Want to know what other business people are saying about your company and your products? Are you curious why one revenue stream is a "river" and another revenue stream is a "drip?" Hint: I have no plans to retain a market research firm to tell me what I should be hearing directly from customers and prospects! Here are two of my proven methods of getting the "story from the street."
One of my favorite means of gauging what people are saying about my company and written products is to come right out and visit the other person's business. Just before lunchtime, I visit one of my best customers' businesses with an ice chest of "goodies" for everyone in the office. The day that I plan to be in the customers' lobby at 11:30 a.m., I call to confirm that the decision makers and influential staff members will be in the office that morning.
I want to emphasize that a common sense business etiquette approach is to respect other people and their work schedules. With snacks you provide, located in the lobby near the receptionist, different members of the customers' company can "talk and go" (including decision makers). Casually ask different members of the staff and decision makers what they like and don't like about your company and your company's offerings.
I make my position very clear, in a polite way, with people as they come and go in the lobby. I want to know what they think about my company and my products. After visiting (or over nighting) two of my best customers in this manner, I select two customers that have recently tapered off the orders and duplicate the same thing before lunch.
When everyone relaxes with snacks, you will be amazed what you hear. Often, partakers in the lobby will sense that I really do want the truth, be it good or bad, and provide their unaltered opinions. On top of it all, people walking through the lobby when I'm there with "goodies" seem to treat me differently later...as to acknowledge that I really care about our business relationship. You can call this a real power lunch!
What do you do about customers located in another city? Simply overnight non-perishables to arrive by 10:30 a.m. with an enclosed explanation. Inside the "goody box," my note of explanation thanks them for their business (or return to business soon, hopefully) and a genuine desire that everyone in the office will enjoy the snacks.
For business people in another city, I soon call the primary decision maker to thank them for their business and ask permission to ask several brief questions. Questions are always specific and revolve around what the decision maker likes and doesn't like about the way my company is conducting business.
Are you sitting down for my next research methodology? I can personally verify the axiom, "kids say the darndest and most honest things." Earlier this year, I organized a "theme trip" for kids from nine to twelve years old to a favorite area fast food restaurant (do this first) and my office lobby afterward (including the parents). About 2 o'clock, we went to a small theme park. The Saturday event was not only fun, it was rewarding for personal and business reasons. Remember to discourage the kids from overeating, or you will have to postpone the entire afternoon activities. I can hear you now. You are asking, "How can kids contribute to my company success?" Read on.
My theme trip program has its beginnings from one of professional copywriters' best research tools. A professional copywriter knows that a twelve year old has to understand what is being said about a company in print (the copywriter's assignment) or go back to the drafting table. I apply the same idea of "kid response" to my company and written products. Kids need to be able to understand what my company does for others and the basics of why I show up for work to give me valuable open feedback. Boy, what feedback I hear!
One nine year-old suggested that I write shorter sentences with more down-to-earth language to quickly communicate with customers what I wanted them to do (excellent observation and implemented). Another ten year-old said she likes to see "one-topic booklets" of information, instead of mixing three topics in a large ring binder (implemented on the next printing). As an added bonus, parents gave me valuable tips that are being implemented wherever possible.
You are probably asking yourself, "What did all this research cost?" For each company where snacks were provided before lunchtime, my total budget was seventy-five dollars. For each participant in the "theme trip" (there were 14 kids and parents), my budget was thirty dollars apiece.
Now, you are probably wondering if I believe my results were worth the effort? Undoubtedly, Yes! The next time you want to know what people are really thinking about your company and your products, I can confirm that food, people and market research mix very well.
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