“Frontline employees are always right.”
That is a quote from one of our clients at InnerView as we shared data with him from a Brand Transfer Study we ran with two of their major sales channels.
The product we assessed was not performing as well as projected and the product and marketing teams were struggling to pinpoint the issues. They had hunches, but no clear direction on what to do next.
His reaction to the results raises a good question for marketers and product managers to consider. Whose perspective is most valuable when building a go-to-market strategy, your customers or your teams on the frontlines?
The “Say/Do” Gap
How much do you trust your market research? That is a key question at the heart of the comparison. Our clients are expressing a growing skepticism that the data they get through product and message testing (surveys, focus groups, etc.) is providing them a fool-proof blueprint to reach customers.
They are talking about the “say/do” gap. The idea is that consumers might have a mindset when they take a survey or attend a focus group that does not match up perfectly with how they behave when they are in the process of making a purchase. They might say they want one thing, but expect something slightly different when it comes time to reach for their credit card.
One example is a bias toward low cost. Most people believe they want a good “deal” when purchasing something, but often prove that they are willing to spend more at the point of purchase than they intended.
This is the scenario we found in the BTS referenced above. The marketers built a value proposition around aggressive pricing. Frontline teams shared that their product’s low pricing was hurting the customer’s perception of the product.
Take that in for a minute. Their price was lower than the top competitors, and frontline associates shared that this could be making consumers skeptical of its value. The say/do gap existed in this situation, and it took feedback from frontline sales associates to uncover this obstacle.
Does this mean you should assume the customer is wrong? Should you discount the data you have about customer preferences and needs? Of course not. The customer is who you need to please and understanding their mindset is critical for all stages of getting a product or service to market. Their feedback shapes how you quantify demand, decide which new products will go into development, what features will be included and ultimately when, where and how much money you will invest to market the new offering.
But as I highlighted above, the picture might not be complete if you only base your strategy on what you heard from the customer. Consumer data is one input. Frontline feedback is often an overlooked and rarely considered source of input. Neither perspective or set of data needs to “be right” for both to add value in helping leaders make decisions. If you’re lucky, you might end up having your frontline teams tell you that you need to start charging customers more.