Tuning into your customers
“If you want to supply something transformational for your customers you need to be able to see their world as they see it, you have to get into their minds not just note what they say.
You know your world and the technologies that your business revolves around and depends on, your customers do not, and therefore if you can marry these world views then you will find the best products/services ideas. This is no easy task when your customer’s disciplines differ from those of most of your employees; such as is happening with our business as the hard black and white physical sciences are being applied to the world of life sciences with its complex interdependent structures that resist most attempts at reductionism.
How do you know when you have achieved this state of understanding? Well, probably only when you put your new offering in front of your customers and they go “Wow, I never even knew I needed this”, up until then it’s an act of faith on your part (hey, if it was easy everybody would be doing it!).
This mind-set is one step beyond the traditional “voice of the customer” methods that are employed by any good business because most feedback does not tell you what you need to do long term, it usually focuses on customer service today.
Start-up companies often have founders who come from their customer’s world and hence start with this innate understanding of both worlds without fully appreciating just how much use they are making of it, but as the business grows this interdisciplinary blending of marketing and technology inevitably starts to get diluted and lost.
So, how do you protect it? It is invariably some of your most experienced people who do this task and yet they are often the same people who are in constant daily demand across the company and in that environment even they can feel that it is an indulgence to spend time and resource on exploratory thinking. The obvious solution is to separate them from the day-to-day business and get them to focus on this more strategic role. However, this has its problems as the individuals quickly become disconnected and out of touch with the business. Like many things, there is no short cut, you need to continually encourage and reinforce these individuals to have this task in their minds most days and to take the time when needed to develop ideas even if the business is under pressure; in fact this is probably the most important time to do it.”