Once in a while, for one reason or another, an executive will say to me, “Well Steve Jobs said, ‘It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want.'” Or they’ll quote Henry Ford, saying, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would’ve said faster horses.”

First, some context: The people citing these quotes are trying to make the point that listening to customers Is not a priority. What’s driving their position? Could be several factors:

  • They don’t want to take the time or dedicate the resources to understand customers’ needs. (And they might assume listening is resource-intensive.)
  • They feel as though listening to customers is an admission that they don’t know everything. (Which, of course, it is–and there’s nothing wrong with that!)

But what they don’t realize is that they are misinterpreting the quotes. Jobs and Ford aren’t saying, “You don’t need to listen to the customer.” What they’re really saying is,

“We must have an excellent understanding of the customer, and it’s our job to interpret that understanding into excellent products.”

Remember, Jobs had an incredibly unique (Jobsian!) ability to know what consumers would want–what would give them joy and utility. He WAS the avatar for Apple’s customers, and he was able to manage his team to execute almost flawlessly against that vision. Yes, perhaps he didn’t do research, but that’s because he was willing to bet the company on his own understanding of what people would buy (and love).

Similarly, Ford was probably right in speculating that people would have said they needed “faster horses.” But the brilliance is in what he HEARD, which was that people wanted a faster way to get from point A to point B. That understanding fueled Ford’s willingness to bet big on mass manufacturing of automobiles.

The bottom line: It isn’t the customer’s job to conceive of compact music devices with massive storage capabilities that feel great in their hands–or combustion engines or cars. All customers know is what they need–what their dreams, goals and challenges are. It’s up to brilliant entrepreneurs like Jobs and Ford to be great diviners and interpreters of those needs into valuable products.

By the way, when I touch on this topic in my Customer Listening talks and presentations, or when executives bring up these quotes to downplay the importance of listening to customers, I have a ready response:

“OK, great, if your name is Steve Jobs or Henry Ford, you’re excused…you already know your customers and don’t need to listen.”

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“Wemeiusour”–the acronym for “We-Me-I-Us-Our” (and pronounced we-MAY-uh-sour) is a dreaded affliction found in most marketing and sales campaigns that paralyzes prospects and completely eliminates the possibility of engaging them.

How can you recognize Wemeiusour?

Symptoms include a tendency to focus on:

  • The solutions “we” offer
  • “Our” features
  • What makes “us” special

Dangerous side effects include:

  • Weak response and conversion rates
  • Flaccid sales cycles
  • Embarrassing sales close rates
  • Uninspired revenue growth

How to rid your marketing and sales of Wemeiusour forever:

  • Have open-ended “curiosity calls” with customers and prospects in a non-sales context.
  • Ask questions your competitors aren’t asking.
  • Understand the real problems they have–which may be different than the problems you think you solve.
  • Listen for the real language they use–notice the lack of jargon and marketing-speak.

If you’re serious about eradicating Wemeius, download the Customer Re-Discovery Playbook to discover what your target audience ISN’T telling you–and how to leverage those insights to improve the relevance of your messaging.

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This fun, 6 minute conversation with two leaders from Excella Consulting –a multi-year Inc. 5000 honoree–explains how their culture of curiosity gives them a more intimate and continuous view of their target audience’s perspective.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with Excella several times over the years, and their commitment to “always be improving and listening” is very impressive…and a big reason why they are successful. Check it out.

(And don’t miss the outtakes at the end.)

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First, if you are involved in or oversee Sales, I recommend you check out Ian Altman’s fantastic Same Side Selling Academy group on Facebook. Ian, a world renowned speaker and expert on sales strategies and techniques, is building a group of enlightened executives who want to maximize their effectiveness without the tired and sometimes trashy practices of the past.

Go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/samesidesellingacademy and request to join the group.

Now, about this video–which was originally broadcast live on the Same Side Selling Academy. In it, I chronicle some of the most cliche questions that customers and prospects are still asked–as well as some fresh, proven alternatives.

As always, you can download my Customer Re-Discovery Playbook absolutely FREE at www.chieflisteningofficers.com/customer-discovery-playbook-2.

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The webinar started at 2 pm, promising useful, practical tips and tools. At 2:15, the expert was showing pictures of his “beautiful” wife and kids. At 2:25, he was talking about the abuse he suffered as a child. At 2:35, with not a tool or tip in sight, I logged off.

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Still asking customers, “what keeps you up at night”? Well, 1995 called, and they want their question back. When you ask cliche answers, you don’t get insights–you get cliches.

Instead, here are a few questions that will help you discover fresh, actionable perspectives from customers and prospects.

As always, you can download the Customer Re-Discovery Playbook, absolutely free, at www.chieflisteningofficers.com/customer-discovery-playbook-2.

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If I’ve learned one thing in several decades of hands-on marketing leadership, strategy and execution, it’s that great marketing starts with great listening.

And great listening means asking your customers questions your competitors haven’t asked.

In fact, one of the pivotal moments in my evolution from Chief Marketing Officer to Chief Listening Officer was when I started asking my clients’ customers (and prospects) this simple question during my “customer rediscovery” interviews:

What would make you a customer for life?

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Products are cool. They’re sexy. Useful. You can touch and feel them. They can change the world. Successful products (especially software) can scale rapidly and cost-effectively, so investors love them.

I get that.

Perhaps this is why software startups seem to get all the love when it comes to brilliant advice, frameworks and tools, such as:

The experts behind these frameworks have done a fantastic job of educating leaders on how to pinpoint and address customer and user needs before and during the product development process.

But It’s Not Always About the Product (heresy, I know).

By doing customer discovery that’s tied to a potential or existing product–and obsessing about UI/UX and features, you’re potentially missing out of valuable insights in areas above and around that product, such as:

  • Brand / Reputation: What does our target audience think we do well and do best? Is the product or service consistent with our identity? Does the audience view us as a credible purveyor of the product or service
  • Positioning / Differentiation: Are we talking about ourselves in a vacuum? Or positioning the brand/product in the context of the buyers’ needs? Do they agree our approach is unique/better?
  • Landscape: What is the full range of competitors, substitutes and alternatives (including building in-house or doing nothing) from the target audience’s perspective?
  • Sales Process: Do we make it easy to buy from us–or challenging? Do our frontline people have enough knowledge to add value, or do they have to bring in a SME right away?
  • Customer Experience:  Does the product or service deliver on expectations and promises? Where are the gaps and shortfalls? In the context of other vendors, are we “pretty good,” “far better,” or “behind the curve”?
  • Content: What insights do you need to do our job better? Are we providing those? Where else would you get them?

Inputs like these should not just be incidental by-products of your customer discovery efforts. They’re too important.

This is why I don’t necessarily believe customer discovery should be done by product teams (more heresy). Understandably, product managers and product marketers view the world through a product lens. After all, that’s how they add value to the company. But sometimes their perspective is too narrow–too product- or feature-focused–to see bigger picture insights. By contrast, a CEO, COO or CMO doing customer discovery with a much broader perspective can pick up information that is actionable across many areas of the business.

Try Agenda-Less Listening–at the Brand Level

To do customer discovery at the company or brand level (vs. product-focused) I’ve create the Agenda-less Listening Framework (see below) which I’ve used on dozens of client engagements to:

  • Reveal a wealth of actionable insights that go beyond products and services to sharpen positioning and value propsition; and
  • Help identify meaningful differentiators and themes that made marketing and selling easier for my clients.

Here are slides from a recent talk I gave on Agenda-Less Listening to a peer advisory group of senior executives. It includes all of the tools and advice (including sample questions and email template and listening tips) needed to launch a “listening tour” or just have conversations with a few customers.

Questions? Need help? Don’t hesitate to contact me here.
And feel free to download the complimentary Customer Re-Discovery Playbook with more tips and tools.
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