Years ago I joined a company just as they were preparing to launch a new (and expensive) marketing campaign. A focus group comprised of a dozen customers was invited to preview the campaign. As the new executive, I was asked to attend.

The central message of the campaign was “innovation.” Its focus centered upon all the “firsts” the company had introduced to the marketplace. The messaging was clear, the list of “firsts” long, and the colors and graphics powerful. The focus group was warmly enthusiastic, and the marketing team pleased.

But after the presentation, something about the room troubled me. I asked one of the customers.

“Is that why you buy from us? Because our products and services are innovative?”

After some hemming and hawing, he replied, “I don’t think of [company] as particularly innovative. So the answer is no.”

I asked the same question of a few of the other customers. And each time the response was the same, we had good products, but no one would describe our products, now or in the past, as innovative.

I canceled the marketing campaign. And we learned a great lesson.

You are who your customers say you are.

  • What do they think are your strengths?
  • Where do they think you can improve?
  • Would they recommend you to a friend?
  • Why did they choose your product/service?

How do you know? The only way to know is to ask.

To know you need objective feedback. There are multiple ways to get this feedback from surveys to phone calls to client visits. When you do, use a third-party or someone else without an existing relationship to your customers. Existing relationships get in the way of the stark honestly you are seeking.

You don’t just do what a handful of customers say. But you use the overall feedback to create knowledge. Knowledge helps you improve your business, fuels your strategic plans, and chooses your growth opportunities. This knowledge enables you to identify opportunities to deepen relationships (and find more sales) with existing customers, or advice regarding future products to build or services to provide.

An additional benefit to asking is the responses help you identify the customers that consider you a strategic provider. These customers can guide you in developing the same relationships with others.

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