When we explore with open minds and genuine curiosity, we sometimes find insights that create advantages and allow us to serve customers in unique ways.
Bob Moesta and Chris Spiek of The Re-Wired Group, a Michigan-based business development consultancy, think about this all the time.
In 2005, before founding Re-Wired, Bob developed a number of useful insights about home sales. Just one of these increased his real estate company’s revenues by 23%. Exciting as that was, Bob’s bigger find was how to generate those types of insights across all types of businesses.
Here is the story of that first insight and the approach Bob discovered that might work in almost any business—including yours.
At the time, Bob was vice president of sales and marketing at a major home business. Then, as now, many couples were looking to downsize their housing after their children had grown and left home. The attractions of downsizing centered on the reduced workload and expense of a smaller home – less to clean, less to heat and cool, etc. The empty nesters were very clear about how much less they needed. One couple after another, for example, explained that they didn’t need a big dining room any more, but they did want a large second bedroom for visiting kids.
Straightforward, right? Well, not exactly.
Too often, when the architect designed exactly what the couple had said they needed the couple wouldn’t buy it. So Bob—who literally worked as a rocket scientist earlier in his career and has lost none of his curiosity—set out to learn exactly was going on.
Bob stopped trying to sell, and focused instead on listening to couples talk about the move. He heard thousands of stories about family life in the old homestead—the good times and the bad. As it happens, most of these indelible memories were forged around the dining room table—celebrations, announcements, introductions, homework, heart-to-hearts. The list went on and on.
Then Bob got it.
Over decades, that big old dining room table had become the ark of the family memories. And it wasn’t going to fit into the downsized space. The architects had designed the perfect house—so long as buyers would discard a piece of furniture that was loaded with a million memories and powerful emotions for the couple and their kids. It would have been easier to shoot the family dog.
Bob had the architects shift 20 square feet from the second bedroom to the downsized kitchen. Sales immediately began to close faster than before. Simple as that, yet brave. Bob was doing the opposite of what customers said they wanted. But Bob explains his decision this way: “Customers do not do what they say they do. Our sales started to improve when we refocused from what customers were saying they wanted to what they were talking about and actually doing. The customers said they wouldn’t need a big dining room because they wouldn’t be doing a lot of large group entertaining, but all of their emotions were tied up in that table. They didn’t need the table for entertaining, but they needed it.”
Branding experts and customers agree that the world doesn’t need another “me too” car, music site, or energy drink. Imitation may be flattering, but it isn’t inspiring. The question, then, is how to find something both truly new and worthwhile.
Bob and Chris show us one powerful way: Rather than asking customers what they want, listen to the stories they tell that involve the product or service you intend to provide.
As Chris says, “When you’re having the conversations, practice reading between the lines and picking up on patterns. No one will ever come out and tell you that their dining room table kept them from moving for two years, but once you hear consumers mention it enough times, you’ll realize that you need to dig deeper and unpack why they’re bringing it up. It’s those second-order insights that lead to highly successful product designs.”
If you can learn to listen to “table talk” like that, you might just find your own dining room table factor—and watch your sales take off.