The real value of your customer's words

Ten years ago, I started a company selling business centres to hotels.

Our first ten hotels were signed up through door-to-door hustle. My partner and I would wheel in a little desk with our  computer system into the hotel lobby.  Our system was more stable than the web kiosks they had. We offered office and multimedia software installed, and the hotel could even charge for printing. We understood the benefits and the customers' language.

"This is better than your web kiosk since it attracts business travelers with a professional office suite, and with a revenue share, it will increase your revenue per room."

We'd pitch it to the front-desk manager, and ask for an intro to the general manager to do our pitch again. Hotel to hotel, region to region.

One day, we wheeled the computer in, ran our pitch, and the front-desk manager went over the general manager.

"These guys can fix our USB stick problem."

The USB stick problem is when a hotel guests asks someone at the front desk to print some documents from their USB stick.  At busy check-in times, this takes a critical person from the front desk. Everyone gets stressed.  And it happens every day.  We knew of this problem, we just hadn't realised it was so important that it eclipsed everything else we did.

Hearing this changed everything.

It changed how we sold. The next hotel we walked in saying, "we can fix your USB stick problem."

It changed our product.  We'd focused on features for hotel revenue, like charging for printing.  I'd just spent 2 months building and testing this. Now, we erased that feature, and made printing included in the hourly charge.

It changed our business model.  We had first thought our superior business centre belonged in the 4- and 5-star hotels. Now we knew it was for 2- and 3-star hotels. Because they're the hotels with fewer staff and less capability to handle time-consuming guest requests.

Your customers' words are gold. Listen carefully. Use them to explain what you do, and to choose where to focus. What's your customers "USB stick" phrase for you?

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