This is a great frame to look at the customer relationship experience. Another way to ask the question - should you give the customer what he wants or what is best for him?
In terms of growing a business would it be safe to say that you can reach critical mass once your market understands that the solution you create is in their best interest? Before that, you are just grinding it out with individual customers.
I was once approached by a web developer who had what he thought was a great business idea and wanted to spend money on me to market it.
I felt uneasy about a copyright issue linked to his business idea which I thought he hadn't considered. At my suggestion he talked to his lawyer and the idea fell apart.
I got no work from him. I did get several referrals though. I'd saved him some money.
Very on point post and I'd actually go a step further. During the sales process, sift out the customers that are going to treat you as a responsive assistant and DON'T SELL THEM. My experience is that these customers will beat you up on price, demand services that weren't promised, never be happy and never be profitable. Why bother spending so much time on low margin customers. We teach our client's how to develop what we call "speed on bases" early in the relationship. Doing so establishes us as the expert, us as the doctor, us as the trusted advisor and we don't waste time being a responsive assistant.
Brilliant post. I'm in this situation myself. There are features that might not be the best for the end user, but all the competitors have it, and the people who are in charge of the purchasing (often not the end users) request it. To keep or to remove...argh!
Don't you find that small business owners really really appreciate it when you tell them they are wrong . . . in the sense of bringing them somethat that makes their life better. More than any other customer group, SBOs can change their opinions on a dime when something truly better comes along.
The risk, I find, is that many big companies tell their small business customers they are wrong, without really understanding why business owners are doing what they are doing. Guess who ends up with egg on face?
Mr Big Bank might think it's stupid to microwave checks. Mr. Small Business knows it buys him an extra 5 days to clear.
As a consultant, I often balance between . . . is the customer REALLY wrong or do I just not understand their circumstances well enough? AND "whoa, that is just a lame idea that you heard somewhere else".
This is a great post! I believe that small businesses rely on those that "know" the biz as being more knowledgeable and trusted advisers. It is important not to abuse the relationship and tell customers they are wrong all the time without true cause. I would pick one's battles carefully. However, once you figure out which customer is wrong on a given goal or point, pointing it out can build your credibility as a trusted adviser who is unafraid to tell a client when they should look at solving a problem another way...
We offer strategic advice and business development consulting to early stage firms. As such we fit your model of "trusted adviser" to entrepreneurs. In my experience it's very difficult to tell an entrepreneur "you are wrong" (and have them listen and change their actions) because they hear this from so many of the folks around them ("get a real job", "your idea will never work", "no one else does it that way",...) that they are no longer sure who to trust. In some instances this is like waving a red flag in front of a bull: we meet entrepreneurs who are more interested in proving someone else wrong (typically from their last company) than in building a company.
We work with them to estimate the likely future impacts of present decisions and understand the likely consequences. I find that a simple plan or decision tree can do more to illuminate the situation for an entrepreneurial team than any amount of telling. It's normally the question that gets them to think through likely consequences that is more likely to change behavior than statements like "you're wrong" or "this is a mistake." We also try and follow Russell Ackoff's "decision record" approach where we treat decisions as experiments and write down our hypotheses ("guesses" or "informed judgment" depending upon your perspective) about results in advance and then review them against measurable outcomes after enough time has passed.
True expertise means that you should be able to explain the symptoms you looked at, symptoms you discarded as not germane, the diagnosis you have reached, the differential between the customer's relevant symptoms and your diagnosis versus other potential diagnoses, the prescription (advice) and how to apply it, and a prognosis or range of likely outcomes.
In some sense it's less about who's right and more about developing a shared understanding and shared situational awareness. Trust is built over time and you have to find a model that let's you work with a customer and earn their trust. I think you also have to distinguish between decisions that are values conflicts (e.g. we want you to misrepresent a product or service to the point where you are knowingly committing a fraud) and decisions that are less than optimal, or may not necessarily get good results but are not in conflict with your values. If they want to call their product a DeNibulator, even though none of their customers have Nibs, never had Nibs, won't come to possess Nibs, and therefore don't need them removed, this is probably more of a disagreement over tactics. At the end of the day it's still their company and it's distinct from yours.