Start Small Win Big: Your Week 5 Action Plan

Step 5: Talk to Your Customers. When it comes to your company, it doesn’t matter what you think of your product or service—it matters what your customers think. On my MSNBC show Your Business, we talk a lot about the tunnel vision of small-business owners—after months or years of developing their company, they assume that everyone believes the same thing they do. Well, oftentimes the assumptions you and your team have while sitting around a conference table are quite different than reality.

So it’s important to check in with your customers often. This week’s homework is to develop a list of 5 questions you’d like to ask your customers and then reach out to them to find the answers. There is an art to developing these questions, so as you formulate them, here are a few things to think about:

1.     Make sure you are soliciting feedback that is useful. Here is what I mean. It’s useless to ask your customers if they like the layout of your website if you are not prepared to change the layout if they don’t like it. So home in on the parts of your company that you have the ability to change.

2.    Ask open-ended questions instead of yes/no questions. For example, instead of asking “Do you like this product?” ask “What do you like about this product?”

3.    Have an open mind. Try to put your own biases aside when listening to or reading the answers. If you feel that you are too wedded to your ideas, have someone else conduct the customer interviews and you can sit in and listen.

Dave Goldberg, the CEO of Survey Monkey, gave me a number of other suggestions on how to solicit helpful feedback. He says that you should be careful about choosing the right words to draw out the specific information you need. For example, instead of asking “What did you think about the training session?” you should ask “How engaging was the training session?” And avoid asking people if they agree or disagree with something. People have a tendency to be polite, which leads them to “agree” even if they don’t mean it.

Carol Roth, a frequent guest on Your Business, suggests putting together a Customer Advisory Panel (CAP) —a group of people who you can turn to often to test out your ideas and from whom you can receive feedback and suggestions. And you know who’d be a great Customer Advisory Panel? Your fellow Start Small Win Big contestants! Comment below with the five questions you’d most like answered. Then engage with each other to solidify those questions.

Armed with your list of questions, now you’re ready to seek out and ask your customers their opinions. Here are a few ways to reach out:

1.    Send out a survey via the free application Survey Monkey.
2.    Put together a focus group. This does not have to be anything formal. You can ask a few of your customers to come to your office and order a pizza or coffee.
3.    Call your customers and have a series of one-on-one conversations.

Have a good time with this exercise. Your customers can be your best source of innovation, so use them. Let’s start your list of questions now!

Editor’s note: This is the fifth of eight installments for SUCCESS’s 2nd annual Start Small Win Big entrepreneur challenge. If you’re not signed up for Start Small Win Big, it’s not too late. Visit to join.

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JJ Ramberg is an author, the founder of and the host of MSNBC's small business program, Your Business. She was the featured mentor for SUCCESS' latest Start Small Win Big entrepreneur challenge. 

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