Marketing Step 1: Get to Know People

"I like to reminisce with people I don’t know. Granted, it takes longer." –Stephen Wright

Know your customer. We've heard it a hundred, maybe a thousand times. It's what marketers say when they start planning an ad campaign or send salespeople off with PowerPoint presentations. But they aren't saying what they really mean. They don’t really mean know your customer; they mean know about your customer - which is a very different thing. It is all wrapped up in demographics and telemarketer questionnaires. It's a lot of cross-tabbed data and focus-group answers (which are great for studying group dynamics, but lousy for getting to know customers). The bottom line is that getting to know someone requires personal interaction and time.

Think for a moment about your children, spouse, or parents. You know these people. You know what they value, what they want, all the little triggers that set them off. You know how they will react when you come home late, do them a favor, or buy them a gift. In fact, you likely know exactly what gift to buy them or not to buy them on any given holiday. The same is true of many of your friends. You know them because you’ve spent time with them and shared experiences with them.

Salesman are fond of trying to find shared interests or acquaintances in the hopes of developing a virtual relationship with someone. This kind of pseudo-reminiscing and name dropping may be great for starting conversations, but it does little to build a relationship. I have some vendors and salesman to whom I am quite loyal. I share like interests with some of them, and with others, I have no idea what their interests are. My loyalty is based on spending enough time with them over the years to know how they will respond when problems arise. I know that they have the best interests of my business at heart and I respond by never forcing them into a situation that compromises their business interests.

A relationship is about relating to someone in the context of their needs. This cannot be accomplished until you know their needs - not based some demographic cross tab, but based on open, honest dialog. You can only have this kind of dialog with someone you know. Trying to have this kind of dialog before you get to know someone will come off as insincere and self-serving. And trying to have dishonest dialog with someone you know and who knows you will close the door on that relationship.

Let me make a quick note on dishonesty. You’ve probably heard someone say, "I thought I knew him." What they really mean is "he was dishonest with me." Because people communicate on so many levels beside verbal, every human being has a built in lie detector. People subconsciously know when they are being lied to. In polite society, we don't address it without factual evidence. Instead, we simply avoid interaction with that person. In other words, dishonesty kills relationships.

Honestly getting to know customers is at the heart of good marketing. When you know the customer, you know what they want and what you need to do to help them get it. When you know the customer, their motives make sense to you and become your motives.

So how do you get to know the customer. Talk to them. Not in focus groups, not second-hand through survey companies. Talk to them on the phone, at trade shows, at their office, at their home - find out who they are, what they need, why they do what they do. Motivation is the key to understanding another’s character. As you talk to customers, not as a salesman but as a friend, you will start to know them. When you begin to really know them, you will begin to understand why products don’t matter, people matter.