After yesterday’s post about how customer centricity and listening to your customers help your business to grow, it was very interesting to read Mark Cuban’s post “Why You Should Never Listen to Your Customers” in the Entrepreneur.
Maybe this will come as a surprise, but in many aspects I agree with Mark. So how do these seemingly contradictory positions co-exist in my mind? Or in more practical terms, when should you actually listen to your customers and when not?
Putting Mark into Perspective
Mark is not a stupid guy. So let’s strip his article of its provocative title and let us already now note that he will close his piece with “Listen to them [your customers]. Make them happy. But don’t rely on them to create the future road map for your product or service. That’s your job.”
Mark, who addresses entrepreneurs, product managers, and start-ups looking for the competitive edge by providing the best solution and application there is, hits the bull’s eye with his main message: real, ground-breaking innovation doesn’t come from your customers. It has to come from your creative vision.
Are you in the driver’s seat or are you driven?
With mounting pressure to offer a solution or a service that will win your customers over, i.e. make them love your stuff, just keeping up with what your competitors are doing is simply not enough. Even “satisfying” your customers’ needs and requests doesn’t do the job. You have to go beyond that, find the freedom to innovate and envision new ways and solutions for your company’s product or service. And Mark rightly points out that your customers are too busy with finding a way to reach their goals with whatever they have already at hand or heard about.
Customer-driven features, yes it happens!
Sometimes, and Mark is right that this happens rather rarely, a special synergy gets released if the inventing forces of the solution provider and of the customers meet. Kampyle’s lead generation features are a good example of how customers can help create a great, new, winning feature.
in this sense I slightly disagree with Marc: Listening to your customers can bring about new applications or features. But it is not to ask what feature or products they want to see. It is about asking and understanding what problems they are facing. Then it is up to the solution provider to invent a solution, and yes, in doing so, the company has to go beyond the specific case and be ready to embark for new destinations.
Tapping into competitive knowledge
How much time do you invest in analyzing your competitors? How many times do you feel pushed into a corner when directly competing for a new customer, realizing that you cannot offer one of the requested features? No need to put your customer in the driving seat, but hearing from them what they expect to see, what is offered by other companies, will help you to stay up-to-date. To win the game, you still have to do your own homework. If your competitor is offering X, you will have to find the way to offer X2.
A free ticket not to listen to your customers?
Let’s face it: not listening to your customers doesn’t free you from the danger that your competitor is just about to develop the killer app that will push you out of business. Mark however has a very good point in saying, that every company has limited manpower, and “resources and brainpower that could be applied to “inventing the future” were instead being used to catch up with features that locked the company into the past.”
A company should carefully differentiate between new features demanded by their customers and new ones that were brewed in-house. You are on a good track if you can make your customers pay for the custom solutions they are asking for. So if a custom feature is actually a new revenue source for your company – go for it. Just make sure it doesn’t block all your resources to drive your own innovations.
Listen, Listen, don’t stop listening – Your Customers are your Product Experts
Your customers are the experts when it comes to customer experience, and usage of your product. No matter how many people your QA team has or how many Beta testers you managed to involve in testing, the real world test of the user-friendliness, product benefits, service quality and website experience, are your customers.
The most brilliant product or service will not grow your business if you fail in bringing it to your customers in the right way. Reaching customer acceptance of your new product, especially when your innovation comes with a new conduct of business, will greatly depend on how well you are able to communicate with your customers. If you listened to your customers, you will know both how to make further enhancements as well as how to make the right sales and marketing pitches.