“Life is beautiful not because of the things we see or do. Life is beautiful because of the people we meet.” —Simon Sinek

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” —Bill Nye

All of the successful refinement of your product/service offering, all of your marketing effectiveness – copywriting, offers, website, SEO, everything – depends on knowing what will attract people who become repeat customers and refer others. And that means you need to really understand them.

The best way to understand your ideal customer – one who buys more than once and refers you – is to listen to them. Ask them open-ended questions and hear what they have to say. Or learn about their lives and how they’ve adapted to gaps you could fill. Listen to what they’re not saying and for what they’re not doing.

Conversation is key. Not a survey. Not a list of questions. Don’t delegate this to an uninvested employee or intern. Intel has a cultural anthropologist studying the gaps in people’s daily lives that could be bridged by Intel technology: they listen, watch, spend time with people understanding their lives. They don’t treat this as an administrative task completed upon submission of a one to five question survey: this is the lifeblood of their future star products. As it is for you too.

How can you do this?

Take a look at where you’re having transactional interactions with your customers right now. In person? In online confirmations? Email? Notifications?

Then, get yourself in the mindset of curiosity. Not the mindset of getting something done, checking off a task, getting a testimonial or a net promoter score – this is NOT that.

Make a list of open-ended questions that don’t relate to any of the agenda items mentioned above. Be curious. Without looking for confirmation of anything you think you know, what question(s) could you ask that give you an insight about something you’ve never thought of?

Now, which of those questions can you thoughtfully, playfully, artfully add into an in-person conversation with your customer? In a confirmation email? A welcome email? In your packaging when you ship something?

And make sure that when you add questions (I recommend only one at first), you are earnest. Perhaps you even reveal that you genuinely care about knowing what they think. That this isn’t a survey or a transactional check in.

Seeking to understand your customer also communicates that they matter to you: what they think, how they feel, what their lives are like. Humans want to matter. And that will set you apart from businesses in the game to only make money as a supplier and not a partner. They’ll compete on price; you’ll be way ahead.

We can help you think about how to do this – just reply to this email and we’re happy to have a free ideation session.

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” —Dale Carnegie

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Conversation with Erin HiggenbothamA deep conversation with Erin Higgenbotham of DEEP East Oakland Coop