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Domino theory: Follow the customer’s lead

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

Domino’s Pizza recently did something practically unheard of in the business world. First, it asked customers for honest feedback. Second, it actually listened to the painful truth. Third, it reinvented its product based on the input and—most shockingly—ran TV commercials touting that its pizza “no longer tastes like cardboard.”

Small business owners may think they listen to their customers all the time. But don’t be so sure, says product development expert Dan Adams, author of New Product Blueprinting.

“Many companies are essentially saying to their customers, ‘You do need this product, right? Right?’” Adams says with a laugh. “They’re starting with a product and trying to talk their customers into giving it their stamp of approval. What looks like soliciting feedback is really a bit of a dog-and-pony show.”

Adams says Domino’s reinvention offers five key tips for small business owners:

1. Ask your customers what they want—in a way that lets them know you really hear them. Reconsider how you collect customer feedback. Are you doing it in a way that really engages the customer so you get the truth?

“There’s no substitute for respectful dialogue with customers,” Adams says. “When you can get people truly engaged in the feedback process, you’ll get their honest opinions. And that raw honesty is what you need to serve them the right way.”

2. Don’t rely on sales reps to capture customer needs.
A salesperson is unlikely to uncover a full set of market needs if he or she is rewarded for near-term selling or unable to reach true decision-makers. But put a good salesperson on a team with marketing and technical colleagues, train all in advanced interviewing methods, and you’ll run circles around your competitors.

3. Take action on what you’re hearing. Many companies ask for feedback with the best of intentions. But when they start hearing things they don’t want to hear, they find a million reasons to explain it away.

“A lot of companies will say, ‘Oh, they’re a difficult client,’ or, ‘That’s not really what they want; it’s just what they think they want,’” says Adams. “Either they don’t really want to change what they’re doing or they don’t trust the customer … and a smart company will take action to meet those needs—no matter what.”

4. If you have to scrap your existing products, so be it. Most suppliers start with their solution, “validate” it by showing it to some customers, and measure market needs by watching sales results ... after the product launch! In other words, they’re doing it backwards.

“Companies should invert this process: Begin with customer needs and end with supplier solutions,” asserts Adams.

5. Get everyone in your company connected to the customer’s reality. In Domino’s new ad, you can see how ego crushing it was for employees to hear customers speak about the flavorless crust and ketchupy sauce. Yet, you can also see how necessary it was for them to hear the harsh truth—it energized them to revamp their product and make it much, much better.

“People inside companies tend to get defensive about their products and processes,” says Adams. “But when you can cut through that defensiveness and show them, ‘Hey, this really isn’t working for our customers’—well, that’s where true service and value finally begin.”

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