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Written by The Mezzanine Group
on December 07, 2011

“So, your prospective clients really responded to this first version, where they could see themselves in the picture, and they liked the message,” I told my client (let’s call him Bill) a few weeks ago, as we were reviewing his new marketing strategy. We’d tested a few versions of marketing collateral with some prospective clients, in order to see what would get Bill’s value proposition across most clearly.

“But, in contrast, these other two concepts were clearly not popular,” I continued.

Bill considered for a moment. “Hey, the one that came dead last was our favourite when we were picking examples to test, wasn’t it?” he pointed out. And, since he’s astute, he went on to note, “And hey, wasn’t the one that came second-last your favourite at the time?”

“Right on both counts,” I said. “That’s why we ask the clients!”

“Fantastic!” said Bill. And we moved on to discuss the next point.

(Incidentally, the clients favoured images which included, not surprisingly, a picture of a client – and apparently science proves, unsurprisingly, that images including people are more memorable than those without.)

In his great book Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely describes being a patient with a serious burn, and experiencing getting his bandages changed, which was terribly painful. He found that the nurses had a theory about what would minimize the patient’s pain, which was to pull them off quickly. But he had his doubts, and when he recovered, he eventually did actual research to understand the experience of pain better. It turns out (a lovely research phrase which Ariely uses frequently) that pulling the bandages off quicker makes for a more painful experience than doing so slowly, and also that anticipation of pain makes a huge difference to the actual experience of pain. He came up with recommendations to reverse the approach taken on the burn ward. He found it intriguing how such skilled caregivers could get things so wrong, in part because there wasn’t research to help steer them in the right direction, but also because they had assumptions that they were operating on – almost as if they thought there was research when in fact there was none.

With my client Bill, it was an easy sell to convince him to do client-focused research in the first place, and very straightforward for him to learn from it – his ego wasn’t wrapped up in the outcome and he was open to whatever they had to tell him. But in my experience this is fairly rare, really. Because it isn’t practical to research every aspect of our businesses, we have to make assumptions based on our professional and personal experience in order to make decisions, and we often get stuck in this mode of operating without data.

Shouldn't we all check with our clients whether we are doing what they actually want, rather than what we assume they want? In some industries we can get quick feedback on smaller things. But in other situations – where industries are characterized by long-term relationships, slower buying cycles, and complex purchase decisions, as we see in many B2B industries - it's trickier to add up the various stimuli in our environment to see the big picture. So it's a great idea to systematically ask your clients, how's it going? How do you like our product or service? What can we do differently? What else is going on in your business?

And then you analyze the answers to find patterns; do newer clients and clients with longer tenure say the same things, or different? What is driving satisfaction – or dissatisfaction? If clients are satisfied, would they recommend you? Why or why not? If they are dissatisfied, why haven’t they left?

We often do this kind of research project for clients, and there’s certainly incredible value in having a third party conduct this research, since your clients will tell us things, under conditions of anonymity, they may never tell you directly. We also bring objectivity to the process, which is hard to maintain when it’s your own business.

But even if you ask them yourself, you will build the relationship and reduce the gap between what clients really think and what you think they think.

 

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