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Standing Out Starts with Knowing Your Customers

By Mark Harari 

The following is excerpted from Lobster on a Cheese Plate: How to Stand Out, Attract the Best Clients, and Win Every Sale That Comes Your Way.

Lobster on a Cheese Plate Book Mark Harari

Did you know that marketing can connect with your client so strongly that signing them is virtually guaranteed before the salesperson even says hello? Yes, marketing can be that powerful. I’ve witnessed it, firsthand, time and time again.  

But it all starts with having a clear understanding of your target customer. You need to know how your customers think and feel. And I’m not just talking about what they think about the services you offer. I’m talking about everything. 

What scares them? What excites them? What do they do for fun? The deeper your understanding, the more successful you will be. 

That is why customer research needs to be an ongoing part of your marketing program. Unfortunately, many small business owners believe that market research is a costly proposition involving extensive and ongoing resources — something reserved for “big business.” Market research should be conducted by companies of any size, even solopreneurs. 

It’s only through research that you will be able to make well-informed business decisions. Everything from what color your logo should be to how much you should charge for your services can be gleaned from the results. A deep understanding of your target customer also happens to be vital to effective positioning.

But to really understand your customers, you need to look beyond the numbers. And for that, we turn to qualitative research methods. Often shortened to qual, qualitative research focuses on understanding meanings and concepts. In short, qual is about words. 

Let’s dive into some of the types of qualitative methods you can use to learn more about the why behind your customers’ thinking. 

One-on-One Interviews 

The first method is one that you’ve probably already used without even realizing it: the one-on-one interview. This is, as the name implies, a conversation between you and the customer. And it doesn’t have to be face to face. A phone call is perfectly acceptable. While it may seem counterintuitive to spend so much time with only one person, in the world of qual, an n of one can be highly beneficial. To hear the inflections of someone’s voice and read their body language as they respond provides layers upon layers of information that a written survey response never could. 

Additionally, the benefit to a free-flowing conversation is that you never know where it will lead. This can provide insights you may never have imagined. And because of the significant amount of information that can be ascertained from a single interview, having as few as five responses per segment is usually enough to get a clear picture. 

A word of caution: one-on-one interviews are particularly susceptible to the desirability bias. This is a person’s impulse to say what they think you want to hear. It’s our innate motivation to be liked that’s at fault. 

This bias is easily overcome in anonymous surveys because they’re … well, anonymous. But when speaking one-on-one, this desire manifests itself and skews your results. 

There isn’t much you can do to avoid this from happening, save addressing the elephant in the room ahead of time and explicitly giving them permission to be blunt. You could also consider giving a specific example of how a past client’s candor helped you improve. 

Focus Groups 

Another powerful tool to discover the why behind your customers’ thinking is the focus group. In the most basic terms, a focus group is a discussion between a facilitator and a small group of participants. This means that success is dependent on the facilitator’s ability to manage and interact with the group. 

Good planning is key. Here are some things to keep in mind as you prepare: 

1. Keep it small. Six to 10 participants tends to be the sweet spot. This ensures everyone will participate, and it gives you the ability to probe deeper into the discussions. Always invite a couple more than the minimum to protect against cancellations. 

2. Keep it short. Two hours is just about perfect. With the first half-hour typically spent on housekeeping items, such as welcoming your guests, going over the ground rules, and attendee introductions, it leaves you 90 minutes to get to the heart of the conversation. 

3. Keep it relaxed. Your role as the facilitator is to create a safe and open environment so that your participants feel comfortable to speak freely and honestly. 

4. Prepare a discussion guide. Plan the questions you will be asking. Take care that a question is not worded in a way that will “lead the witness.” 


While interviews and focus groups are excellent methods for collecting qualitative data, there’s always a possibility that people will mask their true feelings or at least downplay the significance of a response. To remove any possibility of this happening, we turn to the third and final qualitative method I want to share with you: ethnographic research. 

This is a method of research in which often the participants don’t know they’re part of a study. That’s because you observe them “in the wild.” For example, a kitchen remodeler may watch how people use their kitchens while they cook, making note of problems they encounter in their existing layout, so that he or she can incorporate solutions in the designs. 

The point is to observe rather than interact. Of course, the occasional conversational question is OK. For instance, the kitchen remodeler could say, “Why do you keep your condiments in that cabinet?” without significantly influencing the study. Even so, zero interaction is preferable. 

Qualitative research nicely complements quantitative methods. As Albert Einstein once said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” For those things that matter, but cannot be counted, qualitative methods provide the in-depth insight to ensure your questions are answered.  

About the Author

Mark Harari is the vice president of Remodelers Advantage, president of R/A Marketing Inc., co-host of the PowerTips Unscripted podcast and bestselling author of Lobster on a Cheese Plate: How to Stand Out, Attract the Best Clients, and Win Every Sale That Comes Your Way. For more information, visit www.bethelobster.com.

About the Book

What makes you stand out? In a world filled with good choices, why should your prospective clients choose you over the competition? In shLobster on a Cheese Plate Book Mark Harariort, it comes down to answering one question: “Why should I choose you?” The best answer wins.

This book will show you how to establish yourself as that “best choice” from the onset, dramatically shortening your sales cycle and virtually guaranteeing the sale every time.

In this practical, step-by-step guide, author Mark Harari tackles the intimidating subject of market differentiation with great approachability, a sense of fun, and a uniqueness that helps you hone and focus your business for maximum potential.

Through the author’s real-world examples, interactive exercises, and free resources available for download, you will come away with actionable knowledge and a firm plan for dominating your market.

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