Love Your Customers, Not Your Product

love your customers

Henry Ford is well quoted as saying “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. Jobs was renowned for his fanatical product focus. It would be easy to think that great entrepreneurs and innovators care little about their customers and instead focus on simply innovating great products. Rookie mistake…

Just because great innovators tend to have visions that extend far beyond the usual horizon does not imply they don’t have a deep and intimate understanding of their market’s needs.

These titans may not have surveyed their customers to see if they wanted ‘Lightbulbs’ ‘Cars’ or ‘iPods’, but that doesn’t mean they just built them and and hoped for the best.

Case in point:

By the early part of the 20th century a few railroad magnates, with the help of government subsidies had developed vast rail networks across the USA, opening the continent to trade and commerce and generating vast wealth and political influence for themselves in the process. I wasn’t there, but by all reports these tycoons were very much despised by the people. They were arrogant, corrupt and intoxicated with the power oligopolies provide. They did not, it’s clear, care a great deal about their customers.

Loewy's Train

By the 1950’s, the number of people using trains was in free-fall, and by the 70’s, it was all over. (Sort of like what desktop PC manufacturers are experiencing now.)

The rail tycoons were so focused on their trains that they missed the shift as their users slowly, and then like a torrent began adopting alternate modes of transportation, like automobiles and aeroplanes.

Loe and behold, people never really cared about trains. What people cared about was getting themselves (or their goods) from ‘Point A’, to ‘Point B’. Ultimately, how they got to Point B was irrelevant, so long as they got there as efficiently as possible.

Despite what they thought, they were not in the railroad business; they were in the transportation business.

What if, rather than blind infatuation with their product they instead fell in love with their customer?

Perhaps, if they really cared and got to understand what their customers were trying to get done, they would have realised that it had nothing to do with trains and everything to do with a particular result. Perhaps if the tycoons had cared to understand what this ultimate result was, they could have been been among the first to innovate and product extend into planes and cars, instead of being destroyed by them.


They don’t care about you or what you do. They care about solving their problems. They care about achieving a particular result.

What I do is run a 40 week growth accelerator for the founders of traditional service based businesses. Our client’s say it’s awesome. said it’s one of the world’s best but I couldn’t care less about it. It’s just a product. It’s not special. It’s just a means of getting my clients where they want to go.

What our clients want is to become highly valued and highly paid doing what they love. They want to become a Key Person of Influence. That’s what they want. If someone came along and could offer a better and more effective way for them to achieve that objective, all of my currently loyal clients would (and should) abandon me for that better way to get from point A to point B.

What are your clients trying to get done? What’s their ‘Point B’?

Are you helping them get there in the best and most efficient way possible, or have you fallen in love with your train set?

Now riddle me this; What are they trying to get done really?

Share your answer below if you’re up for it.


5 responses to “Love Your Customers, Not Your Product”

  1. Mark O'Brien says:

    So true…I was so excited by my products I thought all someone had to do was see them and buy them. It’s not enough and I’ve learned the hard way. I’m now using google analytics to see what customers are looking for and I’ll start asking my clients exactly why they see me as opposed to someone else. KPI is starting to get me to re-focus on my customer and their prize!!!

    • Glen Carlson says:

      Awesome Mark! Be careful not to fall into the trap of opportunistically looking for gaps in the market to exploit. It’s a recipe for finding yourself drifting further and further from what you really love doing. I had this experience through my 20’s and it took me a while to tap back into my Kwan. While this article was about focusing on your customers first, it’s even more important to focus on what lights you up. When you tap into what you really enjoy doing and pursue it relentlessly, more of that kind of opportunity starts to show up. So long as your using tools like Google to better understand your ideal customer, the one you are most inspired to serve, then you’re onto a winner!

      • Mo Latin says:

        What if I love my clients AND my product?

        After drifting way off doing what I love for several years by looking for
        gaps and opportunities to exploit (e.g. the mobile market – been there, done
        it… deeply uninspired… despite the great cashflow…) I now feel both challenged and fulfilled in helping couples artfully create deeply connected, passionate, vibrant relationships and explore realms they previously dared go nowhere near or did not even know were possible.

        My clients rarely have one specific ‘Point B’ that I have identified (although
        there are common key factors to attend to in every couple I have worked with) – they know that they can’t continue any longer as they are and they want to take their relationship to a whole other level.

        With what I do it is really challenging to track and measure specific starting
        points and objectives, especially when both people tend to have quite different perspectives and experiences of their shared life. This would not easily translate over to anyone else’s situation as a consistent measurable statistic that proves anything specific, aside from showing considerable progress and change.

        How do you accurately measure changes in quality of life, communication, intimacy, trust, sexual confidence, satisfaction and fulfilment aside from number based ratings systems which give a comparative (before and after) assessment? Some indication of progress but not relevant to anyone else’s world.

        I had this conversation recently with a friend of mine who is in risk
        assessment and evidence based practice – the only real ‘evidence’ I have is anecdotal (testimonials) although with plenty of those there’s enough social proof that my ‘system’ works.

        I haven’t yet found a way to pinpoint my ideal clients’ Google searches – it’s
        not counseling or advice, I rarely do ‘therapy’, combine coaching with
        mentoring and focus mainly on embodiment of new ways of being… with a dash of shadow work thrown in the mix.

        I’m working on reverse engineering that to refine my ideal client avatar and
        their primary search terms…

        The bottom line is that I love the work I do now, the clients I attract and also
        our constantly evolving programmes that have shown outstanding results because of being so deeply and directly involved with each client, knowing exactly what they need most and guiding them to wherever their own ‘Point B’ is.

  2. Mark Collard says:

    OK, I’ll bite. What are my clients trying to get done, really? I’m an experiential trainer and author, and I run a training business called playmeo which helps novice experiential educators create remarkably fun programs. Deep down, my clients want to know that they made a difference in the lives of the young people they work with. Their point B? Bumping into a student 10 years later and being told that they were one of their favourite teachers. I am in constant enquiry about what these teachers are trying to get done, and most of the time it equates to impact. It’s easy for me to get sucked into the attractiveness of my ‘train set’ cos I get to play fun games all the time. But, just as I have learned to tell my clients, it’s not about the games. It’s more than just fun. It’s about making an impact, so I now focus on those parts of my business model (my ATM, thank you KPI) which produce thee results.

    • Glen Carlson says:

      Awesome Mark – I’d love to know more about what ‘Impact’ represents. Is there a more specific objective that could be tracked and measured for example? A good place to start is what problem is an experiential trainer solving for the participant? When the problem is completely solved, what shows up (the result) in it’s place? Thanks for sharing.

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