Forgive me for the click bait-y headline, but it is an accurate way of describing the issue I am going to discuss in this article. I’m not going to write about business plans or financing issues or supply chain miscues. Instead, I’m going to write about a problem that is more insidious because it hides in a massive blind spot for all of us who manage a business. Let me go back to that headline:
The biggest mistake business leaders make is believing that they are just like their customers.
In short, you are not your customer. It’s hard to hear for most business leaders because they almost certainly used to be their customer. This is especially true for those who start a company: a lover of the outdoors starts a company that makes boots, a farmer starts a company that builds implements, a vegan starts a vegan deli, a supervisor at a manufacturing plant starts a similar business making sub assemblies. They all start their businesses with complete confidence that they understand their prospective customers better than anybody else.
And they do. Until they don’t. After she’s been in business for a few years, that hiker spends more time in board rooms than on the mountain (and she can afford to buy any boot on the market). The farmer is more familiar with the latest manufacturing techniques than the struggles of someone who is new to ag. The vegan is now a chef, and the plant supervisor is now head of sales, flying across the globe to meetings and trade shows.
It isn’t just business owners. Manufacturing is dominated by skilled engineers and technicians who build products for industries where purchasing decisions are made by someone who is entirely different than them. Too often we see products marketed to engineers when the real decision maker is the CFO, someone equally smart but with a very different personality and set of priorities.
Now the good news – there is incredible power in recognizing that you no longer represent your customer. Once you do, you can focus on identifying who really is your customer, and that improves your communication, your sales and your goodwill with the folks who matter most to your business.
It’s a big step to admit that you – and the people you sell to – have changed. After all, change is the only constant in the world, and it brings new opportunities to business. For instance, once you start studying your modern customers, you may come across a new set of customers that you hadn’t considered before.
Has you company every done research? How often do you ask your customers what they truly want from your business? An activity as simple as creating customer personas can reap huge benefits and provide important direction for your strategic decision making.
There you have it – the biggest mistake a business owner can make is also a massive opportunity to improve how their company does business! Identify the unique characteristics of decision makers in your industry and then put that information to work. You’ll be glad you did.