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You probably don’t know what your customers want, but they do

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You probably don’t know what your customers want, but they do

I’ve worked in web development for 13 years now and have had the pleasure of working on hundreds of projects, ranging from small blogs to complex bespoke applications. I’ve seen the web evolve from the beginning of Web 2.0, through the rise of mobile and into the modern age of data collection.

One of the recurring themes in many of these projects is people making the same mistake, and I’ve made this mistake myself many times: you base the decisions you make on just the opinion of the business the site is for, and the agency’s opinions based on expertise.

And I have some bad news for you – both sides of that opinion are often wrong. When they’re right, it’s often by luck.

That’s not to say their opinion is invalid, quite the opposite.

The business is the reason the project exists in the first place. It’s its goals, objectives and desires that brought it to you in the first place. It wants to improve its website and generate profit for the business.

The agency doing the project has become a specialist in its field and has years of experience developing its craft. The agency has seen a lot, done a lot, and is well experienced. It knows its onions.

But ultimately, those opinions aren’t the ones that matter. It’s the opinions of your customers that really matter.

A great example is a customer buying a drill. They’re not buying the drill, they’re buying the hole they want to drill. It’s the outcome they want, not the actual tool. And yes, I’m sure there are plenty of people that just like buying a good drill. Ask yourself, are you thinking in terms of holes or drills?

That’s also not to say that you won’t get results from this approach. You probably will, but they can be better.

There is plenty of good news here though. User testing, customer research and digital data analysis are all highly evolved specialisms in their own right.

It’s also not that hard to do some of this yourself.

As the business with the customers and data, there is one thing you can do yourself with relative ease, and it’s even easier with the support of a qualified agency.

Talk to your customers

This really is simple, and you should start doing it tomorrow if you aren’t already.

The research shows that you only need five customers to be able to cover 85% of the problems on an interface.

That same logic can be applied to customer research as talking to just five people will give you more insight than talking to none. Even better, ask every prospect that calls you the following questions by building them into your initial sales questioning.

Talk to a customer that’s just joined you and start by asking some simple questions.

  • How did you find us? (Most businesses already ask this on the contact form – this can be a barrier. Ask it in conversation with them instead.)

  • Who are they? This will vary depending on whether they’re a B2C or B2B customer, so you may wish to ask their job role, or understand their personal situation.

  • What problem were you trying to solve?

  • What motivated you to contact us?

  • What’s the outcome you’re trying to achieve?

These simple questions will help you gain a much deeper understanding of what they want from you, which will then help inform how you market your company to them.

A great example in the agency world is recognising that our customers don’t want to buy our SEO services or products. They want their site to rank better against their competitors. They’re buying the hole, not the drill.

Jobs to be done

There’s a methodology that’s been evolving since the early 90s called ’Jobs to be Done’, which those that are familiar with Agile’s User Stories may recognise. The questions I recommended earlier will help create these jobs to be done. They follow a simple framework:

As a (who the person is)

When I am (the situation the person finds themselves in)

I want to (the motivation, or action)

So I can (the desired outcome).

Referring back to our drill example:

As a husband and father of 2 children,

When I am carrying out DIY

I want to buy a reliable and high-quality drill to avoid paying a tradesman

So I can drill a hole and put up shelves for my children’s toys.

From this one statement, you’ve abstracted away from selling drills and now understand who they are, what their problem is, why they want to do it, and what they’re trying to achieve.

Even better, we haven’t just assumed that. We know that because an actual customer has told us.

So why does this help us?

With this type of insight, we can now act on it in a way that resonates with an actual person. We know the customer is a father and has children. We know they want to avoid paying a tradesman to put shelves up. We know they care most about the hole they want to drill.

Using this simple set of statements, we can build in messaging to our website to evoke feelings of a father delighting his children, or achieving a state of bliss by keeping toys off the floor (OK, maybe those with children will find that unrealistic), or how spending £20 more on a better quality drill will save you hundreds of pounds in tradesman fees.

This is a simplistic example and it can be more complex, but take a step back to the beginning of this article and remember the ultimate aim. You’re no longer guessing what your customer wants. You know what they want because they’ve told you, and how you market to them and solve their true problem becomes much more straightforward.

Jon Martin is technical director at Hallam.

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