All businesses know they need to deliver what the customer wants and needs most. Nearly all sales people love to tout how “customer focused” and “customer centric” they are in meeting the needs of their market place. But do they have a solid value proposition based on relevant competitive advantages?
I have asked nearly 5,000 CEOs and senior executives “have you ever invested in solid customer research in a disciplined manner?” Disciplined means invested in an outside firm, not just sales people poking around with questions. Not just a customer satisfaction survey which only serves as a report card. Disciplined means ideally double-blind research to remove customer bias. It also means executed on a regular basis to reveal trends.
Astoundingly, less than 5% of Small and Mid-Size Businesses even know what double blind research is and what it can do for their bottom line. Our very large company clients often have full research departments who invest in good research, but admit the findings rarely find their way to the folks who can use those findings to gain more business at better margins.
My reply is always the same, “how can you be customer focused when you are only guessing at what they value?” This question is met with lots of shrugs and groans. Sometimes the push back is an adamant, “we know what our customers want!” Yet when compared to actual customer values, 95% of companies have it wrong. Our research for the last 15 years has proven this over and over.
Double blind research results also ensure that the organization has everyone on the same page. Very few companies deliver a consistent message: Diverse messages are delivered by different salespeople; the website message doesn’t match the sales message; the brochure says something different. How can the marketplace know what you are about if you have no internal agreement?
It is a veritable battlefield out there, with companies allowing themselves to be painted into commodity corner. “Price, price price” is often the tie breaker. It need not be. Competitive advantages don’t fall out of the sky. Sales people need to be armed with meaningful, relevant and quantifiable advantages, supported by operational excellence in valued areas, that build confidence in the customer’s buying decision. Don’t let this discipline be lost in your company. This research should be a line item in your budget; the ROI can be exponential. The corresponding operational metrics provide a competitive advantage.
“…a company should concentrate solely upon their competitive advantage and nothing else…investments in competitive advantage are frequently the wisest investment a company can make.” Jay Conrad Levinson Guerilla Marketing Excellence