In Part 1 of this strategic planning series we examined the creation of a purpose statement as well a way in which to give your pitch using Pixar’s storytelling framework. In Part II we will consider what you have to offer as a business. As mentioned in Part I, the focus of your product or service should resonate with your client’s desires. Years ago, when I was first training in the disciplines of Six Sigma, we learned about the importance of the voice of the customer. Carlson and Wilmot point out in their book Innovation: The Five Disciplines for Creating What Customers Want a need to create a quantifiable measure of what a customer values; however, sometimes benefits and costs are not always quantifiable, especially for products that are status oriented (like the latest iPhone) or when there are costs to moving business over to something new. Though challenging, what they do make clear is that you must create a value proposition for prospective customers.
Understanding Your Customer Profile
A value proposition is an explanation of the benefits your customers can expect from your product(s) or service(s). Because your value proposition should consider the voice of your customer, you should consider what your ideal customer’s profile is. The word profiling has become a bit unpopular as of late so I will use the more classic business terminology, marketing. As you explore who your ideal customer is that you want to market to, consider what they might like to do, their job, and what problems they may have? What are they looking to achieve personally, socially, individually and or as part of a team? What kind of power do they have and what kind of a customer will they be for you? Will they be a buyer of your product(s) or service(s), will they be a potential collaborator, or are they a customer near the end of their relationship with you forcing you to seek ways to rekindle the relationship? Where do they come from? How do they reach you or keep in touch? What are their regular routines and how do you reach them best?
Another element of the value proposition to consider is the pain or problem your customer(s) may have. Are they currently facing any challenges in trying to get something done, do you have a better solution for them that will give them better results than they are experiencing currently or are you able to mitigate some of their risk to make things less worrisome? By addressing some of your customer’s concerns, how do they stand to benefit? One of the things I often say is that we all lookout for ourselves first, then find ways to help and work with others once our own needs are served. Your customers are no different. If you are going to listen to the voice of your customer, what you will hear is that they need to understand how what you provide will result in some sort of gain for them. What you need to do is provide the best argument for why the gain they will achieve is a need to have rather than a nice to have. Nice to haves are not nearly as revenue generating as need to haves.
Gaining Customer Insights
To best understand your customer, you must understand who they are as well as do a pulse check on any assumptions you may have about them. There are several approaches you can use to gain customer insights and improve your understanding of their voice. Here are some approaches to consider.
- Create a Survey: You could create a survey to distribute among current or potential customers. While surveys can give you some good information, you also have to be careful how they are used and how questions are developed. Surveying is a science and throughout the development process you must ensure what you are asking is not going to present any bias or create false impressions. For example, a question I often see is "How satisfied are you with our service"? There is usually a Likert scale from 1 to 5 or 1 to 10. My issue with this questions is it does not ask anything about the attributes of customer service such as, did you receive what you expected? Was the person you engaged courteous? Were you thanked for your business? Questions like these gather insights into the customer experience. They draw out ratings on specific performance attributes you may expect in every transaction. It also helps you weigh were your strengths and weaknesses are. If your averages scores are lower than you expect for any particular area of service, you can specifically address that thing rather than just communicate that things need to be better. Remember, surveys are an analytical tool and a poorly designed survey can introduce what are known as Type I or Type II errors making your assumptions about the results invalid. When in doubt, seek a professional to help you design your survey.
- Data Mining: Dig into sources of data that will give you insight into your customer’s behaviors. For example, social media is a great place to data mine. You can join affinity groups filled with people who're most likely to use your product. You can follow what your customers are doing in social media on places like Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn. You can visit your competition are trade shows to see how they are presenting their goods or shop stores where their products are carried to see how they are executing in market. There are also a lot of free tools online to help such as SizeUp, which is a fantastic online tool that allows you to see how you compare in the market to your competition, where your customers may be in your local area as well as where you should be advertising. Over the years I have found that there are a ton of tools depending upon your industry where you can gain insights for free, you just have to be focused on finding them.
- Observations: One of my favorite books is Paco Underholl's Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. This book is great because it shares insights on the behaviors of shoppers and what makes them purchase. What I love too is that the data is very qualitative and comes from a lot of field research via hours of video watching how people shop. Sometimes just stepping back and watching how people engage and interact with something can fill you with a ton of information about what works and what doesn't. I have often used observation to collect data for creating pricing estimates or workload planning by going through the motions of an installation for a marketing program in-outlet to see what works and what didn't. How much time was spent on location and did we properly plan for all of the in-store variables that may exist.
- Collaborate: Lastly, one of my favorite things to do is collaborate. Whether it is within your team, across several layers and silos within your organization, or working directly with the customers who love your products the most, collaborating with them can be a beneficial advantage to ensuring your product(s) or service(s) remain in focus. Keep the channels open with your customers, encourage them to give your regular feedback, post pictures on your social media accounts, reach out to them on occasion or for your top customers perform stewardship reviews where you talk about the work they have given you, the value you have brought them, and collaborate on plans to help one another grow.
From all the insights you gather the question may be, how do you get them to work within your strategic plan. An approach I like is to pull your insights together and write them down as statements on note cards or post it notes. Yes it's cumbersome and will take some time but it's worth it. Once you have them all written down, group them into three piles. One for positives, one for negatives and one for neutral. After putting all your comments into relative piles, take each pile and group the statements into themes then rank those themes from high to low. Which comments do you believe represent the grouping the best. For example, if you are getting a lot of good feedback on your service or an employee, that would be a high positive. If you are getting a lot of negative feedback on a process, that would be a high negative. Then, consider how you might put a plan together to further reinforce the good, improve something to make it better, or address issues with a focused improvement plan. Sure this is a very low-tech approach but it works well and is a good team exercise that gives great information on ways to address your customer’s pain points?
Aligning Your Abilities to Your Customer’s Needs?
As you complete this exercise, consider what makes you unique to others possibly doing the same type of work you do. What do you bring to addressing your customers concerns that is more value added. It is important to not put your own bias or spin on things to best favor you. It is also important to not grasp for cliché comparatives like, “We can do it better because we are more nimble than they are”. Lastly, you also want to be sure you are not forcing a solution or stretching beyond your core strengths as it won’t take long for your customer to notice you may not be as strong as you positioned yourself to be.
Testing Your Value
If you’ve gone through this exercise to determine who your customers are and what your value is to them, congratulations! You are now more theoretically aligned and are probably feeling good about your progress. However, up to this point all the work you have done is untested. Once you have gone through your strategic planning process or if appropriate while you are still working on it, you will need to engage your customer to determine whether you are on or off track with your assumptions. While it would be great if all goes as planned, let’s just assume this is not the case. As you pitch various customers and get their feedback, the worst thing you could do is disregard their feedback and find ways to downplay what they have to say. Rather the best approach would be to take it in what they are saying and weigh it against the assumptions you made. If your insight is different than assumed, go back through the process of aligning your abilities and make updates to become better aligned. Proper alignment with your customer needs will greatly improve your ability to win them over or win them as a customer doing business with you.
Ben Olmos is an expert in sales and marketing operations with more than 20 years of experience working with global brands in the consumer packaged goods industry. Ben also has over 10 years of experience as faculty and academic leadership in higher education having taught more than 40 courses in Business Administration. As founder of Satisfactionist Consulting, Ben is focused on helping organizations improve their trust, communications, processes, and routines for better efficiency, revenues, and profitability. Ben is also host of The Satisfactionist Podcast, a podcast available on iTunes, GooglePlay, and Stitcher Radio that focuses on telling the stories of regular people doing amazing work. For more insights like these and to get notified when new episodes of The Satisfactionist Podcast are available, visit and like us Satisfactionist on Facebook. For more behind the scenes insights on the things that keep us busy, subscribe to Satisfactionsit Insights and be the first to hear about the work we are doing and get behind the scenes insights from friends of Satisfactionist.