Steven Covey’s 5th Habit: Seek FIRST to Understand, then to be understood.
I could write volumes on this one. Maybe I will over time. For now, let’s just explore the concept.
Covey is really referring to a transaction between two people. By understanding the other person first and letting them know you “get it” by paraphrasing back their position, you build trust. That supposedly opens them up to your position. Yeah, yeah. There’s some truth to that but it can be patronizing and insulting when improperly done—and it is usually improperly done. Sort of like, “I understand what you are saying, are you done talking? Now I’m going to clubber your position.”
I’d like to apply Habit #5 to marketing. Not nearly enough time is spent understanding the customer. Companies do not bring the buyer into the process until they make the product. Then they ask some unwary “focus group” whether they like the product. Or they observe them like aliens for reactions. Most of the important feedback will be discarded because the company knows more about the product than the consumer, right?
I’m an amateur astronomer. This is a hobby with a rapidly shrinking base. They refer to this as the graying of astronomy. It just doesn’t appeal to the younger generations. The major manufacturers are standing around watching their market pool dry up. Of the top three telescope makers, the biggest is losing money and the other two have been bought out by a single Chinese toy maker!
These companies remind me of the wild beasts of Africa that cluster around the shrinking water hole. Slowly the water dries up and the predators pick off the wildebeests.
I cannot understand why they do not seek new water holes. Instead, they remain at the same hole and experiment with substitutes for water! They battle over new accessories rather than new markets. It’s absurd to watch these companies compete for a smaller and smaller base of customers with accessories “made in China”. If you can’t find a new watering hole, dig a well! New markets can be developed for just about any product.
I founded an astronomy club in a very remote area. We have a very small pool from which to draw. In one day, an observing buddy and I doubled our club size. The newest member is a 14 year old girl—unusual for an astronomy club.
I’ve assembled four complete telescope sets for beginners from new and used items in the past MONTH. Our club website had 1,000 different visitors and a total of 23,000 visits LAST MONTH. What shrinking market?
The problem being the telescope manufacturers do not first seek to UNDERSTAND. They produce a product which requires a lot of understanding and they hope like heck it will be understood. They try to attract new buyers with low priced junk and corny accessories. Most of the entry level telescopes end up in a closet. The once excited “newbie” abandons the hobby in frustration. What the manufacturers do not seem to understand is this: the frustrated beginner will not consider a better telescope, they will leave the hobby.
Think about how this applies to your business. The more time you spend trying to understand the market, the less selling you’ll need to do. Spend more time gaining understanding. Why guess? ASK. Get out there and ask the market what they want. Get feedback on your new product at the beginning of the process rather that duct-taping on features at the end.
Look for features that open new markets. NONE of the big three telescope makers have a package I’d sell to a beginner.
Beginners like things that WORK. Duh. Start there rather than cramming “features” into your entry level line.
Do I always succeed? No. I’ve tried to convince the telescope manufacturers to talk with me. I run into the same barriers their customers hit. Emails go unanswered. Calls are routed through endless automated telephone mazes often ending in dead ends.
I am tapping a huge open market and they won’t listen. Wildebeests. Eventually one of them will hear what I have to say and greatly benefit. I GUARANTEE that. I guarantee all my work IF they listen.
Are you trying to understand first, then be understood? If not, you’ll soon find the water drying up.
Shameless Promotion: I can teach your management this important concept. There is so much opportunity being wasted…let’s find vast new lakes of new customers!
Chris Reich, Author of TeachU’s Business Talk Blog