Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

We can believe that we know where the world should go. But unless we’re in touch with our customers, our model of the world can diverge from reality. There’s no substitute for innovation, of course, but innovation is no substitute for being in touch, either.
—Steve Ballmer

Unless we’re in touch with our customers, our model of the world can diverge from reality.

That’s powerful food for thought. You’re a busy entrepreneur or small business owner. You wade knee-deep in the details of What’s Got To Be Done every day. On occasion, you try to come up for air and Think Big Picture, because you know it will help your business grow. But all the wading, and even the thinking, is from one perspective—your own.

(And if your company’s grown enough, your staff’s perspective is probably in the mix as well.)

We’re rebounding now and there’s a little money in the bank. (Phew!!) Should we (knee-deep): Paint the showroom? Fix the bathroom tiles? Resurface the cracked parking lot? Hire more staff?

Should we (big-picture): Buy a new piece of equipment? Redesign our website? Launch a new product line? Offer extra services? Expand to a third location? Do we know more about making/ selling X product, or Y? How would we pitch the new services? What’s the profit margin?

All nice questions, except one thing.

They’re all wrong.

There’s one question you need to begin with, as you’re making decisions about knee-deep issues and big-picture direction for your company:

What are the biggest problems my customers are having, and how can we become their top-of-the-mind solution?

I know, you’re used to answering that by making “educated guesses” because after so many years, you “just know the customer. We don’t need to ask them.” I’ve heard that said many times. But educated guesses are where your model of the world has divulged from reality. You’re going to have to do this the uncomfortable way: you can only get the answer to the question, by putting the question to the customer.

You’ll phrase it more subtly, so you don’t come off as an overly slick salesperson. You’ll ask it in different ways to different customers, and look for the common ground between the answers you get. You’ll be sure to ask the question of as many different customers as you can, just as often as you can, so you have a good number of responses to look at.

True, as Mr. Ballmer says, there is no substitute for innovation. (Nor for fixed bathroom tiles! Eeew! Get right on that!)

But much, much more importantly—To grow your business, there is no substitute for knowing the customer—not your assumptions about the customer, but the real, live customer who gives you money in exchange for the amazing value you provide him or her—inside and out.


Grow and keep it real,

Kelly Erickson


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