Do We Know How to Learn from Customers?


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Any reader of the Business901 blog or twitter followers for any length of time has heard words echoing in this space such as…

“The only competitive advantage you have is the rate at which you learn from your customers.”

“Positioning your organization in your customer’s playground is the most important role marketing has.”

Along with discussions about Service Dominant Logic (SD-Logic) and their core foundational premises:

FP-1. Service is the fundamental basis of exchange.

FP-6. The customer is always a co-creator of value.

FP-9. All social and economic actors are resource integrators.

FP-10. Value is always uniquely, and phenomenological determined by the beneficiary.

The entire list of 10 Foundational Principals can be found here: Service Dominant Logic.

In the blog post, Are you Marketing Consumption or Participation:

Take away all the fluff in sales and marketing today, and I believe the single most important aspect that will determine your long term success and sustainability in the marketplace is your role in participating in your customer’s playground.

When I say this, most people think of experimentation, prototyping or even call it a specific playground term like sandboxing. These are necessary functions and on the road to customer development but are they on the road to vendor development? Are we really viewing things from the customer’s viewpoint? How a customer views a vendor?

I believe a few of the components that makes Lean Sales and Marketing so special are:

  1. A training system on how to define knowledge gaps and close them.
  2. Different perspective on knowledge transfer. It is not the perspective of educating the customer; it is from the perspective of learning from the customer, understanding how your customer uses and benefits from your product or service.
  3. Leave your customer be the professor, the Sensei, who will take you through a certain number of exercises (their decision making steps), the customer leads.

I use Lean to build knowledge versus a way to reduce waste; an appreciative way or strength building application of Lean. Most organizations still believe efficiencies and effectiveness can drive demand. It is that process thinking mentality that took place when supply exceeded demand. Now, the tables have turned, Service Design, Design Thinking, and the Lean Startup are becoming more prevalent because we lacked processes to build knowledge companies. The most value I have taken from the Lean Startup movement is its systematic way of learning from the customer. However, we still struggle with this basic concept because we don’t understand the basics of what it takes to learn from the customer. We are still taught to manipulate, guide and show our expertise, but few of us are ever shown how to learn from the customer.

In Novak’s book,Learning, Creating, and Using Knowledge: Concept Maps as Facilitative Tools in Schools and Corporations, he discusses six basic principles for learning that must occur. When you read these, think of your organization and yourself in the role of the learner, not the customer.

  1. There must be motivation to learn. No learning will take place unless the learner chooses to learn.
  2. We must understand and engage the learner’s existing relevant knowledge, both valid and invalid ideas.
  3. We must organize the conceptual knowledge we want to teach.
  4. Learning takes place in a context, and we must consider what will be a facilitative context for educating.
  5. Learning can be aided by a teacher who is knowledgeable and sensitive to the learner’s ideas and feelings.
  6. Evaluation is necessary to assess progress and further motivate the learner.

When our customer becomes our Sensei (Teacher), I envision these principles in this frame:

  1. The vendor must be motivated to learn. No learning will take place unless the vendor chooses to learn (We have to want to learn from our customer).
  2. The Vendor must be willing to understand and engage the customer’s existing relevant knowledge, both valid and invalid ideas (We cannot pre-determine the value of knowledge).
  3. The Vendor must organize the conceptual knowledge they want to learn (We must seek patterns and people within customer’s organization that are learning centers).
  4. Learning takes place in a context and the vendor must consider what will be a facilitative context for learning (Do we construct context that we can learn from rather than tell).
  5. Learning can be aided by a vendor who is knowledgeable and sensitive to the customer’s ideas and feelings (This can be said both ways.).
  6. Evaluation is necessary to assess progress and further motivate the customer to teach (Are we learning enough, quick enough?).

Is our sales and marketing team prepared for a journey of this type? Are organizations prepared?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joseph Dager
Business901 is a firm specializing in bringing the continuous improvement process to the sales and marketing arena. He has authored the books the Lean Marketing House, Marketing with A3 and Marketing with PDCA. The Business901 Blog and Podcast includes many leading edge thinkers and has been featured numerous times for its contributions to the Bloomberg's Business Week Exchange.


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