Don't just think like your Customer, think for your Customer
Updated: Jan 1
This post is the first in a part of a series where I will write in detail the principles of effective communication.
Back in 2014, when I was doing my Masters. One of our visiting lectures came from Aalto University in Helsinki. Originally Irish, he had been living in Finland for more than 20 years. He had a thick Irish accent and his humor game was top notch. During one of the lectures, the topic of conversation went towards Nokia and how it suffered such a downfall. The professor had consulted with Nokia a few times. He told us that when the iPhone came out, it was displayed to executives in a board meeting and it was quickly dismissed by everyone. They thought it was a gimmick that was never going to work.
Nokia had a reason to be skeptical, every customer survey they did pointed in the same direction: the customers want haptic feedback, they cannot move away from buttons. That's what they like. So Nokia was happy and it churned out the same form of phones, till apple ate its market share and then crippled the whole company. Nokia was valued at 200 Billion USD at its peak, its phone division was then later sold to Microsoft for less than 10 Billion.
There are numerous lessons any business student can learn from Nokia's downfall. Perhaps the biggest was the arrogance of higher management and the complex bureaucracy that stifled innovation. But the reason why I want to talk about this is in terms of principles of communication.
Nokia was listening to what people said they wanted, not what they really needed. They went into the shoes of the customers and chose what they thought was best according to their wishes, but they never thought to go ahead and then think for them.
As Henry Ford (allegedly) said : “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses''.
The central pillar of effective communication is empathy, empathy means that I can put myself in the shoes of the customer and then imagine their hopes, wants, and desires. But empathy comes on two levels.
The Ground level: I think like the customer, I know their hopes, fears, and aspirations.
The Higher level: I think like the customer but then I also think for them, what would benefit them the most? What is something that they don't know yet, but I know, and that can solve the problems they don't even know exist
This principle is extremely powerful. When you look closely then you will see that every good speaker, entrepreneur, and advertisement speaks to that level. Every form of effective advertisement boils down to these two things
They tell you something obvious, something you already know
They tell you a bigger problem, something that you never even thought of, it was something that you should have known but then at the same time, they present themselves as the experts who could solve that problem.
Alright, so now all that I have said, how can I translate that into actual communication?
Suppose I see a $20 job posted on Upwork. The job poster has an idea for a new kind of water bottle, he has posted some hand sketches and he wants someone to make a 3D model. He is how we can approach with a proposal.
We would first address the obvious problem, the job poster wants a person who can get this immediate task done. He is looking for someone with the experience and the expertise to take his sketch and make it into the product (Think like the client, Think obvious). That's the simple and easy part where 99% of proposals would stop.
But we don't stop there, we start thinking for the client. What is his motivation for making the water bottle? Does he want to turn it into running production? He doesn't say anything about that in his job listing, so we just assume that he does
Here is what I would write:
Hello Jesse, This is Manan, I have been working for the past few years with plastic design and production. Proficient in modeling all kinds of plastic design, see the attached picture for reference samples.
I have a few ideas about your water bottle. If you want to turn it into production then you can make the design simpler, I have attached a sketch with my proposal which will reduce your investment tooling/mold cost by 50% by removing some undercuts.
In case you are interested in sourcing this product I am already in touch with a few Chinese suppliers. I have been dealing with them for the past 2 years and they have proven very reliable.
Simply put, we are giving value to the customer even when we are pitching for a job.
Thinking for the client is obviously not easy. There are 3 essential components you need to master
First, what is the highest intrinsic motivation for the client? Is it money? Status? Fame? Admiration? These are some of the basic motivations that we all have. It is not easy for anyone to deduce a person's true motivation from a simple job proposal but majority of our motivations fall under the same above categories.
Secondly, you need to be proficient at what you do. I cannot tell my client about the issues that they are going to face unless I have seen those many times. That's why mentorship and internship matter a lot. You are not getting the monetary benefit, but you are equipping yourself to become a money-making machine in the future.
Lastly and most importantly, you need to believe in what you are selling, you need to believe first and foremost in your own product, only then you can sell it to someone.
So to summarise, the first golden rule of communication, is that you have to first think like your client: stating the obvious and relating to them and as a next step: thinking for your client. Imagine them succeeding in the best possible way and then strive to make that happen.