Myth-understanding Your Customers

By Heather Baldwin

Think you know your customers because you’ve got a great CRM system and you’ve been in the business for 15 years? Unless you’re constantly asking your customers about the things that are important to them, chances are you don’t know them at all, says Harvey Thompson, author of Who Stole My Customer?? Winning Strategies for Creating and Sustaining Customer Loyalty (Prentice Hall, 2004). Sales reps and managers often unconsciously assume their own wants and biases are the same as their customers’ and build their CRM structure and sales strategy around those myths, says Thompson.

For every decision related to customers, Thompson recommends sales reps ask themselves whether they’re acting based on facts they know to be of importance to their customers from actual conversations or on what they think is important. He says the following are some of the most common myths about customers.

Customers want the lowest price – period. Your product or service is rarely a commodity that can be differentiated only by price. Savvy sales reps can differentiate even a roll of steel. Consider how to attract and retain customers on a value proposition other than price.

We know what our customers want – or don’t want. Prior history and years of experience don’t necessarily result in perfect knowledge of what customers want and don’t want. Over time it can become less clear which of your beliefs regarding customers is based on actual, literal customer feedback versus intuitive beliefs formed and reformed over the years. Probe directly and constantly with customers to get the current truth.

Customers who call hate to be transferred. In reality, this statement is true only if customers call for general information. In that situation they may well expect to get an answer from their first point of contact. If customers want expert advice, however, they don’t expect the first person to answer incoming calls to be an expert in all things. In this situation transferring their call actually can reassure them they are going to the correct person – just make sure it happens with no more than one transfer.

Our customers and their needs are unique. Another common misconception is that customers from a particular company, industry or geographic area have needs that are different than those of customers from other companies, industries or geographies, says Thompson. “We find that approximately 30% of actual customer needs are unique to a specific industry or customer set,” he says. Which means 70% of needs are going to be relatively similar from customer to customer.

We know what our customers need – not want, but need. This is different from the issue of what customers want. It means that reps often believe product expertise equates to knowing what is best for customers. In fact, only customers completely understand how they get value or benefit from something they want and that underlying benefit is why they need it. Understanding what customers want is good; understanding why they need it is critical to making a sale and to creatively developing new products and services to better meet those needs.