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Listen to your Clients

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As business leaders accelerate the pace at which they seek ways to distinguish themselves and create a specialized niche for their services and products, they must work harder than ever to create a compelling message. 

Whether this is dubbed a vision statement, a mission statement, proclamation of core values or even a customer bill of rights, the idea is to differentiate the company from its competitors while finding ways to build strong relationships with customers, clients and influencers in the community. Strengthening existing ties while forging new ones is a powerful way to expand growth and increase profitability.

As such, many organizations promote themselves as ‘problem solvers’ – the company with the technical savvy, business acumen and deep experience to help clients succeed.  But even as they go down this path, one key element may be missing.

All too often no one actually asks the customers what problems need solving or what support they are seeking.  Posing questions, probing and drilling down to elicit meaningful responses, and being a great listener is the first step in the process of becoming a true problem solver.

This is born out by the iconic story of one of Coca Cola’s greatest missteps to take place in its long and successful history as a beloved brand.

In the mid-1980s, as Pepsi was enjoying great popularity after launching the Pepsi Challenge marketing campaign, Coca-Cola opted to change its formula to remain relevant to what they saw as trend in changing soda tastes.

In order to compete more effectively with their greatest rival, Pepsi, Coca Cola decided to create a flavor that more closely replicated the Pepsi experience. But they did not ask Coke users if they wanted a product that would taste more like Pepsi. They conducted blind taste tests comparing New Coke to Pepsi and asked the customers which product they preferred. Time after time, loyal Coke fans selected the New Coke formula over Pepsi. 

The results were definitive enough to convince the company to roll out New Coke.

So on April 23, 1985, Coca-Cola launched New Coke with a huge marketing campaign. It was a momentous and bold decision: after all, the Coke formula had just turned 100 years old.

But it was a disaster. The company had asked customers if they preferred New Coke to Pepsi, but they never asked them if they preferred the New Coke taste to their original Coke! The customers' reaction was immediate -- and negative. Coca-Cola reported it received 7,000 phone calls in protest, which was a huge response in the pre-social media era.

By not asking the right questions, they created their own calamity.

And we all have a tendency to believe we know what our customers want and what problems we can solve. But instead of guessing, how about asking? It cannot hurt to talk to your clients, ask them what they value, what they worry about, and what new, disruptive trends they anticipate on the horizon. Armed with data and first hand discussions, you can develop the products, services and processes that will address their challenges.