What kind of car are you? And Other Stupid Questions You Should Never Ask Clients.

I’m a huge believer in polling your customers to uncover key insights into how they buy, what they think, how they evaluate similar suppliers, etc. In fact, most of my assignments start with customer phone interviews, because the information uncovered during these conversations is priceless when it comes to developing a strategy that is truly relevant to the people who actually buy your products or services. Fundamental marketing. I get it.

I’m a huge believer in polling your customers to uncover key insights into how they buy, what they think, how they evaluate similar suppliers, etc. In fact, most of my assignments start with customer phone interviews, because the information uncovered during these conversations is priceless when it comes to developing a strategy that is truly relevant to the people who actually buy your products or services. Fundamental marketing. I get it.

So why did I recently refuse a client’s request to make these important calls?

As a shared sales and marketing executive I had worked with this client’s sales team for several months with good results. I was also tasked with supporting the marketing director. He had very different ideas when it came to “marketing”. After giving my recommendations as to the direction of the customer survey, I received a short list of questions he wanted to ask his company’s clients.

This smart, capable marketing director wanted to ask an audience of high level, technology buyers questions including:

  • “If you were to buy us a drink, what kind of drink would it be?”
  • “If we were a car, what kind of car would we be?”
  • “If we were an airline, what kind of airline would we be?”

What would you think if some marketing guy called you up and asked you these questions? He had done this type of survey before and was dead set on repeating this folly.

In my experience with this person, I knew that there was no chance of changing the direction of the survey.  Not only would I not embarrass myself or my client asking such superficial, pointless questions, I could not see how this line of questioning would provide us with useful information that would help fulfill the CEO’s dictum – to gain $5 million in yearly revenue in three years.

I know that a lot of marketing people ask these types of questions and think they are uncovering useful information. My problem with this approach is that it is far too subjective and open to interpretation. For example, if a customer says you are a Jaguar, you might think, “Great! We are high end, performance oriented, expensive and desirable.” However, the client might have a very different view of Jaguar and might have meant “Too expensive, prone to breakdowns and impractical.”

If the client wanted to buy us a “White Russian” how could I possible distill anything from such an answer that would specifically help the company sell more products or enhance their value in the market place? At best, the client thinks you are a raging alcoholic.

My questions would have been much different. Over the course of hundreds of client interview assignments, my questions often include:

  • “What is your buying criteria and how is it ranked?”
  • “If we stopped doing business, who would you buy from and why?”
  • “How do we compare to the competition based on your buying criteria?”
  • “What is your buying/selection process?”
  • “In what areas do we need to improve?”
  • “Why do you continue to buy from us?”
  • “What other needs might you have that we could fulfill?”

But what do I know. If I were a car, I’d be a _________.


4 comments

  1. Peter the great, Monfre / or Dad - March 5, 2015 3:57 pm

    If you were a dog, which way would you chase your tail, right or left?

    Reply
    • Pmonfre

      Pmonfre - March 5, 2015 6:00 pm

      Right, all the way baby.

      Reply
  2. Scott Swain - March 5, 2015 5:40 pm

    Why would anyone delute the already small pool of questions one could ask of a customer with questions, that at best, would return highly subjective and unquantifiable answers?

    Reply
    • Pmonfre

      Pmonfre - March 5, 2015 5:59 pm

      I have no idea. This person was a marketing director in title only. The worst part is he duped the founders and the CEO about what “marketing” is. Not intentionally I’m sure – but it damaged that company. It’s only saving grace was an amazing sales guy.

      Reply

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