The ebook version of my new book, Customer Dreams, will be released on April 12. Here’s Chapter 1, just in case  you can’t wait. Chapter 2 is here. And you can see the full Table of Contents here.

1. Meet Sam, Who Is Unusually Troubled

“MY shop is in trouble,” said my friend, Sam Brooks. We were having our usual weekly catchup over tea at The Peel Bakery. Sam owned Sam’s Flowers, a retail store in nearby Central Mall. She opened her store a year ago and had done well.

Until today.

“Everything was going great until the grocery store at the end of the mall started selling flowers,” said Sam. “I just can’t compete with them. My sales are down 40 per cent. I feel my prices being squeezed. And my accountant says I lost money last month.”

Sam looked at me across her peppermint tea. “I really need help. What am I going to do?”

“Yikes, that sounds awfully serious, Sam,” I said.

“It is serious. But I know you’ve gone through this before with some of your clients so I wanted to talk it over with you.”

“Okay, well let’s work the problem together and see what we come up with,” I said. “Isn’t there any way you can compete with the grocery store?”

“No way,” she said. “Because of their size they get flowers at a lower cost than me. And they get way more customer traffic than I do. People who would normally walk down the mall to buy flowers from me now get them while they’re buying groceries.”

“Hmmmm. I think you’re right,” I said. “There’s probably no way to compete with them if you’re both selling flowers.”

“Jeez, I knew it. So now what? A year ago I had to learn how to start a business. Do I have to learn how to close a business now? That doesn’t feel good at all.”

“Not so fast,” I said. “You’re certainly not a quitter. And you’ve put too much time and energy and money into Sam’s Flowers to throw in the towel quite yet.”

“Okay, but what do I do? They’ve got all the advantages. They’re bigger. They have more traffic. They advertise like crazy. And they buy the same flowers as me at a lower cost.”

“Sam, I agree that there’s no way you can compete if you’re both selling flowers. But are you sure that’s what you’re selling?”

“What? Of course I sell flowers,” said Sam. “The name of the shop is Sam’s Flowers. You know that all I’ve ever wanted to do is sell flowers to people. I’ve got a botany degree for goodness sake. I don’t want to sell anything else.”

“All right, all right. Let’s agree for the moment that you sell flowers. But what are your customers buying?”

“Well, if I’m selling flowers then they must be buying flowers.” Sam sat back and sipped her tea. “Or am I missing something?”

“You may be right,” I said. “Your customers might be buying flowers from you. But until you know for sure, then you’re simply assuming. And we all know about the word ‘assume,’ don’t we?”

“Yes, it makes asses of us all,” said Sam. “Flowers have been such a big part of my life for so long. I never stopped to think about other people’s perspectives. I just assumed they love flowers too.”

“That’s a great insight, Sam. It’s one of the most important things I’ve ever learned in business. The fact is that we are not our customers. They have their own reasons for buying that may be quite different from what we imagine.”

“So now what? How do I find out what my customers buy from me?”

“That’s simple,” I said. “Ask them.”

“You mean like do a survey?”

“Sure, you can do a survey,” I said. “Or you could just speak with your customers as they come into your shop. “Ask them things like, ‘Why do you buy flowers?’ and ‘What do you do with them after you leave the shop?’ Chat with them. See what happens.”

“Seems easy enough,” she said. “I’ll try it and tell you all about it next week.”

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