Customer-driven innovation to scale-up your business

To scale-up your business you have to be focused on what the customer wants and needs. We often get tangled with our personal dreams, and forget the most important people, our customers.

Being the Best is a dangerous myth, and one of the great furphies of small business marketing.

Positioning as the Best in your category, falsely assuming that customers are totally rational. That they’ll choose to spend their hard-earned on that perceived value.

But for small business, being the Best is not good enough!

You have to be better than Best. You have to be different and innovative. The ONLY.

We’ve all seen the advertising that screams …

We have the Best Service – Deals – Value – Prices – Delivery – “come on down, we won’t be beaten!”

But the problem is … Best actually shouts to customers there are others playing in your sandpit. Offering something similar, and worth checking out, because on the day they might get it cheaper, or faster etc. 

So the potential harm to your business is undermining your value. You’re no longer The Best but a disposable commodity, with your destiny well & truly out of your control.

It’s what I call COMPETITOR FOCUS – everything you do is actually driven by your competitors. What they say and do, makes you react. It’s a game of FOMO you’re playing with them, in ever-diminishing circles.

But it’s not just about making products or services that are different.

In Jack Trout & Steve Rivkin’s classic book “Differentiate Or Die” they say … “In order to reinvent the idea of a unique selling proposition (or USP) and differentiate their products from competitors’, companies must move away from differentiation based solely on product, and engage consumers in ways that truly reach them.”

There’s much timeless value in that statement. If your innovation exists just because you like the idea, or that’s what competitors are doing - so you better offer your improved version, then you’re just chasing being Best.

Ultimately, it’s about what will really motivate customers to do business with you.

I’m Customer Focused … I think! 

Customer Focus

It would be very uncool to say you're not customer-focused in your business.

But are you really?

As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said at the Economic Club of Washington in 2018 ... “I talk so often to other CEOs and founders and entrepreneurs, and I can tell even though they’re talking about customers, they’re really focused on competitors”

And I've been in many of those client meetings!

It's so easy to get caught up with what competitors are doing and reacting with short-term fixes.

I’ve asked the same question as Jeff Bezos, and I always get the same answer.  “Customers are always number one for us.”

But there are very few, truly customer-focused businesses. You’ll know them, they’re the ones that stand out and grow at an exponential rate.

Amazon is one. The tech space has created the most visible examples including Airbnb, Uber, Zappos and Slack to name just a few.

But it’s not confined to tech. Think the big trend in destination stores. Which started with one idea, which was to make the experience more engaging for customers. To give them a reason to visit, and claw them back from commoditised digital retail.

The point is, it doesn’t matter what sector you’re in, or if your customers are other businesses or the public. If your innovation isn’t anchored in their emotional needs, beyond the purely rational, it’s not going to give you the growth you’re looking for.

Customer Focus Leads to Industry Disruption 

Haven’t you been in those conversations over a glass or two, where you start to complain about a business. Then as the drinks flow, so do the ideas. How many businesses started life on the back of a coaster?

Or you’ve no doubt heard the stories of an inventor who came up with a new tool, because they were so frustrated with what was available.

But if it’s your business they’re picking apart, and you only find out about it when they hit the market with a bang, that’s not so great.

When you shift to a Customer Focus you can disrupt your own industry in incremental stages.

If you stand outside your world, listen to what and how your customers are using and feeling about what you deliver, you will gather insights to evolve the business. 

Tapping into their emotional triggers and insights, to develop and enhance your offering, will underpin your scale-up strategy to keep you relevant into the future.

There are countless examples of companies that didn’t listen and paid the ultimate price. Kodak being one of the most prominent.  They didn’t listen to changing needs, and kept going with what they were best at. Improving the current offering but not in a way that interested customers.

With an open-minded attitude of “just because this is the way we’ve always done it, doesn’t mean it’s the way we should continue”, exciting new ideas will evolve.

How to Become Truly Customer Focused

Ask – Listen - React

I know that sounds way too basic. And most of you reading this would say you already do that. But the vital key is in the way you communicate.

Let me explain what I mean …

Ask-Listen-React to your customers

You wouldn’t casually meet someone, invite them for coffee and start asking cold, intrusive questions. At best, they might look at you strangely. At worst, get up and walk out on the ‘bad date’.

Instead, you’d make light conversation and engage with their replies in an open non-confronting manner.

If you wanted to have a serious discussion with your family and friends, you could just come out with the question out of context. But chances are they’d want some background first, so they could give you a considered reply.

The point is, you’d warm them up, get them relaxed and comfortable, and make them feel that what they say is important.

But when we look at the ways business currently gathers insights, they mostly send out a clinical survey, or maybe ask customers out of the blue.  

Think of it from their perspective. They most likely have a hundred other things on their minds, other than your questions.

So Ask them.

But before you do, Ask yourself if your conversation will …

Be Engaging?

Make them feel Valued?

Have a Purpose, so they know Why?

Feel like they’re part of a Community?

When you Ask in the right way not only does the quality of your responses improve, but you build stronger relationships. And that’s often the difference between a loyal & disloyal customer.

Listening is a different skill again. Yes, I’ve no doubt you heard them. But did you understand, and hear the emotions behind their answers? They are the hidden gems that spark innovation.

Customers can’t always articulate the innovation they need. They can often only express their feelings about a product or service, and how well it helps, or not, their daily life. That’s why your conversations need to be about unearthing those feelings.

Reacting is more than just bringing it up in the next team meeting. It’s about active follow through. Letting people know how much you value their input, what benefits you gained, and the changes you’re making to improve their experience.

Contrary to most thinking, your customers actually want to see you succeed. They want to share in your achievements, but only if they feel valued.

Put Yourself In Your Customer’s Shoes

Do you like ticking long columns of boxes, with little in it for you?  Ok, there’s always the exception to the rule! But when a survey arrives in our inbox, most of us either hit delete, or just cruise through the process without a lot of brain-exertion.

But it doesn’t have to be like this.  For the past two decades we’ve developed new engagement techniques to improve the quality of responses.

With people actually raving about the experience.

It all started because we were involved in a major brand launch.  The product was a dismal failure, wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars. All because they didn’t want to go deeper into their customers’ emotional drivers.

That day, we decided not to be involved in this type of insights-gathering again. 

Small business often misses out on this level of insights, being out of reach for most. But we make Customer-Driven Innovation accessible to all.  Backed by our unique mix of Marketing, Market Research and Media & Entertainment methods.

The outcome is that we’re not the Best, we’re The Only. 

This article also appeared on the B2B Expo Site

Hungry for more? Marketing = Customers + Heart is your road map to building your growth strategy.

Marketing = Customers + Heart by Judy & Eriks Celmins

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