Developing customer vision

When I was young, my mum always used to call me out for holding the things I was looking at too close. “You’ll ruin your eyes,” she would tell me.

It turns out she was probably right.

Years of computer work and staring at a mobile phone mean that I am now officially short-sighted, or myopic as the optician would say. But I am far from alone.

I recently completed a piece of work with a large membership organisation. Two years prior, they had carried out a comprehensive piece of analysis on their members, collating all the correspondence and conversations they’d had over the last few years, and interviewing scores of them in person, to more deeply understand their issues and needs, and the critical things they wanted from their membership.

On the back of that analysis they’d built their growth plans and a whole new marketing strategy which had worked extremely well for the first six months in recruiting new members. But surprisingly quickly, it began to plateau.

“We’ve run the numbers and it turns out we got a lot of lapsed people back, but we’re just not cutting through with a broader audience,” they explained to me when we met.

I suggested that they put that list of “members’ critical things” to one side and went out to speak to as many non-members as they could. Not just obvious prospects, but anyone who could potentially get value from membership, and to try and collate what we could gather about their issues and needs, the critical things that would be most beneficial for them.

It sounds like an obvious thing to do but it’s surprising how easy, and commonplace it is, for organisations to become so obsessed with their customers that they forget about anyone who isn’t one. There’s a fine line between focusing on something close at hand, and becoming myopic – entirely unable to see clearly beyond it.

Three months later, we put the analyses side by side, and while there was plenty of crossover, there were distinct differences. In a few areas there were differences in need; but the biggest difference was in language – in the way the same needs were expressed by different groups. This gave rise to a small suite of new services and big change in the marketing strategy. And all the signs since launch suggest they’ve started picking up whole a new piece of the market.

Paying close attention to existing customers is invaluable for making improvements – for the ongoing evolution that every organisation needs to remain fresh and relevant. But current customers can only tell you how to satisfy them – the audience you already have. They can’t tell you how to reach, engage and satisfy others, particularly those potential customers who are nothing like them. And the more you focus solely on customers in front of you to inform your decisions, the more limited your vision becomes, unable to see the potential beyond the immediate.

If you want to improve what you do, if you want to build loyalty and retain customers, then listen carefully to the people you serve. But if you want to dramatically grow, you need to start listening to those you don’t.

"Original material by Martyn Drake of Binley Drake Consulting. Visit www.binleydrake.com for more information."