Find out why you suck
Your mom tells you your pretty because she has to (and I’m sure she really does think you are adorable). But she has to tell you that; she’s your mother.
Same goes for your friends – they aren’t going to tell you you’re doing something wrong in your business. That’s like telling someone they don’t know how to raise their kid.
Don’t believe the lies
You know you’re not perfect and neither is your business. So how do you truly find out what it is that people like about you and what absolutely sucks?Surveymonkey is a great, free tool for quick online surveys. But for finding out the really good stuff, you need qualitative feedback – the kind you typically can only get through conversation. If you want to make changes that actually bring positive results to your business, you have to find out what your customers honestly think.
What you want to find out will determine what type of survey you should use.
Surveys are kind of like bras – you use them because it’s a necessity, but you really, really hate having to need them. But use them you must and, like most things in life, you can’t just use a half-assed solution. Do it right, or what’s the point?
Not just a survey
You might be thinking, “Well, my sales guy is always talking to the customer. He knows exactly what they want and what they think.”
This Time, Your Sales People Don’t Have The Answers
Sales people are “built’ to overcome objections and they’re not going to be able to reveal exactly what the customer will. Sales teams are a great source of hearing common questions or finding out which products get more interest than others (and they can also be a good source of helping you come up with ideas for blog post topics, freemiums, and new product ideas).
But in this case, stay away from sales… don’t call your support desk… don’t ask your company executives… don’t ask your R&D guy… don’t ask anyone but the customer.
The customer may believe things that aren’t even true.
Customers get companies mixed up all the time. I always get Hilton and Hyatt mixed up. Don’t get nervous when a customer says something untrue about your company or product, or confuse you with something your competitor did. If they’re getting confused, you HAVE TO KNOW that. You need to know because others could be, and probably are, thinking it too.
If your audience believes something that isn’t true, there’s something in your sales & marketing process that isn’t working.
Remember… this isn’t a job for the Monkey
I love surveymonkey, but like I mentioned before… don’t try to get your answers through a simple survey. Ideally, this would be done in a face-to-face discussion or a phone conversation.
Let your interviewee know you want to know what they truly think (so they’re comfortable speaking freely). Once you engage in conversation, you will hear a lot of juicy bits between answers. You could miss this valuable information in a survey.
Reach out to customers who are buying or have bought your product (wins) and, if possible, just as many people that ended up buying from your competitor or not buying at all (losses).
Get ‘em while they’re hot
Contact them while the sales/research/buying process is still fresh in their memory – typically spanning back no more than 2-4 months.
The number of interviews you should conduct depends on your business, product, or specific situation.
- If you’re a larger company with thousands of customers, then you might want to contact 20+ for both wins and losses.
- If you’re a small business or a relatively new business, you might not have that option – call what you can, even if it’s only 2 wins and 2 losses.
Document what you hear, digest and learn from it, and then refine your process, business, or product where it makes sense.
Continue this process periodically as your company grows and continue to learn from your conversations.
Prepare before your interviews. Really put some thought into your questions before and remember, you really want to know what they think – what sucks about you and what they like about you. Make these meetings need to count.
I’ve listed some basic questions to get you started, but you’ll want to add your own questions based on your business, your concerns, and your industry. IMPORTANT! Be careful not to ask leading questions!
This should be a fairly in-depth interview so I recommend reach out, explaining what you hope to accomplish, (promise you won’t try to sell anything), and schedule time on the calendar for a meeting or conversation.
In my experience, these discussions typically last about 15-20 minutes. You would be surprised just how many people will be happy to talk to you if you simply ask. It’s human nature to want to help people. Ask nicely and set the right expectations.
Making the call
Now, I have to admit – I have a SERIOUS case of phone phobia. I could never be in sales. I can’t explain how much I hate being on the phone, talking on the phone, dialing a phone or even carrying a phone. It’s like public speaking. If you didn’t ask me to call you and you didn’t ASK me to call you, I get nauseous.
Because of my little ‘problem,’ I have to write down what I’m going to say. (I don’t usually have to actually read it while I’m on the phone because that would be cheesy. But it’s like a security blanket; it’s there just in case…).
So to help you out, this is something I might say when calling to schedule a meeting:
The conversation will take it’s own course – whether you like it or not.
I recommend not showing up to your meeting with a clipboard or a form printed out in a binder; you’ll end up looking intimidating and intrusive like someone from the IRS.
If you’re calling, engage as if you would an old business associate – friendly but professional. Remember, you want them to be relaxed and open with you.
- Know your top 5. Go over your questions and determine the top 5 most important to you and your business. The conversation is likely to go in 7 different directions so make sure you know those top questions so you remember, if nothing else, to ask your 5 questions.
- Set expectations. Mention again that your sole purpose is to learn from the discussion today, so ask them to be open and forthcoming with their responses. You care about your business and you’re 100% interested in what they have to say.
- Engage with them. Keep the tone conversational, ask questions but this isn’t a 4th grade social studies project. Don’t just read your questions off a piece of paper, write down their response, and move on to the next question. If you’re personable and engaging, they’re likely going to open up and share more.
- Be sympathetic, but remember your purpose. If they have a complaint, make sure you take very good notes, letting them know you’re taking it seriously.
- Don’t try to convince them it wasn’t your fault, your sales guy’s fault, or cover up any mistakes. Accept the possibility that someone really could have screwed up. You can look into later and figure out what happened.
- For now, be compassionate and, if necessary, assure them you’ll take action as soon as you’re in the car. But don’t stop the interview to take care of it then (unless, of course, their business will burn or someone will die).
- Listen. Rarely do I get through all the questions I expected to ask. Chances are you won’t either, and that’s OK. The interview will take it’s own course and end up in a conversation. Take diligent notes (record the conversation if you need to, but get their permission). Just listen – even to the jokes. The customer knows why he bought from you or why he didn’t and will let you know. But some people will avoid confrontation, and some feel uncomfortable sharing uncomfortable things.
Listen to the hard stuff, and listen to it again
Now comes the hard part. That’s right… you’re just getting started. Listening to all the information that came out of this exercise is one of the hardest things to do. Because now you have to:
- review it again (often several times),
- remove the emotion,
- filter through the noise until you hear the stuff that matters,
- and then figure out what to do with it.
When you hear, “I don’t like your product because it’s cheap and crappy.” You can’t think, “We’ll just ignore that comment because our quality is tops in our industry; she just doesn’t realize that.” The PERCEPTION here is that people think your quality is lacking.
What can you do? Don’t rush out to see how to improve your quality even more. In this case, you probably don’t need to. Instead consider improving the perception your audience has of the quality.
Now (there’s always a caveat) just because one person complains doesn’t mean you have to rush off and fix it. Trust me, you’ll hear 73 different things from these interviews (and that’s just from the first 5 people). More than likely, 5-10 common issues will rise to the surface and you’ll be able to see a theme across your conversations.
Jump on the goals, not the bandwagon
It’s easy to come up with a list of 20 problems to fix over the next 6 months. Stop it. Don’t even think about it.
Narrow down where to focus your improvement efforts, but it shouldn’t be a struggle. Ask yourself, “Will this help us meet our business goals and does it coincide with our brand position?” You’ll be able to stay focused and make smarter decisions.
For instance, if five people complained because your company has no presence on twitter, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to start spending 10 hours each week on Twitter because “everyone is doing it.” If building a Twitter audience isn’t part of the business goals this year, don’t all of a sudden make it one. (Although, I’d certainly make a note to consider it for next year’s goals if it’s a recurring complaint).
Now dry the tears and get to work.
Click here for a printable version of the win/loss interview questions. There is plenty of space on the last page to add your questions that apply to your particular situation.
Again, these questions may (and probably should) be changed depending on your company, sales process, customer, etc.