What Successful Disruptors Know Part 3: Know Your Customers

Tim Girgenti

In my last blog I focused on how questioning the status quo helps companies gain insight that can translate into a whole new level of strategic thinking and performance. Now let’s take a closer look at another practice: know your customers.

Customers just aren’t that loyal anymore. Yes, that’s right, I said it. They’re unpredictable. They’re flighty. And, sometimes they’re just flaky. But why shouldn’t they be? In today’s information-at-your-fingertips world, customers have new levels of insight and visibility, and the entire balance of power between the buyer and seller has been turned upside down. With savvy buyers who have options and aren’t afraid to use them, it’s more important than ever to understand what makes your customers tick and anticipate their needs—maybe before they know themselves.

Below are three tips to help you keep in tune with your customers:

  1. Listen up. When learning what customers want, avoid listening for problems that fit your own offerings, which can cause you to miss important opportunities and potentially get blindsided down the road. Toolmaker Black & Decker studied homeowners with almost scientific precision as it set out to recapture its flagging DIY market. As a result, executives discovered why users favored certain tools, such as a cordless drill with enough power for bigger home repair jobs and sanders that didn’t blow sawdust in their faces. By enabling customers to clearly voice their concerns, B&D introduced its Quantum line of saws, drills, and power tools that were in sync with the needs of do-it-yourselfers. The market responded favorably, and Quantum surpassed its sales goal.
  2. Don’t operate in a cocoon. Check the pulse of your market on a regular basis to make sure you are aware of and can anticipate the market shifts that are happening. It’s the companies that do this best—the ones that understand how today’s changes may affect customers down the road—that become the leaders in their space. Apple did this very well, with the iPod, iPad, iTunes, and Apple Store, creating new market spaces with each launch. In the relentless pursuit of perfection, Jobs charged his engineers to design products that they personally couldn’t live without.
  3. Learn with your customers. Some companies will go out for Chinese food—in China. GE, however, when visiting the country, invited its top customers, along with local executives and account managers, to a seminar on leadership and innovation. This helped GE executives better understand the mindset of Chinese counterparts and it also helped them to influence that mindset.

A lot of companies are at a crossroads of how to meet growing consumer expectations. If your company is one of them, now is the time to transform your business—so you’re the disruptor and not the disruptee. By understanding the unique needs of your customers, you can increase the overall experience and drive a more profitable business.

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