If You’re Only Listening to Your Buyers, You’re Doing It Wrong


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Out of all the mantras good business leaders absorb, listening to their customers is probably the most fundamental. It’s only when you pay attention to what they need and want, after all, that you can develop targeted products and services that sell well. So, it’s buyers that should drive your decisions, right?

Not even close.

Related: A Guide to Turning Your Customers Into Your Product Designers

Why the concept of buyer control is seriously flawed

Buyers do matter. But statistically speaking, they are only a tiny fraction of the full market. In our experience, for example, a typical website converts just 1 or 2 percent of visitors. You maybe can get that up to 3 or 4 percent if you’re in a niche market and do an absolutely stellar job. The same kind of situation happens in retail stores, although it’s not quite as dire. Most retailers see a conversion of around 30 to 35 percent from what I’ve seen.

So, you have to ask yourself: What about the 97 percent of online shoppers who don’t buy anything? And for retail visitors, do the 70 percent just disappear into oblivion for some reason?

When you look at only your buyers, you might get a sense of what went right with a small part of your target market. But you’re not going to the people who didn’t buy to figure out what went wrong or where to improve what you have. 

Think about this from the innovation perspective, too: For most companies, the whole point of trying to know customers is to facilitate sales and scale the business upward. The ability to adapt to the buyer also contributes to competitiveness. But if buyers alone are your focus, then you’re probably hearing the minority opinion. The more you connect with non-buyers and those on the extreme ends of the market bell curve, the greater the variety of perspectives and ideas you’ll get back. This has a direct influence on whether you can get something into the market that no one else is producing or doing. It enables you to be a trendsetter, rather than a trend follower.

In this situation, it makes little sense to simply keep torturing conversion data and dissecting what customers do with methods like post-purchase surveys. Instead, your goal should be to focus on the people who visited but didn’t buy and figure out how to help them along the conversion funnel. And, you can do this without ignoring the people who already give you their money. 

How to pay attention to people who aren’t buying yet

The golden rule when it comes to listening to prospective buyers is the same as for listening to current ones: Get feedback through all stages of the buying process. Online surveys, for example, can be used as popups right away to determine the top product categories people come to your site hoping to find. And in the same way, abandonment notifications at the end of a visit can also help you figure out why someone ultimately opted not to spend.

In-store equivalents aren’t as common, but they’re still totally doable. For instance, some retailers ask for feedback as customers leave the store. This is how to do it, because the solicitation doesn’t depend on whether the individual has reached the cash register. It’s easy to implement in conjunction with tools like post-purchase emails. Retailers can expand, however, through options like leaving surveys on shelves or in the dressing rooms. You really want to see what people think or need and get a sense of their experience throughout the entire store.

Related: The 5 Key Metrics Every Business Needs to Track

For real success, make everybody your business

Connecting with buyers has long been standard business advice. But non-buyers are a far larger segment of the market. It makes more sense to go after the potential within this group than it does to try to squeeze innovation and profit from only a small percentage of people who spend. This does not mean that you should abandon buyers. It just means that you need to walk with everyone through their entire journey with you. By getting feedback at all touchpoints, you’ll see not only how to convert, but also how to innovate well into the future.



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