What do customers really want?

What do customers really want? It’s a tantalising question, and the central mission of business development. Get it right, every time, and you'll have more business than you know what to do with.

But like the Holy Grail, the answer to this question can be frustratingly elusive. There are many reasons why this is the case. Here are just a few of them:

Personal differences. Like you and I, customers are complex beings. They don't all want the same thing. It doesn't matter if they have the same problems, are in the same industry, or work for the same company.

Changing priorities. Even the exact same buyer may want one thing one day, but something else the next.

Invisible forces. We can never possibly hope to know everything there is to know about another human being. We can't see everything that's going on inside their world or their head.

People have tried many things to overcome these problems; asking customers what they want, poring over a customer’s mission and vision statements, and telling them what other customers have done in similar situations. Some of this can be useful, to a point. But it is not without its problems. 

For example, have you ever bought a present for a friend who admired something in a shop window, only to find that when you give it to them, six months later, they have no recollection of it and it’s pretty clear that they don’t really want it?

Market research can be a bit like this. It turns out that market research (asking customers what they want) is a poor predictor of what they will actually buy. According to AcuPoll, as many as 95% of new products introduced each year fail. Time Magazine lists the top 3 product failures of all time as the Ford Edsell (1957), which cost $2.9 billion in today’s terms; the Hewlett Touch Pad (2011), which was discontinued almost immediately at a cost of $885m in assets and $755m in wind-down costs; and Crystal Pepsi (1992). All were backed by expensive market research and extensive marketing campaigns.

One useful way to figure out what customers really want is to watch what they do, not what they say.

Yesterday, The Age reported that Spotless Group lost a 31-year contract at Suncorp Stadium to the much smaller O'Brien Group (which employs 6,000 people to Spotless' 30,000) as part of an international tender. Suncorp said that the winning O'Brien bid "best met all key criteria" and described them as innovators, with a bid that included a plan to redevelop Suncorp's 70 bars and restaurants. It can be inferred from this that Suncorp valued the winner’s investment of time and thinking about how to revamp their hospitality suites and overall customer experience.

What are your customers spending their time on? Their energy? Their money?  This tells you what they are valuing right now, and give you clues as to how to frame your own offer. 

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business that is won through competitive bids and tenders. Her clients have won and retained hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business with many of Australia’s largest corporate and government buyers.

Had a tough year? Missed out on business you really wanted? Let’s make sure 2016 is different. The Pole Position program will position you to win the opportunities on your radar for next year. Email info@robynhaydon.com or call 03 9557 4585 to find out more.