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Know your customers better than they know themselves

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. —George Bernard Shaw

Phillip Chichoni

Thomas Edison was an American inventor. He developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph (or gramophone), the motion picture camera, and a long lasting practical electric bulb.

Edison was one of the first inventors to apply the principles of mass production and large scale teamwork to the process of invention, and because of that he is often credited with the creation of the first industrial research laboratory.

Although Thomas Edison was a prolific inventor, he was not the only one. For example, Edison is popularly credited with the invention of the electric bulb, but a lot of other inventors had been working on it for years.

Humphrey Davy, an Englishmen, demonstrated a powerful electric lamp, the “arc lamp”, to the Royal Society. Frederick DeMoleyns and Joseph Swan worked on a vacuum enclosed bulb but were not entirely successful.

In 1879, Edison, with his staff of scientists and technicians, successfully produced the first practical light bulb. Edison was an entrepreneur foremost; he was interested in inventing things that had commercial value, which is why he patented most of his inventions, 1093 in total.

Edison’s greatest legacy is in being a founder of modern innovation, the process of turning an invention into a fully realised and patented commercial product that customers need and want.

Edison not only invented things, but his inventions established major new worldwide industries, notably electric light and power utilities, sound recording and motion pictures.

His entrepreneurial ventures led him to start fourteen companies, including General Electric, which is still one of the largest companies in the world. Why was he so successful? It was because he started with customers’ needs in mind; producing something that solved people’s problems.

Today not all of us can make big inventions like Thomas Edison. However, we can build businesses by using innovation to build loyal bands of customers. It starts with knowing your customers better than they know themselves. Here are a few tips, which I learned from the presentation made by Chomi Makina at the BusinessLink breakfast meeting last week.

Build relationships
Makina has been in business for over twenty years. In those years he has learnt three important things about customers. This is that customers buy from the people they know, the people they trust and the people they like.

“The richest people in the world look for and build networks, everyone else looks for work”, said the author of the Rich Dad, Poor Dad series of books, Robert Kiyosaki.

How many networking groups do you belong to? How many events do you attend each month to meet new people? You cannot build relationships while sitting in your office. You need to go out there, be it to business events, to play golf or to wherever prospective customers and potential business partners go. The more people you know, the faster you can grow your business.

Know your customers
To develop a relationship to the level that customers trust you, you need to know the things that customer want and need, and the problems they want solved. This entails listening very well when customers talk. Show empathy and customers will see that you care about them.

Imagine stepping into a major hotel, say the Crown Plaza, and the receptionist greets you by name, and the porters and even the manager also do that. You will fell elated. The best hotels in Europe and America actually do that. They research each customer who makes a booking and do their best to know them thoroughly, and then make him or her feel like a million bucks when he walks in. How can you do that in your business?

Be dependable
There are two types of customers. The first type is the transactional buyer. This one comes in to buy out of curiosity or just for a cent’s difference in price. They might even drive five kilometres just to save a dollar.

They can afford to wait and take pride in getting the best deal.

There is no loyalty there.

The second type of customer is the relationship buyer. This customer looks for a supplier they can trust. They seek friendly companies with reliable products. They look for people who recognise them, remember them, and do favours for them — people who build a relationship with them. Once they find such a supplier they tend to give them all their business. They know they can save a buck here and there but they find that it wastes too much time and emotional energy.

Relationship buyers, if properly cultivated will stay with you for a life time. So be dependable and offer customers good products and quality service so that they become relationship buyers.

If you missed the breakfast meeting, you can send me an email request and I will send you Makina’s full presentation.

Phillip Chichoni is a business development consultant who works with SMEs and entrepreneurs. You may contact him by email, chichonip@smebusinesslink.com. You can also visit http://smebusinesslink.com

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