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How To Stand In Your Customer's Shoes (Without A Focus Group)

IStock_000000927297Large About two months before I turned in the final manuscript on my first marketing book, it was available for pre-order on Amazon. You could see the cover and the writeup about the book, and unknown to anyone who might have visited that page – the book wasn’t even finished yet. I admit, I did pre-order a copy, mostly out of curiosity to see what kind of communications I would receive about it in the months leading up to its release.

Unfortunately for me, it didn’t make writing those last few sections any easier … but it did give me a good measure of exactly when the book was available and what someone who had preordered the book might experience. Since then, I have made it a point to always purchase products that I might be writing about or those that are sold by a client’s company (within reason, of course – I can’t always buy a new Ford or every new laptop with the latest Intel chip in it). There is nothing like going through the purchasing process as a consumer to get a different understanding about a product and business. 

As a small business owner, here are a few ways that you can start to adapt your behaviour to experience your business the way a customer might – so you can continue to improve your business.

  1. Find your products or services online. The simplest search to do is to type your brand name into Google and see if you come up in the top ten results. While it may be easy to do, it also is nearly meaningless because you are only focused on the people who may have heard about your business. Instead, search online for products or services such as those you sell without using any keywords about your business name and see if your website still comes up as highly as you would like.
  2. Read and respond to reviews. No matter what kind of business you are in, there may be customer reviews posted about your business. Sometimes they are not linked to your exact business name, but rather a version of your business name that you don’t use but people could easily search for (ie – your name without the “Inc” or “& Sons” after it). These reviews are highly likely to be seen by those who happen to read about your business online – so keeping track of them and responding if you have something to dispute or offer to the person who shared it would be entirely appropriate.
  3. Read your marketing materials out loud. When producing a brochure or a website, most of us are tempted to lapse into using business or marketing language instead of natural language to describe our products or services and what we do. The problem is that this is exactly the kind of language that customers DON’T respond to. Reading your materials out loud is an excellent way to check for yourself to see if you are using overly complicated language – so you can fix it and make it work better to sell your business.
  4. Follow your call to action. You can’t always buy your own product or service if it would be obvious to your fulfillment person or if your business offers a service such as tax preparation. Instead, you can follow the queues that your website offers and complete the call to action on your site. This could be filling out a contact us form and seeing how long it takes for someone to get back to you (likely using a false name, of course). If you can order your product relatively anonymously, go ahead and do so and track how long it takes and how it gets fulfilled.  
  5. Ask your average customers. Aside from all the tricks I have shared above, there is really no substitute from learning firsthand from the experiences of your customers. The problem is that many small businesses try to collect this feedback from their biggest or best customers primarily. Doing this will likely give you biased results. Instead, try to profile an “average” customer – someone who only buys once in a while, who has low personal involvement with you and your business and who could relatively easily be swayed to go to your competitor next time.  The insights this type of customer can offer you are worth chasing.

This post is republished from the original article on the American Express Open Forum website. It is part of "Small Business Friday" on this blog – a featured series on ideas and marketing techniques for small businesses.

To read more articles like this, visit the "Small Business Friday" category on this blog.