One of the most stunning things we encounter when we run workshops about strategy, is the confidence managers usually have with respect to knowing their customers well. When we confront them with questions such as “how do you know this is exactly what your customers want?”, “how do you know this is the way to go?”, they answer, almost by design, that they know “because we have been working together for so long”, or “because sales have very good contacts with the customer base” or “because we’ve been around for so long in the industry”, and so on.
Phantom facts are hard to manage. They can destroy what you cherish most.
Phantom facts are like castles built in the air, with assumptions being the little building blocks of the master plan. And assumptions are growth killers. They kill painlessly slow. But the result is very painful.
How can we bring ourselves to making fewer assumptions?
In order to know what your customers need (what they need is not necessarily the same as what they want), you must have a thorough understanding of their way of thinking, their challenges, their problems, their dreams, their goals. You will not find out by asking, because people do not necessarily tell you what they need. They sometimes even can’t know because they are not always aware of all the possibilities around.
So, what do you have to do as a supplier or a manufacturer?
Watch, follow and listen carefully. Give the customers the floor. Give them the opportunity to show you things and to learn from them. And close the gap between “thinking you know” and “getting to know”. When you talk, you can only repeat what you already knew. But when you listen, you may learn something new.
There is a popular saying in the United States, based on a very simple idea that when you take assumptions for facts, chances are you are going to make a fool of yourself and the people you are taking along with you.
ASSUME = making an ASS out of U and ME.
So, to summarise, stop assuming. Instead, start on a journey to find out what really matters to your customers by keeping the dialogue open all the time. And finally, by developing your listening skills, you will gradually master the art of catching the difference between what they say they want and what they really need.