There is a paradox about leadership regarding your customers and potential customers and here it is. The longer you are a leader in your business and industry the more of an expert you will be seen to be. Simultaneously, you may also completely lose touch with what it is to be a new customer to your product or service, what those potential customers are really wanting to buy, and how your customer service occurs for both your existing and potential customers. It doesn’t take long to be immersed in your own marketing and sales belief system and lose touch with the expertise that allowed your original success. If you succumb to this very normal pattern, you will lose insight into something critical to your success and sustainability and you will become an expert/non-expert. This is the “ivory tower of leadership,” or at least one of them. You will have hard-won expertise in knowing your product or service, your competitors, and your existing customers, but you will likely lose understanding critical desires and behaviors about those who are not buying from you - your potential new customers. A great example of this occurs in my industry. Within the industry, people talk about “peer advisory.” Do you think there is a potential customer out there who has ever heard of “peer advisory” or has a clue what that means? I can say fairly definitely that the answer is “no” unless they have been approached by someone in the industry who explained it to them. It’s important that those in my industry understand how people who need these services talk about it, not how we inside the industry talk about it.
As a leader you need to find a way to reconnect with those out there who want and/or need your product or services, but may not have heard of it before, or may not talk about it the way you talk about it. You need to find out how they do talk about it. How would they ask for it? How would they approach finding you? What is their need from THEIR perspective, (not yours)?
If you have gotten into the ivory tower it’s time to try to find a connection back to the real world of your customers. Here are some ways to do that:
- Listen in to your customer service line or customer service phone calls on a regular basis. What happens there? What language are your customers using? What are their issues?
- Look at the contact form submissions from your website. What challenges are your potential customers talking about? Where are they struggling? What problem are they hoping you will solve for them? (There could be new product, service and business opportunities here if you pay attention.)
- Go to a marketing event that your team members are attending and just listen. Try to blend in and be as anonymous as possible so you can hear genuine conversations between your team and prospects.
- Do focus or research groups led by trained research professionals who know how to facilitate them to get quality information.
I encourage you to think hard about the issue of the ivory tower. You are likely missing opportunities, key information and more by not being in touch with the outside world of potential customers. This is along the lines of the principle of “beginner’s mind.” You are vulnerable to market disrupters that you won't see coming. Are you willing to approach your business from that place to see how to best be of service?