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Gobbling up customer-centric strategies

October 21, 2008

Just a few weeks ago, the leaves were turning from green into brilliant reds, oranges and browns; the temperature was a balmy 20 degrees celsius and there was not a cloud in the sky for three days straight – it was a perfect weekend to celebrate Thanksgiving.

For many of us, this holiday involves getting together with the family to enjoy the last few days of nice weather. It also means pumpkin pie, apples and spice, carving up a large bird, talking about the latest topic (politics, sports, trends etc.) and then proceeding to sleep off the fourteen pounds we just ate.

My strategy for getting through the weekend is usually balancing the copious amounts of food with just the right amount of physical activity. But mostly, I try not to think too hard about making the weekend perfect. I just got with the flow!

For Thanksgiving this year, my partner and I decided to head out of town to catch up with some folks we hadn’t seen in months. I also had the pleasure of visiting my old boss whose dinners usually end up being the highlight of my visit. Not only are he and his wife excellent hosts, but they also happen to be some of my favourite people, because they always have fascinating insights to share about how our world works.

As we sat in their cozy dining room bantering politics over a mouth-watering roast, we got onto the topic of work. My old boss’ latest project involved an enormous national campaign. When I asked him how it was going, he turned to me and said, “Really well. Speaking of which, did you sign up for it?”

“Yep. I even signed up my partner,” I replied.

My partner looked at me across the table with a raised eyebrow. “You did?” he asked, somewhat amused. “Yeah,” I said. “I knew you’d want to sign up and that you’d eventually get around to it. But that could be another year. So I did it for you! Trust me, you’ll be grateful.”

My old boss chuckled and said, “That’s great. But you know, I have an interesting challenge. I need to grow public awareness, and yet I have no way of figuring out who my target customer is. Because of privacy laws, I’m not allowed to see who wants this service.”

Hmm…I thought. Interesting challenge indeed. How on earth do you identify your customer, without any metrics or qualifiers? More importantly, how do you measure your success in reaching your customer if you have no idea who you’re reaching out to?

“What if you went backwards and eliminated all the people who have made themselves known to you?” I suggested. “Maybe,” he said. “Or what about a national marketing campaign?” I asked. He shook his head. “Nope. There is no budget for such endeavours.” Another idea was to send out fliers. Or a partnership with a company that had wide enough reach?

He thought these were all good ideas, but they still didn’t really tell him who he was reaching out to.

As we chewed on the various possibilities, I thought about what someone who thinks process and who thinks systematically would say? In other words, if this were a client of Tatham’s, what would we tell them? And immediately, it hit me.

“I’ve got it!” I said excitedly. “What if I’m your customer?”

My old boss looked at me and said, “ok, I’m listening.”

“You see, you just did the most obvious thing you could do: you asked me if I had signed up. You talked to your customer directly. And I answered, yes. I signed up, and I signed up a whole bunch of other people too. That makes me the person you’re reaching out to.”

He looked at me and said, “it’s genius. You’re absolutely right. My customer is women. My wife did the exact same thing.”

This was a classic case of the answer practically sitting right in front of you – in his case it was at his dining room table.

Now, realistically, this is still just a hypothesis. If you really want the right answer, it requires systematic experimentation in order to find the root cause – or in this case the true solution.

The truth is – some of the best strategies are the most obvious ones. They’re the ones we overlook because it’s just too simple. In fact, we often hear managers who apply the Tatham Method say, “it can’t possibly be that easy! I would have thought of it a long time ago!”

The moral of the story: always ask your customer. You’d be surprised what kind of feast of information you’ll find.