How Can Customer Insights Ignite Growth?
Conversations with marketplace representatives bring current problems to light. These same conversations, however, also are the sparks that frequently ignite growth initiatives. To effectively get the most out of those insights, it’s critical to understand what your customers’ problems are getting at and whether there is an opportunity for you to provide a solution that will jointly grow your businesses. If done correctly, customer insights can be the stimulus for you and your customer and ultimately create the building blocks for growth.
In our work across business-to-business industries, we have found that the insights that have the most potential to drive growth fall into one of three buckets, ranging from the easiest to detect and act upon to the most difficult:
1.) Performance Issues
The first, and by far the most common, insights we uncover tend to be the most obvious issues. Performance problems appear when a supplier offers a promise to its customers and it is either falling short, or not meeting the promise at all. Missing promises are generally reflected in poor customer satisfaction scores and involve basic implementation issues such as delivery delays, quality problems, and long lead-time logistics. In our experience, performance issues are most likely to crop up in large, complex organizations that are spread out across geographies. Due to this complexity, performance issues can often be a surprise to senior management.
One supplier we worked with had gathered feedback that its legal department was the source of frustration for a lot of supply chain delays. Upon an internal review, the supplier determined that its processes were inefficient and the legal department could easily shave several days off of its lag time given a few more resources.
How to address performance issues
- Re-focus the appropriate departments to recognize the issue and address it head-on
- Conduct regular progress meetings and implement feedback mechanisms to ensure the organization is meeting its customer responsibilities
2.) Unmet Needs
Another insight we frequently are able to uncover is one where customers have an unmet need that is not being addressed by any supplier. The type of need can range from simple (e.g., “I would like to have an express delivery option”) to complex (e.g., “I now need a customized solution to address my customers’ changing needs.”) By hearing these unmet or emerging needs, gaining a thorough understanding of what customers are asking for, and acting upon them, a supplier can differentiate itself from the competitive marketplace.
For example, an ingredient supplier we worked with knew its customers were starting to demand non-GMO products, and needed to better understand this offering. The insights uncovered allowed the supplier to step in and offer modified ingredients to fit this need, and additionally provide expertise in the area to help its customers modify their products appropriately. By identifying an unmet need, the supplier was in a unique position to offer its expertise by becoming an early adopter of non-GMO solutions.
How to address unmet needs
- Listen carefully to customer wants and wishes to identify unmet needs
- Collaborate with customers to solve the problem together, and offer an exclusive solution that solves the need in a way other suppliers are not
3.) Unidentified Problems/Opportunities
Customer insights can be the most difficult to identify and translate into solutions. However, by fully understanding customers, their values, challenges, strategies and focus, a supplier can have the opportunity to bring innovative solutions to the table. These solutions may address a problem that no one has ever thought of before, or bring a previously unconsidered opportunity to light.
For example, a commercial appliance supplier we worked with developed a program to help grocery stores repurpose food waste. It aligned closely with the customer’s values of being sustainable, and addressed an issue the customer did not believe could be solved by a supplier.
How to identify innovative solutions
- Understand a customer’s whole organization, including its strategies, values, and any challenges it may have meeting these goals
- Align to customers’ goals and strategies so that together both organizations can address challenges or identify new opportunities
After decades of gathering customer insights as part of strategic growth initiatives, the art of listening to and understanding marketplace issues are crucial for business-to-business organizations to uncover opportunities that drive growth. The ability to turn customer issues into opportunities can take an organization’s offering to the next level, and distinguish it as a best-in-class supplier.