Everybody that has something to sell is eager to tell the world all about it. All too often, they do not take the time to listen to customer input, which can have a profound impact on the success of the product or service being sold. Whatever you have to sell may seem the greatest thing since indoor plumbing to you, but if it is missing key elements that your customers expect, it is not likely to sell very well.
Back in the early 1990’s, the Boeing Company decided to make some radical changes in how they designed and built their airplanes by involving their customers in the design process. The first product developed along these lines was the 777. Back then; I was assigned to the Flight Test Instrumentation crew responsible for the instrumentation and data collection to support the program. I had the additional privilege of working on the very first 777 to fly, WA001. It seemed that everywhere we went, we were followed by a film crew – maybe because we were. BBC did a documentary of the entire test program and we were regularly visited by VIP’s from all over the world representing various airline customers. They did not come to see what we came up with when we built the 777 because they already knew all about it; they were a big part of the design. They came to see the success of a collective effort.
The process of involving customers in the definition and design of the 777 has made it one of the most successful airplanes in aviation history. It did not happen because Boeing arbitrarily built something their customers liked, it happened because Boeing listened to their customers and built an airplane that met the needs of their customers.
This is not a philosophy that is restricted to large companies, you can use it too. I did, and it has resulted in some very happy customers. In my case, I had published a book that my customers really liked, but they wanted a way to continue a dialog to help them establish their own businesses. This led me to publishing a blog on my website, but I wanted to share some information with my customers without posting it for the world on my website. The next logical step seemed to be a newsletter to my customers that went out monthly. This too was a hit, but it was very time consuming for me and I wasn’t getting enough customer input and really wanted a means for them to share their experiences, ask questions, and in general interact with each other.
I do not want to convey that a newsletter is not a good thing, it was really appreciated by my customers, but did not allow them to interact with each other and this was something that several of them expressed an interest in doing. Then a really strange thing happened, I listened to what my customers were telling me they wanted and the solution provided a great way to satisfy everyone – start a restricted access forum.
Why restricted? Because I wanted to be able to share information with my customers that would help them in their businesses without sharing it with the world. I also wanted them to feel comfortable posting things in the forum without concern of harassment or intimidation that even I experienced in some other forums.
Since launching the forum, I have been told many times how much it is appreciated and how useful my customers are finding it. The concept was not something I pulled out of the air, it was the result of a direct question from one of my customers that asked, “Have you ever considered hosting a forum so that I can chat with other booksellers and we can learn from each other too?”
If your sales are not meeting your expectations, then instead of continuing down the same path that got you where you are right now, take some time and listen to your customers to find out what they want or need. It might not have an immediate effect on your sales campaign, but it will most likely have a positive long-term effect.