights from your customers and, sometimes, you may need to ask the same questions in different ways.

Now prioritize what they want.

When you open the floodgates and ask your customers about their needs, you’ll likely get a lot of feedback and comments. Depending on your role, you may need to prioritize your customers’ requests.

If you can make changes per their feedback, let them know. If you can’t make changes per their feedback, let them know, too!

Xero, the SaaS accounting software for small businesses, allows you to add and rank the features in their community to help product developers make future feature additions.

What they want becomes what you want.

In an ideal world, what your customers want is also what you want; however, that’s almost impossible to achieve, since what you want is to sell as many products as possible, while your customers want to pay as little as possible. To reach common ground, start with what your products can do for your customers — how do you solve their problems and make their jobs easier and their days more productive?

Make an effort to increase the overlap of what they want and what you want.

No matter how many responsibilities you have and initiatives you are part of, it’s all about coming up with a few solutions or recommendations first. Have something to share. Explain your ideas and let others provide feedback to help you shape them.

I was able to carry the same approach from my role of operations manager, to marketing manager, to my current role of independent consultant.

I internalize and create ideas and recommendations based on what I think my clients want, and then I present them to my clients so they can add additional feedback to create what they actually want. There is a lot of give and take.

There are times you need to “ignore” your customers; there are times you need to “seek” your customers’ input. The holy grail is knowing when to do what.

Developing that gut feel usually comes with experience. Human instinct is such an interesting and powerful sixth sense. When you do your job long enough, you’ll know when to ignore and when to engage your customers.

What can Pam Didner do for you?

Being in the corporate world for 20+ years and having held various positions from accounting and supply chain management, and marketing to sales enablement, she knows how corporations work. She can make you and your team a rock star by identifying areas to shine and do better. She does that through private coaching, keynote speaking, workshop training, and hands-on consulting. Contact her or find her on LinkedIn and Twitter. A quick note: Check out her new 90-Day Revenue Reboot, if you are struggling with marketing.