Guest Post: Don’t Just Study Non-Customers. Become One.

Guest Post: Don’t Just Study Non-Customers. Become One.

August 19, 2022

Mike Giffin of Giffin Consulting offers this insightful guest column. Enjoy, and look up Mike on LinkedIn.


Amie Devero’s recent post neatly articulates a major source of missed opportunity in any company’s growth potential: the failure to understand customers and the resulting failure to identify and address, in comprehensible language, the problem or desire the customer wants a product to solve or fulfill.

Devero’s prescription for customer-facing personnel to communicate with un-expert prospects more effectively and thereby close more sales is to drop the insider jargon that they’ve grown accustomed to using with co-workers and delve “directly into the world of the amateur.”  The way to do that, she suggests, is to “make it your job to talk to NON-CUSTOMERS. Find out how they talk about the problems you solve –and how they describe the solutions. Hold focus groups and listen keenly for confusion, boredom or puzzlement. Ask happy customers how they describe your product to their peers. Let them explain to you what it does for them.”

These are all valuable exercises that will help you become more relatable, which is essential if you want to be believable. And being believable, Devero asserts, is “the litmus test for communicating about technology.” Think about it. Most people who buy high-tech products will never begin to understand how those products work. Their eyes glaze over when you try to explain the technology that makes the IoT or AI or 5G possible. The more you confuse customers with technobabble, the faster they begin to lose interest.

I’d like to suggest another exercise that will help raise awareness of how off-putting and counterproductive a display of insider expertise is to a prospective customer: become one yourself. Better yet, organize a field trip with your customer facing co-workers or product development team and go shopping for products based in a category you’re not familiar with. If you’re a group of telecommunications experts, try shopping for commercial farming equipment to manage 100 acres of rotating feed stock. If you’re IT professionals, visit a restaurant supply store to equip your newly leased storefront into a French bakery.

Try to play the customer roles as sincerely as you can. Then reconvene and compare notes. How much did you understand? Did you learn enough to make a purchase decision? Was the value for the money effectively communicated? How could the salesperson have done a better job for you? Would you return to that business and that salesperson if you were truly in the market to purchase the products in question?

Then relate your experience as a non-expert customer to your own practices with your customers. Be open to critiquing one-another. Did you observe bad practices regarding displays of expertise that you or your co-workers are guilty of. Did you come away with any ideas for improving your own approach to talking with customers?

The raw experience of putting yourself in the place of your customers rather than studying them adds another dimension of insight. It’s like the difference between watching someone body surf and plunging into the waves yourself.

But are such exercises worth the time? After all, most of us have full-time jobs trying to move the ball down the field. That doesn’t leave much time for going back to school, so to speak.

Devero has an excellent answer for that question when she writes about the importance of discovering “the gap between what you are saying and what your customers are hearing. Within that gap resides boatloads of customers you are leaving behind” [emphasis mine].

The real cost of leaving customers behind goes beyond lost sales. All companies make significant investments to generate demand. Smart managers calculate the cost to capture the attention of prospective customers and to move them through the sales funnel to closure. Smart managers also calculate the lifetime value of each customer—not only in follow-on sales, but also in the ripple effect of positive word-of-mouth endorsement.

Such endorsement from trusted sources is marketing gold, leading to more follow-on sales and more “free” customers. A sale lost to a communication disconnect between buyer and seller loses more than the revenue of that single sale: it’s also a loss of the marketing investment made to generate that customer’s interest, a loss of that customer’s potential lifetime value, and, for companies that don’t deploy analytics to help them understand why and how they are losing qualified prospects, it’s a loss of an opportunity to learn why they are losing sales and thereby to improve their conversion rates.

In this software-driven digital era, it’s become harder than ever to compete on the merit of products alone. Digital technology has become the great leveler when it comes to performance. The expenditure required to purchase a 4K TV that is appreciably superior to those hovering around the entry level price point is far more than most consumers can justify. In such an environment, whether you are working with individual or enterprise customers, honing your people skills to become a trusted sherpa guiding people along the technology trail can make the difference between surviving or thriving.

Most customers don’t want to know how technology works because they are short on time and they lack the intellectual framework and tools to comprehend a twenty-minute pitch studded with words they can’t define; they want to know what technology will do for them or their business, how they can control it, how reliable it is, and what it will cost.

Be clear, understanding, and believable. Trust sells.




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