Finding Profit By Listening


Last week I mentioned an experience with a top executive at a small- to mid-sized business (SMB) as we worked to identify opportunities for growth. In it I said, “…we began the discussion of how to find (the desired) growth. We looked at two paths. Core Growth Innovation, growth found in current clients and current markets and New Growth Innovation, growth from customers and markets not connected to current operations.”

To read that post:

The more I thought about Core Growth Innovation it lead me think and consider how I pursue that innovation and what single thing would I share with a business leader who asked about how to lead an innovation effort.

I will state there is more to it than this one point but, for my money, it starts here. Listening to the voice of the customer. Listen.

“Voice of the customer” (VOC) is a term describing the in-depth process of capturing a customer's preferences, thinking, expectations and concerns. VOC produces a written and understandable set of customer wants and needs. These are organized into a prioritized and hierarchical structure. Voice of the customer studies can use both qualitative (verbal and feeling) and quantitative (numerical and data driven) research. My recommendation is simply start with the qualitative, ok, said simply…talk to people.

You want to rattle your thinking about the subject. You have a limitation in the way you think, organize your thinking, interpret the product and service and even about its use. You MUST rattle the cage of your point of view to find innovation. All we can ever do is work within our own framework. To goal of this effort is to shift your framework to match the customers! Well-done VOC will shape your framework to be centered on the needs of the user instead being solely shaped by your understanding.

Much has been written about this process and there are many possible ways to gather the information: individual interviews to complicated ethnographic techniques. But most involve a series of structured in-depth interviews, which focus on the customers' experiences with current products or alternatives within the category under consideration. For an interesting article of innovation and VOC work read this Harvard Business Review article:

So who is the customer? Depends on the innovation process. Is it core or new growth? Is your innovation coming from within your firm and process related? Is it a user or even a prospect?

FitzMartin has an interesting framework. We talk to customers, lost customers and even prospects and lost prospects. Since we serve as a third party it’s a lock for us to bring to the table fresh ideas, candid remarks and customer focused thinking that a client can rarely find directly. That said…give it a try.

So my one, most important thing to know, listen to your customer. Sure, you know that already. BUT, do you do it? Bet not!

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Photo by Laura Billings