Opinions expressed by Contractor the contributors are theirs.
Is it possible to be so focused on your business that you lose sight of the people you’re trying to appeal to: your customers?
I believe this happens more often than you think.
As an entrepreneur, there have been times when I’ve found myself focusing a little too much on the needs of my business rather than what my clients want. I have come to recognize that this is a common challenge for leaders who are focused on growing their business.
Unlike some of my peers, I don’t advocate “trying to build the plane while flying it”. I prefer to plan, which is why I have cultivated reliable ways to make sure I stay tuned to the needs of my clients while strategically thinking about what they will need in the future.
Know your industry – and lead it
It might seem obvious, but sometimes it’s good to take stock and ask how well we really know our industries. If we become complacent about our markets, we risk losing our relevance. Knowing your industry with sufficient depth requires being diligent in browsing major industry trade publications, investor reports, and financial news.
Participate in industry groups that your customers love every week, if not every day. These forums are a great source of information on what’s keeping your customers from sleeping at night. They also provide opportunities to engage with people who know deeper levels of customer understanding than you might have accessed yourself.
As part of this effort, seek to establish and expand a network of partners with the same customer base but complementary products and services. Look for opportunities to collaborate, innovate, innovate and co-create value together.
Knowing and leading your industry also means keeping a close eye on the movements of your competition to make sure you don’t fall behind.
Related: 5 steps to become a market leader
Listen to your team
Never underestimate the importance of involving your team. At least once a year, I sit down with a cross-functional internal group of my colleagues and invite them to share their thoughts and views on the circumstances that they believe might trigger changes in our clients’ needs. What would be the impact of these changes on our business? How can we prepare for the most likely scenarios?
I also seek to anchor a culture of continuous evolution to ensure that we can change and pivot quickly without introducing undue disruption or internal resistance. It’s a skill my team and I have had to work on over the past couple of years. During the pandemic, we had to completely revise our sales approach, as our sales force could not make in-person visits. But because we anticipated this need, we were ready with new solutions and innovations to help clients operationalize the changes they needed to make within their organizations.
Related: How entrepreneurs can establish a successful customer-centric strategy
Invite Customer Feedback
My third and perhaps most important tip for building and maintaining good relationships with clients is to “give them a seat at your table.” Invite their feedback on your industry and business at least once a year. Ask them what they like about your products and services and where you could improve. What else would they consider buying from you if you offered it to them?
My team and I always want to ask our customers if they would recommend us and why – or why not. While they offer constructive criticism and feedback, we listen carefully to what they share without taking it personally. Not only has this approach helped us refine our product and service offerings, it has also helped us avoid trying to differentiate ourselves in areas that do not provide value to our customers.
I believe you also need to be open to being creative about the way you collect customer feedback. If you find a channel or feedback mechanism that works, that’s fine, but don’t be afraid to change it or correct the course if it no longer serves you well. At our business, we are currently in the process of streamlining the way our clients engage with our team based on this mantra of honest and direct feedback. Initially, we had structured our team in such a way that we thought was an innovative way to give our clients direct access to our subject matter experts and our team leaders with the idea that they would like open access. and transparency around “who does what”.
However, it has turned out that so many of our clients are pressed for time and juggle multiple projects and deadlines that they prefer to have a single point of contact and not need to know where to direct their inquiries.
Related: 5 tips for entrepreneurs to better serve their potential clients
Revisit and test your connections
Of course, there will be times when, despite your best efforts, you realize that you have missed or misinterpreted the needs of your customers. It can be quite frustrating, especially when you’ve invested the time and effort to collect solid information and data.
Sometimes, even if you think you’re asking all the right questions of your customers, you won’t be able to create immediate behavior changes or trigger actions. Sometimes the self-reported responses can be ideals rather than realities. Well, people often say one thing and do another.
I find that small sprints focused on testing and learning often yield better results than major pivots and reveal. Details always matter, but you won’t know what’s hiding beneath the surface until you dive in.
Setting up and running a business can be an exciting and time-consuming endeavor. But staying too focused internally on defining your growth plans can cause you to miss critical opportunities to serve your customers. It is therefore essential that you pause often to ask yourself how confident you are in your connection with the needs of your customers, and how meaningful and strong that connection is.
You won’t find all the answers in one place. You probably won’t only find them with your customers. Ultimately, a complete view of your customers comes from consistent, proactive engagement with your industry and peers, and constant learning from those who probably know your customer best – your team.