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Who Needs Customers Anyway?

One day in the office, we decided to have an “all hands” meeting … we brought in the obligatory coffee and cake and asked 1 simple question of everyone: “Given a magic wand and unlimited resources, what 1 thing would you change in our business?” Over the next 2 hours we heard the usual suspects … more time off, more staff in xyz department, pay rise, work with abc client. We asked people to push a little deeper and things started to get interesting, until someone blurted out: “Can we get rid of the customers … they’re a royal pain in the ***”. Everyone laughed, except me.

FINALLY, something worth discussing! Much to everyone’s surprise I asked them to expand and pretend that what they were saying was possible. How would we still earn money if we didn’t have customers? As an agency our lifeblood was essentially made up of acquiring a customer and then earning billable hours whilst producing something that was either desired or, at worst, requested.

What followed BLEW my mind and is a lesson that I will never forget. By the end of the day we hit on 2 experiments which we carried out over the next few months.

A. We developed a watch shop online and without customer involvement were able to produce what we knew to be the most optimised, search relevant experience we could. Each page of the site carried a list of places you could buy that watch, with a “Buy Now” button commented out. As we predicted over the course of a few months we rose up the search ranks for phrases such as “Rolex Dubai” and “Luxury Watches”. The end result: we sold the site to a watch merchant for 3x what we would have charged to build it and with no meeting / client overhead in the build process.

B. The next hotel that we signed we changed the way we priced the contract with them and instead of receiving xx per hour we received yy per conference lead we provided (room booking was not an issue for them, hence why MICE (Meetings Incentives Conferences and Exhibitions) became the target audience. They still had some involvement in the overall build and design, but essentially their creative and marketing teams became a resource for us vs the other way around … a welcome change. The end result: they stayed a client for 3 years and provided us ongoing and continual revenue way in excess of the build cost that we swallowed.

Those 2 projects netted us over 10x the average contract and informed our thinking from that point on. The question for you is what thinking are you locked into right now and what could you change? According to Jay Abraham there are 27 different business models in the world and almost all of them can be applied to any product or service. Surely it’s worth exploring the alternatives?

The real lesson here however is to think about what would have been missed if I had laughed off the original comment as everyone else did. Edward de Bono, preached that every thought / statement should be followed through and discussed as excellence can often be found at the end of a debate of what starts out as a “stupid question”.

We’re keen to say to our children that “there is no such thing as a stupid question”. What crap. We all know it not to be true and still nod sagely when we hear someone say it.

Instead I would offer the following sentence as a far more useful truism:

“There is such a thing as a stupid question and they can be just as useful as the clever counterparts”

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