Focusing on your customers sounds like a no-brainer. I mean, if you don't focus on your customers, what are you focusing on? Yet, at Usher & Spur, the biggest barrier to progress that we encounter from our clients is precisely a difficulty in viewing the customer as the focus or centre of their thinking. Such an approach has major impacts for sales and marketing, but also product design.
We've been lucky enough to work with some brilliant people over the years. High-tech products are often the fruit of impressive minds that want to find a better way of doing something, or use a particular capability in a different way. Unfortunately, this means that from the get-go, in the company's DNA, the product is the focus.
Don't get me wrong, the product is important. Without the product, there is no company. But without customers, there is no future to the company.
Reason 1 - B2B customers want products that solve major problems
The biggest barrier to a sale is inertia, which means that the customer will stick with what they know. Switching to a new way of doing things not only requires going through a long decision process, but also involves an investment in learning and an associated drop in productivity once they've taken the decision. What they get out of your solution has to be worth it.
But how do you know whether you're hitting the mark or what mark you're actually hitting? A foolproof way of finding out what your customers' pains are is simply to talk to them. Get your customer-facing staff to ask specific questions. Conduct phone interviews or focus groups. Ask people who download your app or sign up for a free trial to fill in a short survey.
If your product does not actually solve a major problem, (there is no product/market fit), you need to ask yourself whether it is capable of doing so with some redesign or whether you need to go back to the drawing board. Additionally, your prospects may have other concerns that will constitute switching barriers. If the same concerns come up time and again, (such as ease of use), your product design should incorporate them. You can even ask for ongoing suggestions from actual users to inform subsequent versions.
Reason 2 - Helping customers buy is easier than selling
Let's suppose your product is a major painkiller. If your website, product documentation, other marketing material and even sales training do not clearly demonstrate how you're helping, you're asking potential customers for a lot of effort to figure it out themselves.
By starting with the customer's pains and defining their consequent needs, it becomes easy to match what you have to offer with what the customer is looking for. You can even address any objections and switching barriers you've identified and pinpoint the gains your product enables.
Compare this approach to starting with product features, and defining the consequent benefits (what you can do with this bell and that whistle), and meta benefits (what you get from the benefits, such as "increased productivity", "reduced costs", etc.). Yet this is still a very common way of trying to convince buyers to buy. In fact, many tech products still find it hard to go beyond the features.
Going a step further and understanding not only what your customers are looking for but when they need certain information, you can provide them with a whole range of resources that they can draw on to get better informed, to narrow down options, and to support their advocacy of your solution, as they move along their buying journey.
reason 3 - Customer success is the way forward
The concept of total product refers to everything you offer your customers beyond the core product. This usually falls under the umbrella of customer service, and can include training, initial configuration, customization, technical and user support. How this part of your offering measures up to your customers' expectations can be just as important in the buying decision as your core product. Total product can also include pre-sales evaluation, and maintaining customer satisfaction as a whole through customer relationship management.
The notion of customer success is relatively new but growing in popularity with the number of cloud-based (SaaS) solutions now available. (Click here to read Wikipedia's introduction to customer success.) Any subscription or rental business model has far lower switching barriers than traditional investment-heavy infrastructure solutions. This means that winning new customers doesn't mean you'll keep them, but ensuring they are getting maximum value from your solution can improve your chances. Customer success management could be thought of as total-product management, but its core precept is customer-centricity and your proactive support of the customer (Click here to see the Definitive Guide to Customer Success.)
In parallel to this concept, we hear more and more talk of customer experience management, with the implication that companies need to provide their customers with, at least, a satisfactory customer experience, and preferably an exceptional one. As customer experience refers to the entire interaction between the customer and the company, we begin to see how central the role of customer success as a function can be.
If the concepts we've evoked here are new to you and you want to learn more, check out the additional resources we offer in our blog and subscribe to have them delivered to your inbox.
Tell us how your shift to customer-centric thinking is impacting your business in the comments below.