“It’s much easier to fool yourself than to fool others.”– Michael Masterson
A Quick Little Marketing Lesson: The Problem with “Listening” to Your Customers
“Don’t make assumptions about what your customers really want,” a marketing expert wrote in an industry magazine. “Just call them up or send them a survey. Conduct focus groups. Ask them what they want!”
On the face of it, this advice makes a lot of sense. But if you take it literally, you will likely end up making some very foolish marketing decisions.
Why? Because when asked what they “want,” most people will tell you what they think they want. Or they might say what they think will impress you. Rarely will they tell you what they will actually buy.
I’ve made this point many times. In Ready, Fire, Aim, I argued that customer surveys and focus groups are usually less than helpful for this reason. The truth is, if you give your customers exactly what they say they want, you’ll often end up losing sales… and you won’t know why.
Here is why…
Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of information you can get by asking your customers questions:
- demographic information, like age and gender and so on
- information about the kind of products and services they want from you
The demographic information is only marginally useful to direct marketers. They already have much more useful information – historical response data – that often supersedes or contradicts demographic assumptions.
And the information you get from your customers about the products and services they want can be misleading. Yes, they’ll tell you what they want or like. But it will be what they want to believe they want or like. Not what they really do.
When it comes to understanding your customers’ buying habits, there is only one way to do it. You have to present different products and offers to them. Then you see which ones get better results. That is the only way to know for sure.
The marketing expert I mentioned above used an analogy to make her point. She said that business is like marriage. If you really want to know what your prospect/spouse is thinking, the solution is simple. “Just ask her.”