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discovering what your clients really want

Selling isn’t difficult if you approach it the right way. The first step in any good sales funnel is understanding or discovering what it is that your customers really want or need. There’s a line from the famous musical Hello Dolly that sums up the idea behind sales in a very acute way (and forge me because I’m paraphrasing):

“If you want to be rich figure out how to sell something that everyone needs at least once a year.” The line is told by a cold, wealthy man to an impoverished artist and it’s quickly followed up with “you sell something nobody needs ever.”

Indeed, if you’re selling art, you have an uphill battle because the quality of the product is not really what sells it but the allure of it being collectible or fashionable which has very little to do with the artwork itself. Art collectors, as an example, generally acquire art they believe will increase in value or has some kind of historical significance. That’s why some post-modern pieces that took only a few minutes and virtually no technical skill to create can demand millions of dollars.

Art aside though, most of us sell products or services that provide a tangible value to our customers. However, most of us never take the time to do the market research and figure out what it is exactly that our ideal customer or client is looking for. Without this basic clarity it’s hard to understand how to position yourself in your marketing efforts and grow your business.

Make a list of what you think they are

The first step in trying to understand what your clients want is to make a list of everything you assume they want. This does two things: 1) it creates your hypothesis that we can later check our results against,  and 2) it give you some ideas to start with to create some survey questions to start collecting data.

Once you start writing down all the things you believe your clients or customers are interested in you should start to brainstorm about other products and service that might be related to try to go outside of the box.

What’s this look like?

For example, if you’re a real estate agent you might originally list that your ideal clients are homeowners looking to get the most value when they sell their home but start to ask some deeper questions. Where are they going? Why are they moving? If they’re a young family upgrading then they’ll need to know the school districts in the area that would best suit their kids. If they’re a divorced couple they might be dealing with a very contentious break up and actually be looking for a good attorney or therapist. They might, in fact, not be interested in the most value for their home but be more interested in selling it quickly because they need to move on.

While you’re in this brainstorming session don’t rule anything out. Even if it’s not your ideal client, it’s important to know who you want to stay away from as much as you want to go after.

We’ve Done This Ourselves

As a quick aside, we’ve done this for our own business and it helped clarify some things about our own market. People who are looking to get a website designed usually fall into one of the following categories:

A new start-up with big ambitions
A seasoned freelancer or solo-preneur who is FINALLY getting around to building a website
A company that is looking to get a digital facelift

The best clients for us tend to be the third group as they understand the value of a good website that brings in leads while the other two tend to penny-pinch and have no idea how much quality work really costs. While the first two provide us with our constant stream of business they require a lot more work for less revenue so we usually try to market to the third tier as that’s our ideal client.

Create a Survey

Once you have your list of brainstorming questions it’s time to formulate them into a more formal questionnaire that can be used as a survey. The idea is to get real data from existing customers or people who would be your ideal customers.

Using the real estate example these questions might look like this:

What are you looking for in a realtor?
Why did you sell your home?
Please place the following qualities in order from most to least important for a real estate agent:
-Easy to get a hold of
-Understands digital marketing and how to get my house online exposure
-Has years and years of experience
-Works with a big-brand real estate company
-has sold homes in the area I’m selling in

You might be surprised to find that people don’t care about your past sales but want to know that you’re committed to the area you’re selling in or that they don’t care about how many years you’re doing it but how aggressive you are with digital marketing. These questions always have a few surprises in them. We’ve done tons and tons of these kinds of surveys for clients and there have always been a few surprises that really shine a light of where we’ve neglected some of their market.

If you have an email list send it out

The easiest thing to do is to send out the survey to your email list with a service like survey monkey. In order to do that, of course, you need to have a substantial number of clients or customers you’ve worked with in the past. A lot of them will not fill out the survey so in order to get a good sample size you need to have a large enough list to be able to conduct a survey with results that are worth analyzing.

Pro Tip: Offer an incentive to fill out the survey. It can be small like a $20 coffee card raffle but something is better than nothing and tends to increase the participation in an online survey.

If you don’t, approach people EVERYWHERE

If you don’t have a list you can be bold and print them up yourself and just ask people out on the streets or at events to fill out a quick questionnaire. Again, a little incentive here goes a long way so if you’re doing a raffle, make sure to let them know when it’s being held, how they’ll be alerted of the winner and all the other details.

There are also laws about where you can solicit information like this and where you can’t so be sure to check where and when it’s appropriate to do these kinds of things so you don’t get in trouble.

Hire a polling company

The last option is the most expensive but it is without a doubt the most thorough. Many branding and marketing companies have an in-house staff that conduct focus groups to get answers to survey questions like this. We don’t do this in-house but work with a great partner to pull this kind of data. There’s an art and a science to running an effective focus group and when you know what you’re doing you can use fewer people and get more accurate results but it really involves using a professional.

Analyze the data

If you used a online survey tool like survey monkey then the data is analyzed in part for you. They’ll give you the hard numbers but you’ll still have one or two figures in there that might confuse you. In the real estate scenario listed above, for example, you might be surprised with how few people care about what company an agent is with when you know from your own personal experience that it makes a difference. In that case you might have to postulate why on your own and figure out what it means.

If you’re using a focus-group the people doing the polling and running the group will usually tell you what the results mean and actually make recommendations on where and how to spend your marketing money as a result of the focus groups.

Of course, the hardest (but free) option is running your own surveys by hand but you then have to create spread sheets and crunch the numbers yourself before analyzing what it all means.

Look back at your marketing/sales plan and see if it aligns with what you’ve found.

Once you have the data and the analysis it’s time to take a cold-hard look at how it stacks up against your hypothesis and admit defeat. The truth is nobody is every 100% right in their assumptions. There are always a few surprises when doing polling and focus groups and that’s what you want. If you know everything about your market and aren’t successful then chances are your product or service sucks or you have a bad reputation.

In other words, if you could predict everything in a focus group and your business isn’t flying high then you have bigger problems. But for 99.9999% of you out there the surprises in the outcomes of this little test will give you a clear idea of what kind of client you’ve been neglecting or what kind of feature in your product or services you could highlight more to grow your business.

Final Thoughts

In essence if you want to know what your customers or clients really want the best way to find out is to ask. Without being bold and simply asking them what they’re interested in you might never really find out what they want and you’ll continue to keep guessing with your advertising which could be deadly to the growth of your business.


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