You've heard this advice before: it's easier and more profitable to sell something to your current customer than it is to sell a new customer. Over the course of my entrepreneurial journey, I've certainly found that philosophy to ring true. Our customers will tell us what they think about our product or service model, and they'll tell us what they think we should be doing differently.  

More often than not, the feedback we receive is spot-on. The idea gets into our product road map, or we alter our delivery capabilities based on what we've just learned.  

Our customers have been such a steady source of great ideas that earlier this year I committed to figuring out a way to get this feedback more consistently. My solution: ask for it.

I mean, duh, right? It sounds so simple, but which question is the right one to ask?  

At first, I asked, "What is one thing we should be doing differently?" and quickly found it wasn't the right question. Our customers had an answer, but the question was so wide-angle that often the response I received was too general to be actionable.

Then, I altered my question to, "What's one thing we could be doing to improve our value to you?" Another good question, but it's still the wrong one to ask.  Once again, it's too broad; I was asking our customer to play business consultant and think in terms of value delivery. I'd occasionally get something actionable, but typically it was high-level and opinion based.

Finally, I hit on the perfect question. At a meeting a few weeks ago, I cut to the chase and just point-blanked one of our customers:

"How can we do more business with you?"

The reaction instantly told me I was finally on the right track. The customer, a business owner, sat back in his chair and thought for a second.  "You know," he said, "I'm pretty sure your product is working, but I can't prove it. If you had a way for me to prove that the money I'm spending in this area is generating a return, I'd spend a lot more with you."

My question had caused the customer to think about his relationship with our company, focus on where he saw value, and determine what it would take to agree to buy more from us. It was like I had received a Customer Secret Decoder Ring that gave me the ability to learn my customer's thoughts.

Today's leading companies have mastered the use of this question, and they've done it at scale.

Salesforce asks its customers this question via its IdeaExchange. Customers post their thoughts, and the entire customer base can vote on the idea. Once an idea gets 2,500 votes, it gets reviewed by a product manager.  

Trader Joe's, the specialty grocery retailer, asks it's customers which products it should stock in the store. The company gives its store managers and staff, referred to as Captains and Crew, the ability to customize the store's inventory based on what customers tell them they want to buy.

I've been asking this question to our customers over the past several weeks. Each time, I walk away understanding exactly what our customers see as our biggest potential value to them, and what it will take to get them to buy it from us. 

Not every idea is feasible, but patterns emerge in the feedback that give our team the critical insights we need to make the right decisions as we chart our future.

Want to sell more to your customers? They'll tell you how.

Published on: Mar 16, 2018