Monthly Archives: January 2017

Your Target Market Demographics

Any business-owner must find and get to know their target market.  In the last two posts, I explained how to assess your target market’s awareness of their problem and how to move them to consider solutions.  In a future post, I shall discuss their worldview.  This time my topic is your market demographics; mostly uncontroversial facts about your target market.

Awareness, worldview and demographics are three dimensions you can use to describe your market.  Later in this sequence, I shall discuss how to create an Avatar you can use to target your marketing copy.  This is not something you make public but use it to inform your writing or speaking, so it feels warmer to those you wish to contact.

What Are Demographics?

Selecting which characteristics to measure is a judgement.  Your measurements may be accurate but you have still decided to measure that particular thing.

The circuit questionnaire goes beyond the usual list of sex, age and race.  Perhaps some are not strictly demographics.  They are all characteristics your market would declare to be true about themselves.  You can find them and tailor your marketing to them.

Your copy will always be for people with particular characteristics.  Being able to describe them in these terms helps make them more real to you.  These are the people you help, so you need to know and understand them.  A personalised message done well, means your copy may appeal to people outside your target market.  If they are potential customers, this is not a problem.

Do be careful about what you publish.  You may be aiming to work with a particular group but this should inform your copy, not rule out those who, attracted by your copy, do not fall within your ideal.  Remember there are laws about discrimination and so it is important your copy is inclusive.

If your offer is for one sex or one ethnic group, for example, make sure you can justify it and that you conform to the law.  Get legal advice if you are in doubt.

Seven Demographics, 1 to 3

Remember, your answers to the questions in the Circuit Questionnaire will inform your thinking about your market.  Think carefully before you publish your answers to these questions.  An explicit statement may alienate some of your market.


Some products and services are designed for one sex and so it can be legitimate to target that sex.  Usually, however, your offer is attractive to both sexes and it is not in your interests to discriminate.

Consider your prejudices, in the sense that if you expect your clients to be one sex, you may unconsciously discriminate against the other.  Your avatar could be made to be like the sex you think least likely to be interested.

Your aim is to build an avatar you can address with warmth and so appeals to anyone reading or hearing your copy.  You could write copy, as if to a real person, beginning “Dear Jane …”.  If you remove these words from the beginning, the copy would not necessarily give away its written with a woman in mind and so could appeal to men too.

Finally, you may need to be aware that we no longer live in a world with a binary split between men and women.  You may need to consider sexuality and transsexuality as well as people who live to some degree between the two traditional sexes.

For most businesses this is not important because an avatar of either sex can produce copy that appeals to everyone.  It is important if your product appeals to one of these specialised groups.

Localised or Global

Many businesses that market locally, may have a global market if they operate online.  Similarly, some global businesses find there is a local dimension to their market.

For coaches and consultants, it’s usually worth targeting your local market from the start.  If you have no reputation, you may find your first clients are local because they can meet you and so decide they trust you.

Mostly, though coaches find they are working with a mix of local and online clients.

There are businesses that draw most or all their customers from a particular locality.  Shop-front businesses find this, even if they have a specialist dimension to their work, that draws interest from outside  their area, they are likely to draw most customers from their local neighbourhood.

Age Range

Age can make a big difference to the way you think about your market.  Older people have more experience and perhaps more wisdom.  On the other hand the generation that grew up before the Internet is perhaps less able to compete online.

Younger people may have more energy, work harder and are perhaps more idealistic.

Some of these may be prejudices and my message is be aware of your prejudices and don’t assume they are wrong!  Even 10 years can make a massive difference.

I’ll cover the rest of these characteristics next time.

How do you find the characteristics I’ve covered so far help define your marketing?

What is Your Business Niche?

Last Friday, I posted the second in this sequence, following the development of a keynote I am preparing for the end of March.  I asked the question: Where is your business location?  This led me to think about the idea of a business niche.

The idea of the niche comes from ecology.  An animal or plant will create a niche in the environment where it can thrive.  Contrary to popular belief, competition is not the main influence on evolution.  A niche is some part of the environment species adapt to, usually working with other species to create an environment where every species thrives.

Note the species work together to create their environment, it is not a pre-determined space.  The same applies to businesses.  It may be possible to find a niche but usually, businesses need to create their own niche through collaboration.  A competitive minded business is likely to fail because it will miss opportunities to create a niche with other businesses.  This is why location or context is so important.

Station 2: What?

The big mistake many business-owners make is to believe their offer is the same as their niche. It is a part of their niche but without considering the other 4 stations, they will be at an adaptive disadvantage.

This is what I said in my earlier draft:

The second question is: what?  What are you doing?  Now, you may find this the easiest question of the four to answer.  You have an offer and you know your offer.  You know it backwards, inside out.  You are an expert in what you provide.  But my question to you is: what makes it irresistible?

What makes an irresistible offer?  Clearly the thing itself is important.  If you deliver something that your clients or customers value, in time they will pass on the message to others.

But it’s also important to remember how you package what you offer; how you describe it because people outside don’t know the detail of what it’s like on the inside.  You need to find some way of describing it.  And that is the packaging of it, you don’t necessarily need to put it in a literal packet with writing on it but you need some way of describing it.

And the third layer in this is your marketing.  Once you have an offer and it’s packaged, how do you get it out there in front of people?  And this takes me to the middle point here.

Sharpening the Message

So, you’re a life coach and agonise over your competition?  Of course you have competition!  If you don’t have competition, you have no market.  You can’t compete head to head with more experienced life coaches but you can specialise in a niche.  Your business location is a part of that niche and we’ll look at other aspects over the next two weeks.

There is more you can do to make your offer distinctive at this station.  Think about your packaging.  Location: Sheffield’s Only life coach is probably not true but can you refine it further?  Sheffield’s only life coach who works with people aged 80 or over, with people who have experienced an industrial accident and so on.  We’ll explore this in more detail next time.

You have your offer and you have your packaging.  The next question is how to market your offer.

Station 3: How?

This will be the focus of the second part of my talk, of which more in a few weeks time.  It appears at this stage in the 5 questions sequence.

I mention this now because it’s part of the sequence.  Marketing is important.  For me it is the keystone; it is in the roof of the business, of the building that we are building here.  We’re dealing with the four foundations now, so I’m going to move swiftly onto the others and I will come back and talk at much greater length about this later on.

Marketing drives any business, hence its central position but there are two more foundation stones, then we’ll return to this topic in much more depth.  Your marketing is where you consciously design your offer using the four foundation stones.

How do you package your offer?

Repeated Failure and How to Keep Going

Repeated failure is most peoples’ experience, especially in business.  Some people claim the secret to business success is repeated attempts in the teeth of repeated failure.  Sooner or later you will try something that works!


However, this is no reason for complacency.  There may be more you can do to find out where you are going wrong and taking steps to tackle it.

Think about your failures and try to discern if there is a pattern to them.  You may be lacking some skill or knowledge.  There are several ways you can address a problem like this.  You may be able to train or pay someone to provide the skill.

Many self-employed people are excellent at implementing their offer but lack the skills they need to run their business.  Failures may be a good learning environment, so long as you seek help and make sure you learn from them.

Organisational Culture

It is important to understand organisations develop a culture that is difficult to change.  Even though the culture may negative, it becomes hard to change because everyone has invested in it.

So, if you are part of an organisation, consider the possibility you need to make deep changes if it is to be a viable player in the marketplace.

Patterns of Behaviour

Most of us practice patterns of behaviour we find difficult to change.  If you use a common personality test such as Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram, you will find out more about your own strengths and weaknesses.

These tests are not determinative in the sense they are saying you cannot change your behaviour.  What they do is show you how you work effectively.  You can achieve anything you wish; what is important is how you set about it.  A method that works for a different personality type, may not work for you.

Learning from Failure

Of course, it is important to learn from failure.  You can’t avoid failure, it’s built into what you do.  Use it as a learning opportunity.

Above all, ask how you can monetise your failures or the lessons you learn from them.  Your prospects may struggle with similar issues and your experience could be helpful.

This is particularly true for recurring problems, deeply embedded in the behaviour of a person or organisation.  Sometimes it takes time to understand the nature of a problem and how to approach it.

If you can hold a mirror to someone’s behaviour, help them to see a new way forward, then you are acting as a coach or consultant.  This role is crucial to many businesses and may be a possibility for yours.

How have you managed repeated failure?

The Scale of Your Prospects’ Shift in Thinking

Once you know your target market’s level of awareness, the next question is: how do you move them up the awareness ladder?  What is the scale of your prospect’s shift in thinking?

This question suggests a point I’ve made several times before.  Marketing is primarily education!  If you are going to move prospects up the awareness ladder, you must offer them information.  At early stages, you may explain the problem and its various solutions.  At later levels, the focus will be on your own offer.

In general, the lower you are on the awareness ladder, the more work you must do to move people to the next level.  So, if people are aware of solutions (level 2) they are more likely to listen to your solution than someone at level 1, who is not actively seeking a solution.

However, higher levels can be more difficult.  For example, it may be harder to get to level 3 if a competitor at level 2 dominates the market.

So, let’s look at two costs associated with moving prospects: information and time.

Information Needs

The more explanation you need to offer, the greater the costs of your marketing and you will have more difficulty retaining your prospects’ attention. You will need different amounts of information and different approaches at each level.

It is possible to use one approach throughout.  For example, a sales funnel on a website moves prospects from their current level to level 5.  You must bring them in at the right level; too low you will lose their attention and too high you will confuse them.  Sometimes you can do it on a single page, while some funnels put each level on a different page.

Others find they need something more complex.  Here’s an example:

  1. A workshop open to a range of likely prospects, where you describe the problem and explain common solutions. Perhaps a taster of how you approach solving the problem.  (Levels 0-2)
  2. A brochure (printed or online) that describes your method and provides more information. Includes an invitation to book a 1 to 1.  (Levels 2-4)
  3. A 1 to 1 meeting where you aim to close the deal (levels 4-5)

Altogether, you may have passed on an immense amount of information over these 3 stages.  It is likely, if you set something up like this, only a small proportion of your clients will experience all of it.  Some will hop on board at higher levels and you need to be aware of when and how that happens.

Time Needs

You can see an elaborate approach, like the one above, is likely to take a lot of time.  This is one of the issues coaches have to face.  They usually find they must offer an introductory coaching session.  Maybe coaches with a good reputation can charge for these sessions but most coaches don’t and can underestimate the amount of time it takes.

People selling products may find they need less 1 to 1 time but may still find moving prospects from levels 3 – 5 takes a big chunk out of their working day.

So, the issue for any business is how to schedule their marketing efforts.  A coach might, for example, set aside 1 – 2 days per week for marketing and the rest for coaching.  Note this limits your coaching service’s capacity but without marketing, the coach has lots of time when they are not earning!

This brings us back to knowing your target market.  If you do, your marketing will be better targeted and you will get more in return for your effort.

How do you manage your marketing time?

Where is Your Business Location?

Last Friday, I published the first part of my new keynote address, on the theme: What is a Coach?  Refer back to this post to find out more about the aim of this sequence.  Today, the focus moves to business location.

Before I do that, some more thoughts about last week’s introduction to the keynote. It seeks to engage a varied audience in appreciating the educational or coaching credentials of a range of businesses.  Since last week, I have given more thought to it.

Why Run a Business?

Many business people enjoy running their business.  They aim to generate income for themselves and their families.  Their business offers freedom and an opportunity to live their dream.

For others, their primary aim is to share some skill or insight with the rest of the world.  They enjoy their coaching or whatever service they offer.  Running a business is secondary albeit essential to the success of their enterprise.

I’ve commented on this from time to time.  Mostly I think these two approaches tend to converge.  Business is more successful where it takes pleasure offering a service and a service-oriented enterprise must be supported by excellent marketing.

For some purposes, it is possible to help businesses choose their best approach to marketing, choose some short cuts and help the business owner carry out their chosen approach.  It’s even better if the business can align its marketing and its offer.  I shall pick this up in the next draft of my keynote.

Station 1: Where?

So, here is the next section of my keynote:

So, I’m going to begin in perhaps a very unexpected place, by asking the question: where?  Are you aware of the neighbourhood in which you are based?  Whether you work from the front room in your own home or from rented office space or workshop space, whatever it is: are you aware of your neighbourhood?  Are you able to access the support of people who live and work nearby?  Do you know where your nearest accountant is?  Not necessarily the same as the one that you use.

Focusing on the neighbourhood is a great way to build your business.  It may be that there are a number of people that you can work very closely with in your area on a number of things, because some of you are good at some things and some at others.

But also don’t forget that if you simply focus on the immediate neighbourhood you may miss other opportunities, for example Sheffield is situated on the border of the Peak District.  How many of you use the Peak District in your business?  It might be part of your offer, it might be part of your marketing.  Whatever it is how many of you use that?  (I know there’s at least one!)  This is about paying attention.

Sharpening the Message

There are four stations in this part of the keynote talk and I’ll cover the others in future weeks.  The aim is to point to good value ideas for each station.  All four in this early version of the talk need to be sharpened.

I’m thinking for each station I should point to something a business can do to improve their performance, as well as show how the business owner’s state of being can help or hinder their development.

Perhaps the most useful thing any business owner can do is be aware of the assets of their chosen place.  I have touched on Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) in some depth elsewhere (follow the link and scroll down to “Community Assets”).

I suspect many businesses end up in some location because the premises there are most economic.  Pre-eminent among these will be those who work from home.  Are they actually in the best place for their business?

Perhaps more important though, are local assets and the extent to which businesses make use of them.  To see an opportunity and take advantage of it is one crucial role for business people.

So, paying attention is an essential disposition for the business owner.  This is crucial when they are choosing a business location and then over the years, as they take advantage and build networks of collaboration in the neighbourhood.

Businesses need not always support a particular neighbourhood; after all, the benefits of business activity may be felt across a city or even further afield.  The point is though, your business has to be somewhere and serendipity should never be ruled out.

How has your location influenced your business development?

Failure and How to Keep Going

Failure is a set back and often hurts, not just financially.  To some degree you get used to it.  It is perhaps best not to become too used to it because if you make a habit of failure, complacency is perhaps not the right response (see my post next Wednesday).

But if this is your first failure, how do you handle it?

Review Your Failure

First, ask yourself: Why did this happen?  Here are some possible answers, not necessarily mutually exclusive.

  • It is possible the failure is to some degree your fault. Don’t assume you are the only reason.  You need to learn lessons and so if you failed to notice something that jeopardised your business, you understand it now!  A lot of personal failure happens through lack of attention to what’s happening around you.  If you are not aware of your environment, you will continue to fail!
  • Someone else made a mistake. Usually mistakes are accidental.  The main question here is: what can be done to minimise the chances of the mistake happening again?  This means you need to discuss it and together work out a strategy in response to lessons learned.
  • Wrong time and place – this can be getting seasonal markets wrong or simply launching at inappropriate times.  Is it possible the physical location if your business is a problem?  I know of one business that failed when the Council painted double yellow lines outside their shop.
  • Insufficient information means you failed to notice some important issue. Lack of information such as management accounts is a serious lack of accountability and can have devastating consequences.
  • Acts of God have nothing to do with God – it simply refers to some accident that comes out of nowhere and has no connection with any action you have taken or failed to take. No-one can predict such events but make sure it really was totally unforeseeable. Why was your business vulnerable to this type of event.

Learn the Lessons

I’ve already referred to this in the list of possible causes.  Spend time considering what the lessons actually are.  Sometimes there’s more than one lesson.  What happened and what steps did you take to prevent it?  Were they effective?  If not, why not?

How you respond to them depends on exactly what the problem was.  If it was bad management, then usually it is possible to learn from it and try again, somewhat wiser.  Sometimes though, it is because you have an offer that is not viable.  This can be difficult.

Imagine an author whose manuscript is rejected.  The manuscript could be awful and the rejection perfectly rational.  The author may not agree but is it because they are over-rating their own work or because it is so innovative, publishers cannot see its worth?  There are stories of the latter.

Now apply that to your own offer.  You believe in it but is rejection because it doesn’t fit your market or because you are not marketing it appropriately?  Do you need to scrap it and start over, re-package it or market it differently?  Or any combination thereof?

This can become frustrating, so perhaps a way forward is to use failure creatively.  Is there some way you can build the lessons into your business and monetise them?  If it is possible many people encounter the same problem, you may be able to offer a solution.

Move on

Don’t dwell on it.  If you become risk averse, you will find endless tasks to carry out short of actively marketing your business.  You have had a setback, a setback that could have improved your offer.  So, get back in the driving seat and drive!

This doesn’t mean you forget it; all experience is valuable and you may be able to draw on it at some stage in the future.  Business can be frustrating, especially if you keep making the same mistakes.  So, we’ll look at that next time.

Please share stories of failure and your creative response to it.

Your Target Market’s Level of Awareness

This is my first post about the fifth and final element in the Circuit Questionnaire: your market or markets.  This element starts by asking about your target market’s level of awareness.  Surely, you need to know what your target market is before you can answer this question?

Your Target Market

We shall go into this in more depth later but it cannot be said often enough, this is perhaps the most important question you need to answer: what is your target market?

Obviously, you cannot answer questions about your target market until you have identified it.  Identifying your target market strongly implies reducing the size of your theoretical market.  What do I mean by that?

Most people set out by aiming to market their business or cause to everyone.  It seems, at first glance, this is the best way forward; tell everyone about your offer.  However, the fact is only a small number of people are your prospective customers and it makes much more sense to talk to them!

The people who have the problem your offer solves, who are interested in your cause, are much more likely to listen if they hear you addressing them.

Level of Awareness

Your target market will have a level of awareness, as defined by the awareness ladder.  Ideally, you speak to them at that level of awareness. So, if they know they have the problem, you do not need to persuade them they have the problem!  If they know there are solutions, you need to show them yours.

Find out the level of awareness they are at and take up the narrative from there.  Your aim is to move them to the next level.

Awareness of Their Problem

People aware of their problem are at level 1 or 2 of the awareness ladder.  At level 1, they live with the problem because they are not aware there are solutions.  They may endure the pain or work around the problem.  Work arounds are often not the most cost-effective ways to manage a problem.

At level 2, the prospect will have discovered solutions to the problem and they are deciding which solution to adopt.  This is a transient state because soon they will opt for a solution, will it be yours?

Awareness of Your Proposition

This is level 3 of the awareness ladder and if prospects are aware of your proposition, they are likely to approach you to enquire about your service.  At this stage, you aim to move them to level 4, where they are aware of the details of you and your proposition.

So, to find your target market, you need to ask who is likely to be interested in your proposition.  In general, the further down the awareness ladder you go, the more people there are who could be prospects but they will be harder to move.

You will need less time and money to move people who are higher up the ladder but they can be far and few.  This is why most businesses use several marketing approaches, depending on where their prospects are on the awareness ladder.  It is possible to move to level 5 (sale) online but many coaches, for example, find that at level 3 they are more effective moving from their website to a face-to-face meeting (live or Skype).

We’ll look at this in more detail next time.

How do you use levels of awareness, when you approach prospects?

What is a Coach?

Usually, I set aside Fridays for one-off posts on whatever topic appeals each week.  This time I have a special sequence of posts to publish over the next few weeks.  This first post, “What is a Coach?” is the first part of a talk I shall deliver at the end of March.

On 25 March, I shall be speaking at Sheffield’s first business and personal development event: “Change Your Business, Career and Life: Success Summit 2017“.  I am developing my keynote for the event.

I have recorded the first 10 minutes of the keynote and I’ve transcribed it.  The idea is to test the talk, by publishing it and requesting feedback.  I’m already seeing new possibilities and so this is proving to be a worthwhile exercise.

A further reason for these posts is to add to the publicity for the event.  People may be attracted as they catch glimpses of its content.

The Introduction Transcribed

This first part is the introduction to the keynote.  I’ve imagined being present at the event, hence the reference to 200 people.

This is an accurate transcript and one point of interest is to compare my speaking and writing styles.  One problem is punctuation.  I can hear the words but not the punctuation.  Like most people I don’t speak in clear sentences (a few people do!).  I’ve cut out the stumbles and false starts, mainly.  The subheadings are not a part of the talk.

Introduction: What is a Coach?

How many people here are coaches or consultants?  There’s about 200 in the room and it looks like there are about 30 or 40.  That’s a brilliant response!

Don’t switch off if you don’t think of yourself as a coach or consultant.  Just listen to what I have to say.  I want to tell you a story about my father and his work.  He was a sheet metal worker, self-employed, for thirty years between 1956 and 1986.  And he provided the side of the market that was bespoke to the industry.  He would go into a factory and he would be looking for solutions in terms of balustrading, machine guards, ducting.  They called him in if they had a problem and there was no off-the-peg solution.  He would discuss the problem and agree an approach.  They would gather data, design the solution – sorry he would gather data, he would design the solution, make it and fit it.  So, in effect he was a coach or consultant, providing solutions in bended metal.

And this is actually true of most businesses.  Most businesses solve problems.  They are selling a solution to a problem.  Even if you are selling a product and it’s an off-the-peg product, it’s much better if your customers buy the right thing.  They still need a bit of education and some help in making the right choice.

So, I’m going to ask you again, how many of you are coaches or consultants, even if it’s just in part?  Because everyone can be a coach, everyone can use coaching to support their business and for some businesses it might even become an alternative income stream.

Finding Your Vision

What I want to do today is to invite you to step back from your business and to look at it in ways that perhaps you normally don’t.  Whether your business is a great success or whether you are contemplating failure, it is always helpful to take time to do this.

Perhaps, you have lost sight of your original vision.  You had a vision about your personal lifestyle, your freedom, your contribution that others would value and simply the pressure of the work that you’re doing means that you’ve just lost track of them.

So, I’m going to walk you through your business, looking at 4 foundations in this first part that every business needs to have in place.  This is a chance for you to review your business and to try to work out where you need to pay attention.


Notice I start the talk with a question and then ask it a second time after providing more information.  The aim is to get the audience thinking about their response and hopefully seeing that coaching is not necessarily the preserve of a few.

The story is perhaps not brilliant as stories go but it will hold attention for several reasons.  First, it has local relevance and perhaps I should emphasise that more.  It is also the story of a successful business.  I’m not sure my father would agree with that but his business lasted 30 years and paid for a house and university education for two children.

I’m positioning myself as an expert in assisting coaches with local marketing.  The aim is not to persuade all the businesses present that they are coaching, so much as establishing the talk’s relevance, so that all present will listen and not dismiss me as not for them.  I need to establish my market is coaches or consultants but I don’t want a large section of the audience impatiently waiting for the next speaker!

Your thoughts about this introduction are welcome.  Next time I’ll say more about the shape of the talk .

How to Respond to Feedback

The first thing to say is you are lucky if you receive feedback, really lucky!  Most people don’t care enough about what you are doing, to offer even negative feedback.  Those offering malicious feedback will think twice because if they are right you are doomed anyway and if wrong, it could be embarrassing!

So, welcome feedback and be gracious about it.  Even if the feedback is negative, chances are it is well-intentioned and if the word gets out you jump down peoples’ throats when unhappy with their feedback, the chances are you’ll soon never receive any.

Express Gratitude

Be grateful for the feedback, whether positive or negative.  Express your gratitude and ask if you can quote it as a testimonial in whole or in part.  Can you attribute it, mentioning their name and business name?  You can ask for a photo or even a video of their comments.  In other words, treat it as you would a testimonial, until you know otherwise.

You can find more information about how to manage testimonials  elsewhere in this blog.  You need a strategy to gather them and they will not always be positive or even well-written but the chances are even the most negative will include something positive.  If someone has taken the trouble to write something negative, the chances are they think you’re worth the comment.

Address the Feedback

Let’s assume the feedback is negative.  Much of what follows can be similar if the feedback is positive.

Read the comments and make sure you understand them.  Make yourself read them carefully.  I often find my first impression is far worse than the feedback really is.  What are they actually saying?  Often there is something constructive and valuable in what they have written.

Ask yourself, whether the comments are valid and if so what action you can take.  Remember, sometimes people offer you a solution.  Approach this with caution.  They may say something like, “I don’t find your website helpful, why don’t you do this instead  …”

It is really important to work out what the problem is first.  Don’t assume their solution is the right one.  Even if it is the right solution, the chances are once you understand the problem, you can improve on it.

Sometimes, you may need a conversation to check out your interpretation of their comments.  If so, you may not need to respond further because you have shown you have taken their intervention seriously.

If you make changes, reply to the person who provided the feedback.  Tell them what you have done in response to it.

If they find you take a positive approach, they are likely to feel able to provide future feedback and may recommend you to others.

Finally, don’t overdo it.  Be professional about your response and once you have replied, drop it and move on.

Going Public

Sometimes you will receive feedback in a public arena.  This is very common on social media.  Let’s leave aside vexatious comments (don’t feed the trolls) and consider sincere comments that invite a response.

The difference here is people may have already seen the comment and so you need to respond in a way that shows publicly you have taken it seriously.

Thank the commenter in public.  Ask questions of clarification if you need to and then deal with the comment.  Be brief, professional and prompt.

Sometimes people have a legitimate concern although it is peripheral to your business.  Simply, apologise and promise to bear their concern in mind in the future.  If you sound sincere, the chances are you will hear no more about it.

Have you any examples of responses to feedback that backfired?  What happened and how did you deal with it?

What Are the Causes of Your Customers Problem?

The causes of your customers problem may not always be what you or your customer expects them to be.  If you can name causes your customer has not considered, they are likely to be impressed.  Do this as part of your marketing and they are more likely to sign up.  Do this when they are a client and delight them with a new insight into their business.

This is the final question in the Problem Element of the Circuit Questionnaire.  Follow the link to the page, which gathers together all the posts in this sequence.

Why Finding the Causes of your Customers Problem is Important

So, what exactly is a cause?  In this sense, a cause is some circumstance responsible for the problem the customer experiences.  The biggest difficulty everyone experiences, is identifying the cause of a problem they face.

Indeed, it is often true identifying the cause is 90% of the solution to a problem.  Once there is clarity about the cause, the solution to the problem can be obvious.  So, it is worth spending time digging into the problem, really understanding what it is.

If the problem is not understood, it is easy to waste a lot of time dealing with the effects of the problem.  This is sometimes described as a sticking plaster approach to a problem.  Dealing with effects can be costly and the costs become regular because the underlying cause is not identified.

Whilst it is true in theory, dealing with the cause of a problem will result in improved performance; the cause can be a daunting prospect or integral to a lot of other issues, beneficial to some extent.  So, solving the immediate problem may generate further problems down the road.

Stimulating New Ideas Through New Causes

So, let’s try to be positive and approach this as an exercise in stimulating new ideas.   A client is likely to seek help because they are stuck.  They have tried everything and the problem will not go away.  Usually this is because the problem is deeply entrenched in organisational culture.  If there is no organisation, it is likely to be some psychological reason for the business owner.

Ask the owner to describe the problem.  Try to draw a diagram together and then interrogate it.  Try to understand how the client and their organisation understands the problem.  Ask questions like:

  • How did this problem start?
  • Who benefits from the current situation? How?
  • Who loses out? How?
  • Why has the problem persisted for so long?
  • What effects is it having on your organisation?
  • What have you tried to resolve the problem? With what result?

Note you are working together to build a picture of the problem.  There is nothing judgemental in any of this and you are not seeking a solution or the cause at this stage.

Once you have the facts before you, you can begin to explore causes.  What would happen if you changed this?  You are trying to find the cause, not a solution.  Causes can be deeply bound up in organisational culture and this can be notoriously difficult to change because so much of it is habit.

Aim to Stimulate New Ideas

Let’s try an easy problem: “my website doesn’t work”.  In real life, the problem is likely to be more specific but this is just an illustration.  If there is a technical solution, this is easy to resolve but what happens if technically the website works?

Does the customer understand how it works?  Again easy to resolve if the answer is “no”.   But if “yes”, what next?  What if the reason it doesn’t work is elsewhere?  Maybe the website does not meet the organisation’s needs?  Why would that be?  Perhaps it does meet their needs but no-one will take responsibility for it.  Why would that be?

You can see the question moves from technical solutions to deeper questions about organisational culture.  If you are usually approached by clients with intractable problems, then you are more likely to encounter this type of market, at its wits end, unable to find a rational solution because they have lost sight of the cause of the problem.

The Root Cause

Most problems that are not straightforward, cannot be resolved by reference to an instruction book.  What might start as an apparently simple problem may be the gateway to far greater issues.

Finding the root cause may be painful but it can lead to the rapid resolution of a problem and possibly several other apparently unconnected problems.  If something is having a negative effect in one area, the chances are it will in others.  This is one reason so many website designers disappoint, because they are not aware of the reasons why their work so often does not seem successful.  An online solution may be capable of great things but not if the organisation deploying it is not.

If the client trusts you and you can find the space to dig into the problem, it is usually possible to find the root cause.  Once your client sees and understands the root cause, then perhaps you will together find a way to tackle it.  They may need support while they do this, from someone who is not embedded in organisational culture.  If you can’t help them, help them find someone who can.

Can you tell a story of the unearthing of a root cause?