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“Our customers know what they want”

If you read my post the other day, “Are You Helping or Selling?” you understand how I feel about solving your customers’ problems instead of just trying to sell them something. Not everyone agrees, however. Perhaps you said to yourself, “This doesn’t apply to us. Our customers know what they want.” One reader, who would understandably like to remain anonymous, fears that will be the boss’ reaction. What do you say when your boss reacts this way?

As human beings, we try to be rational, but it’s very hard for us to get away from our own personal experience. Usually, relying on our experience is extremely rational. It protects us in many situations, but sometimes it leads us astray, and this is unfortunately one of those times.
Imagine that your store was located in a hard-to-find location and you never gave anyone directions. You could watch every customer walk into your store and tell yourself, “Look at all these customers that come here with no directions—why do we need to bother with them?” You are only serving the ones that can find you without directions, so of course they don’t need directions, but what about everyone else?
Likewise, if every customer you see already knows your company and the products you sell, it doesn’t mean that you have no need to adopt problem-oriented helpfulness in your selling. Rather, it means that, because you have no helpful information available, people that need help are going elsewhere. The only ones that can find you are the ones that don’t need any help.
So when your boss says, “Our target market just knows what they want,” you need to ask, “How do you know?” If the proof is experiential or anecdotal rather than based on any testing you’ve done, it’s time to run a test. Likewise, my anonymous reader wrote, “I still believe that as we deal in many parts that are out of production or have other unique features, there are at least some customers who only have a slight idea what they want that could be converted earlier.” I suspect that’s true, but we still need to test it. If you’re willing to test what you think versus what the boss thinks, you have a chance of winning. Otherwise, it’s a standoff of opinions. And opinions are like necks—everybody has one. What we need is data.
So even though they say experience is the best teacher, it’s not the perfect teacher. Usually we can trust our experience to yield the right answer, but we should continually question our experience in something as new as Web marketing. Testing our assumptions usually yields the better decision.


Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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