NASE Blogs

Who Cares What You Like?

Mar 18, 2010

Sometimes I am amazed at the approach some small business owners take with their customers ... and their livelihood! Here's my point from a real life experience ... I was talking with a client we’ll call “D.A.”. We were trying to move more dollars down to the bottom line by decreasing his inventory so he wouldn't have so much money tied up in “product” sitting on the shelves.

One key part of our discussion concerned deciding what products should be discontinued and put on sale to streamline his product line. In the process of creating our “hit list” D.A. took about 10 seconds to identify four items he was emphatic about “having to go.” When I asked him how he could make a decision so fast, D.A. gave me his astute answer, “I never liked those products to begin with.”

At first I scratched my head trying to figure out what D.A. liked and didn't like about any product had anything to do with what made his cash register ring. I also wondered how I was going to approach his response what was I going say? After all ... D.A. is my client, my boss, the guy who signs my paycheck. If it weren't for people like D.A., I'd be sleeping in a cardboard box under some bridge and I didn’t want to be too harsh in my response. Then I remembered that D.A. wasn't paying me to be a “yes” man, he wanted my professional opinion. So I suggested that before we jumped to any conclusions we should review the sales volume and profit margins on the products he thought ought to become history. He agreed and wouldn't you know ... two of the four items D.A. wanted to nix were in the top 10 percent of all the products he sold and were higher profit margins then his average sales.

My next challenge was how to approach D.A.'s reaction after he looked at the numbers ... “I don't really care what the numbers show. I think those products are ugly and we need to get rid of them.”

Then it was time for me to really think about my approach to a paying client but I rolled the dice ... trying to add a little levity to my position. “Whoa D.A. baby, let's have a little heart-to-heart here. First let me give you my business rule #761 -- “Who cares what you like? You may own the business but you don't buy the products! It’s the customer who decides what sits on the shelves.”

While D.A. decided to listen to me, the sad part of this story is many business owners think just like D.A. Their name might be on the lease and they might have picked out the color of carpet, but they don't understand that when it comes to deciding what products or services are sold by the business ... those decisions belong to the customers. For example, I'd have to be floating in a rubber raft in the middle of an ocean before you could get me to eat an avocado; but, you can bet your last entrepreneurial dollar that if I ran a Tex-Mex restaurant I'd be serving avocados with everything on the menu!

Maybe I shouldn't be telling you this because marketing consultants giving away trade secrets is like magicians revealing how their illusions work. But I'm sure you'll keep my little secret. So, let's say you want to know how to sell more of whatever you sell and you decide to hire a marketing consultant to develop a marketing plan for your business. After spending a couple hours of “yadda .. yadda .. yadda” (that's consultant-speak for doing a lot of talking without really saying anything), the consultant asks for your financials, historical marketing data and ... most importantly ... a database of all your customers.

You see, the consultant’s primary goal is to get their hands on that customer database. Then  they create a survey outline and call a bunch of your customers and ask them how you are doing and what they like and don't like about doing business with you. They’ll also ask your customers what you should be doing to motivate them to do more business with you.

From the results of the customer surveys the consultant might do another survey to get more specific information or might even do a focus group (at your cost of course). Then the consultant will prepare a nice professional looking 25 page report outlining what needs to be done to market your business and sell more product or services. Of course you’ll also get the consultant’s bill for about $7,500 to $10,000!

Now, just so you don't think marketing consultants are a bunch of overpriced “magicians” who are very good at making your money disappear, there is a lot more to creating a good marketing plan than just repeating what your customers have to say and IF the consultant is good, you'll get a very nice return for your investment.

So what does all this leave us with? Just this ... your customers and potential customers have just about all the answers about how to market your business. They are the best, and least expensive, marketing consultants you can hire. Any business that doesn't conduct regular market surveys with their customers, doesn't ask every person who comes in the door or calls on the phone how they heard about you, doesn't analyze how much return they are getting on their marketing effort is making a big marketing mistake. And these are the kinds of businesses guys like me love, this is hero-country for us, where the answers are obvious and the sources to get the answers are easy. All we have to do is ask your customers what they like and what they don't like about your business.

So why do so many businesses hire marketing consultants to get the job done? It's because we know one of the most important secrets ... “It doesn't matter what YOU like, it's your customers’ opinions that really count!”

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