It's incredible that, as distributors, many of whom are professional marketing organizations, never take the time to do the first and most basic marketing step. Yet it is one of the most powerful, effective, easy, and cost-saving steps you can take. Knowing and selling what the customer wants is the first and most vital step in marketing.

It sounds very simple, yet many business people avoid this step. Many think they know what their customers want, or are afraid of finding out something painful about their products or company, and many just plain forget to ask.

You probably did research on customer wants and needs when you went into business or were in the process of changing or adding lines. However, times change, products change, and people change. If you have not recently re-evaluated your customers based on what they want today, you are at risk of losing them to a competitor.

Take the time to find out what the customer wants, how they want it, what they think of you, your company, and your competitors.

Ask questions like, "How many distributors are you buying from?" You just might be surprised to find a lot more competition for the account than you suspect.

In fact, most research shows that a distributor's customers deal with an average of four to five distributors. That means if you are not doing your job to exceed your customers' ex-pectations there are a lot of competitors out there ready, willing and able to take the business away from you.

On the flip side: if you know what the contractor wants and you give it to him, there is a plethora of business just waiting to be seized.


So how do you get this information? What is the best way to make sure the data is clean, correct, and unbiased? First, never let sales teams administer the survey. Regardless of how hard they try to be unbiased, the dealer will more often than not answer the question the way he feels the salesperson would like to hear it answered. Needless to say he has a relationship with the salesperson and he wants to keep it strong. Information garnered in this way will not tell you what you need to know to improve your company and products. Many times it becomes self-serving and can give you a false sense of security.

There are several methods that are used to gather factual information that can make your job easier and help your business. The best way to learn the most in the quickest manner possible is actually a combination of a focus group with quantitative research.


These allow you to find out verbatim what your clients are really thinking. Focus groups often bring to light many things of which you are not aware. The most productive focus groups are those run by professionals.

A professional will take care of selecting, inviting, and interviewing, and then provide you with an analysis of the session. Usually the focus group panels are comprised of customers and noncustomers so the information gathered in the session offers a complete perspective.

Usually focus groups are done in multiple sessions to make sure that crowd effect or a single vocal participant in the group does not skew the results. The most important thing to remember about focus groups is they not only provide outstanding information that you probably never thought of, but they also provide an outstanding foundation for questions that should be included in qualitative surveys.<


Though popular at one time, the cost, increased regulations, and ability to get people to do a phone survey has made this method less attractive. Once again this type of survey work should be done by a professional, unbiased entity in order to yield the best results.

Telephone surveys are a good source if you want additional information or clarification of questions. It is important to employ a company with industry experience so it can have an industry jargon dialogue with your contacts instead of a monologue.


This is a great way to acquire unbiased information from your clients and do so in a cost-effective way. Compose the questions while being careful not to skew the results using language that drives your participants in any direction. For best results use a rating scale of 1-5 with 1 being the best and 5 being the worst, so that you can actually quantify the overall feeling of the group.

Also, posing one or two quick open-ended questions will give you a good glimpse of what is on each individual's mind. It is important to remember to be respectful of the time and work you are asking the participants to invest.

A good survey should take a maximum of five minutes for the participant to complete. Make sure to include a postage-paid reply envelope so you get the highest number of returns.


This has all of the benefits of mail-based surveys at an even more effective cost. You get quicker results and it is easier to administer because there is no retyping required.

The results are tabulated in a database thus allowing you to use and look at the results in a lot of different ways. Tabulated data gives you the flexibility to use the results throughout your entire company. Reports can be output on a per client basis so your salesperson can see any specific likes, dislikes, or problems that need to be addressed. Reports can also be grouped by salesperson to look for opportunities to re-fine performance.

Other reports allow you to group by product or customer type and Internet-based studies lend themselves to strong visual reporting. You can see how your product mix performs within a customer type or complete market segment.

There is an old saying that information is power. Take the time to get invaluable information from your customers. Spend the time needed to analyze what they have told you and refine your staff, your offerings, and your company to give them what they want. You will be shocked at what you learn and how quickly you receive an outstanding payback by knowing what the customer wants and then giving it to them.

Publication date:09/18/2006