5 Sneaky Ways to Find Out What Customers Really Want… Without Asking Them

5 Sneaky Ways to Find Out What Customers Really Want… Without Asking Them

Joshua Black has long stood out in our comment section here at Men with Pens – I admire his firm tone, his thought-provoking suggestions and his dead-on comments that show plenty of marketing brains. (His avatar also shows off a nice pair of shades, but that’s a different story.) Enjoy Joshua’s post – and put his ideas to good use!

“If I asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said -a faster horse.” – Henry Ford

You can’t swing a dead cat these past few years without hearing that the customer is king and that you’ve got to find your niche market before you create something to sell.  It seems like you’re supposed to find a starving crowd and then feed them what they’re looking for on a silver platter so that they gobble up your content like a kid in a candy store.

The problem with all of this is that you CANNOT directly ask your customers what they want, because (as Ford so eloquently put it) they’ve no idea what they want until they actually see it. After all, if he’d found them a faster horse, then maybe we’d never have pickups and trucks on the roads today.

Therein lies the rub… How do you find out what your customers want so that you can sell it to them, make a big pile of money, and then go live in Fiji under a palm tree the rest of your life?

This is the curse of the copywriter, the entrepreneur, the innovator, and the candlestick maker. You’re the one that everyone counts on to be innovative, to come up with the NEXT BEST THING since hot water… and you need to find that THING to sell.

So you’re going to have to do a little digging. You’re going to have to do something that’s hard. You’re going to have to put in a lot of research, strap on your innovator helmet, pull up your dare-to-be-different pants, and get to work.

Here are 5 ways to crawl inside your customers’ brains and extract a vial of what they really want without having to come right out and ask ‘em:

1. This or that: A very successful online retailer of women’s clothing thought of a way to sell only their customers’ favorites without making them say their faves out loud. The retailer continually showed two distinctly different pieces of clothing side by side and had their audience vote for the best.

The unanimous winner went in the catalog and made thousands for the company. If the retailer couldn’t determine a sure favorite of their customers, they did split testing.

You can do this with just about any niche. Make your audiences pick between two (and only two) products or services, and then give them an opportunity to choose.

2. Go to Wal-Mart: This expression means you should get out there and eavesdrop on your customers in their natural environment. Hang around the lions while they’re kicking back in their den complaining about their biggest problems to other lions (like who left their dirty undies lying around the cave).

Customers will never really tell you their problems if you ask directly. They often don’t exactly know what their problems are.

Listen to what customers say. Are they complaining? About what? Are they sighing over something they wish they had? What is it? What problems keep them from getting the results they want?

Don’t say a word. Take copious amounts of notes and quietly leave the scene like an entrepreneurial ninja. I like to hang out at coffee shops and use my Blackberry for this kind of covert operation, because it just looks like I’m texting someone and being oblivious to people at other tables.

3. Walk the dog: We’re at our peak of creativity when we allow our subconscious mind to do the heavy lifting and our conscious mind trots off to la-la land. Get outside and just go for a walk, preferably with your dog.

Allow your mind to wander. Imagine you were your customer. Look at what’s around you, take in the sights and the smells (only if they’re worth smelling), and try to be that person.

Don’t try to think about finding a solution to the problem you believe your customer has. Drop that and just pretend you’re the customer with the complaints – then let your subconscious do all the work. It’ll often offer up a solution when it’s damn good and ready.

4. Look somewhere else: Check out other industries. This is one of the key reasons that Dan Kennedy became so successful – he borrowed from other places.

Go look for top dogs in a completely unrelated industry. How did they solve their customers’ problems? What unique action did they take? What product or service did they create that you can borrow to make your own and become the rock star of your niche?

Let’s say that you’re a copywriter for the golf niche. To find your ultra-fab solution, maybe the roofing industry offers a good idea – or the tow-truck industry, or even the world of knitting (just don’t tell the golfers how you came up with your new idea).

5. The 10% solution: Go where people are already buying. There’s almost always an innovative idea that can be traced back to what’s already selling like hotcakes.

Here’s what you do: Find a product, service, or solution that’s already working and selling very well. Next, improve on that idea by just 10%. Show the same niche of people that your idea is soooooooo much better than the current one and – BINGO! You win.

Of course, be careful you’re not messing with a cult-status product (think iPod or Macs), because then you’ll be looked upon as a cheap imitator instead of an innovator.

There you have it – 5 ways to find out what your customer really wants, and tools you can take out whenever the mystery needs to be solved.

How do you dive into the thoughts of your customers? What should be number 6 on this list?

Joshua Black is a small business consultant, and copywriter that runs a teeny, little FREE newsletter called the Underdog Millionaire Tip Sheet, built for the struggling small business owner trying to claw a way out of the rat race without breaking the bank. And when he’s not doing that, he’s aimlessly walking his dog around Michigan and eavesdropping his way to new product ideas.

When it comes to solving problems, inspiring creative ideas and coming up with new products or services for your customers, there's nothing better than A Whack on the Side of the Head, by Roger von Oech.

We loved this book – because it really gets you thinking outside the box!

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