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Business Insights from Andrea Hill

Business owners are frequently offered solutions for which they have not yet defined the problems. Problems are defined by asking questions. So let’s start there.

Ask a better question, get a better answer

09 September 2009

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Distilling customer relationship publishing into one simple blog post

I read dozens of business books and articles every month, and I look for common threads between them. Not surprisingly, I find more common thought than innovative or divergent thought in business theory. In general that’s good, because it means that ideas are being tested for practical application in business settings. But sometimes, the effort to repackage existing ideas as fresh, leads to making simple concepts seem complicated.

One good example of this is found in the literature related to customer relevance, relationship marketing, and customer loyalty. Every B-school has at least one professor publishing on the newest, greatest, latest methods for building customer relationships. Those ideas are then adopted by every POP and CRM software vendor eager to sell customer management tools, repackaged as gotta-have-it-or-risk-your-business enterprise solutions. No wonder business owners are perplexed.

Most of the information and solutions are quite good. Put them all together to gain insight across the spectrum of customer relationship management. The one remaining weakness is that business owners are frequently offered solutions for which they have not yet defined the problems. Problems are defined by asking questions. So let’s start there. The answers to customer relevance are found by asking these simple questions:

  1. Why do my customers purchase my products or services?
  2. Which features and benefits of my products are meaningful to customers?
  3. How do my products stand out in customers' minds?
  4. How do my customers use my products?
  5. Are any of my customers using my products in a manner that surprises me?
  6. What are the biggest hassles my customers encounter when buying from me, and what could I do to eliminate those hassles?
  7. Are there any specific barriers to being my customer? If so, how can I remove them?
  8. Which of my customers require substantially more or less sales attention than the others? Why? What insights can I glean from this? How can I find/develop more of this type of customer?
  9. If my business were shuttered, to whom would it matter, and why? Which of my customers would miss me the most? How long would it take another business to fill the void?
  10. If I were just launching my company today, would I sell the same things? What would I do differently?
  11. What experience does my customer associate with my products, and how can I create an experience that adds value beyond the inherent value of the product/service?
  12. Which methods of communication are most relevant to my customers?
  13. How do those methods affect the messages?

Developing the answers to these questions is not difficult. It requires research, compiling existing customer data, and analysis. Some of the answers may require expertise you do not personally possess, but which you can access in your employees or business advisors.

It doesn’t matter if it takes a while to answer these questions – if you didn’t answer them, the time would go by anyway, right? And it doesn’t matter if you don’t know precisely how you will go about answering them, because just knowing they must be answered will lead you to methods for finding the answers. What matters is that you ask the questions, chip away at assembling the data, and start to make better decisions. Because when it comes to relationships, it’s best to work on them a little bit every day.

These questions were first posed in an article written by Andrea Hill in MultiChannel Merchant magazine, May 2008.

© 2009. Andrea M. Hill


Note to my regular readers: My apologies for the long delays between posts! The challenge of keeping my arms around a rapidly growing business seems to push blogging to the bottom of the priority pile too often. I’ll try to be a little more consistent now that my most recent staffing challenges have been addressed. Thanks for sticking with me!