I can’t help wondering how we’ve managed to create a free enterprise system? When you sit down and think about it, we’ve managed to garner a consumer market despite not having an understanding of the most important factor in the marketing equation – the consumer. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself again.

It all started many years ago when someone said, “The customer is always right!” Ever since then I’ve been watching retailers, sales people and business owners taking absolutely no notice of the consumer at all. I’ve seen training mechanisms which treat consumers like mental pygmies, strategies that underestimate the basic intelligence of a human being and manipulative sales techniques that a few CIA operatives would be proud of. All in all the prescribed doctrine of the consumer being right falls squarely into the legend category along with, ‘we didn’t really go to the moon’ and ‘the ghost of Ned Kelly’.

Bluntly, it is apparent to me, and to any other self respecting observer that the customer is at the bottom of the ladder when it comes to handing out priorities.

First let’s examine for a moment what really happens in most business situations. We set up a business, or we buy a new outlet. What’s our first priority? Yes, of course, we create a focus group to discover what the consumer needs and wants? No, we charge off to the accountant to discover what procedures are best to collect the money; create a business plan; discover where we can source the cheapest product. And for those already in established businesses, part of their budget is dedicated to focus groups; taste tests; discovery sessions; service monitors? Wrong again! Sadly the answer is a resounding “NO”. So why do we continue with the charade that the consumer is always the most important factor in our businesses and then hypocritically proceed to ignore him or her?
The answer is simple. Most businesses can get along with the consumer who doesn’t give a fig. There are enough of them out there for the ordinary businesses to survive and the key word here is ‘survive’.

Here’s my advice for the week, if you want to be a giant in your profession or your business. “Create a process NOW to discover the consumer’sneeds.” Find out what they want; how they want to be treated; when they want it and why, and when you’ve discovered that you’ll get the shock of your life, because astoundingly what consumers want is most usually not what business owners think they want.

Some years ago, I conducted a consumer survey for a large supermarket group. They believed that the motivation to buy was generated by cheaper prices. The survey of some 1400 people said something different. What was the most important thing to them? Believe it or not it was ‘convenience’; variety & choice were second and price? It was fifth.

The invisible reality in business. Who? Oh, I’m sorry, my mistake – it’s you – the consumer.

[Part two next week – Getting more than your share – The consumer impact.]