Want to know what the secret to business success is? Before I tell you (and please don’t skip ahead or you’ll spoil the surprise), you need to know a little about me. I’m one of those people always thinking of new business ideas. Some good. Some bad. The vast majority of my big business ideas went absolutely nowhere. That’s usually because I forgot to write them down and couldn’t remember them the next day. Or if I did write them down, I couldn’t read my own handwriting on those old school yellow pads I still prefer to use. Old habits die hard.
Sometimes, I’ve taken an idea and turned it into a business. Based on an idea about energy efficiency, I co-founded my first business, a thermal window manufacturing company, when I was twenty-six. Against all odds, I somehow convinced a small, local bank to loan us the necessary capital for equipment and inventory. We succeeded despite our collective stupidity and sold the company seven years later. In the years since, I have repeated this cycle, in various incarnations, six more times across several industries: broadcasting (bad idea), technology (good idea), insurance (bad idea), marketing (good idea), and market research (good idea). When you throw in another five or six that died before they could get out of the gate, it’s really about a 33% success rate. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that’s good or bad.
The Real Secret
When asked by young entrepreneurs what the secret to success is, I used to say knowing how to sell. But after a few years of riding the roller coaster of crazy business cycles, I answered that knowing how to mitigate risk was the secret. But, I was wrong. While both are critical to your success, the real secret is: listening to your customers instead of yourself.
Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to interview and survey over 100,000 customers. As I have listened and observed, I came to the realization that while many companies still operate like they have control, it’s really the other way around. I began to refer to these empowered customers as “Customer CEO” because they can choose which companies to do business with completely on their own terms. Now, I have written a new book about this critical business shift I call Customer CEO: How to Profit from the Power of Your Customers. In my research, I have seen nine powers emerge that today’s customers possess. The book explores those nine powers and how every enterprise can successfully engage them.
Customers are now in control because of the free flow of information. Technology means companies can no longer control what people know about anything. There are no secrets. Knowing your Customer CEO is like being on roller coaster. One minute you can see what’s just ahead but then, without warning, the bottom can drop out. Customers are competitive, calculating, complicated, confusing, crazy and caustic. At the same time, upstart businesses seem to be popping up every day. This reality means commoditization, price wars, and shrinking value for stakeholders. This is both confusing and challenging because the rules have changed forever. And you must put the power of the customer to work for you before your competitors harness that power for themselves.
Many CEO’s and business owners say they aren’t sure how to met the needs of today’s demanding customers. They reluctantly admit that the customer is in charge but they don’t know how to change. The default position for many is to do nothing and hope that business changes back or somehow becomes easier. Sadly, hope is not a successful strategy.
Here are four fast steps to get you on the road to understanding your Customer CEO:
1) Get a clue.
This literally means you must become, or appoint, a Chief Listening and Understanding Executive. There is no higher priority to help you navigate the crowded, choppy seas of the marketplace.
2) Listen to customers’ ideas about everything.
Remember that every day you aren’t actively engaged in listening, is an opportunity for your competitors. Someone, somewhere is listening to your customers right now in order to steal from you.
3) Quit expecting to find the answers in Big Data alone.
Big Data is not a panacea. It is just a reflection of what people have done. It’s the “what.” Most enterprises, no matter the size, can’t effectively manage the tsunami of data filling their servers. Use it cautiously because it will not tell you why people do the things they do.
4) Discover the why in Big Insight.
If you ask the right people the right questions you’ll often be shocked at how wrong you have been about what’s really important to them. In a dynamic market, customer attitudes and needs constantly shift. You can only do that be getting up close and personal with them.
Congratulations, you now know the secret to business success you’ve been waiting for. All you have to do is start listening to customers like never before.
Chuck Wall is the founder of Customer CEO Consulting and the author of Customer CEO: How to Profit from the Power of Your Customers to be published by Bibliomotion on April 30, 2013.
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