Your customers might think differently than you. Big deal! They are different than you. You need to understand these differences and how that influences their buying decisions.

Customers might come from a different culture, have different personalities, value things differently, have different views of their wants and needs (they are not necessarily the same), etc. You need to put yourself in their shoes to understand them, in order to convince them that they should buy from you.

Culture has many areas of differences. Different age groups value things differently; they may be looking for instant gratification, like immediate delivery or results. Younger customers may be more prone to high technology, whereas older ones might be looking for proven technology.

It is up to you to find out. You do that by watching and learning what is important to them. What do they read, watch or learn? What are their habits? How do they differentiate between suppliers? What are their decision factors? What are their target markets and applications, and how can you help them succeed?

Some customers want minimum inventory because it is expensive. Too much inventory can be scrapped because it has become obsolete or reworked because of mishandling, or replaced because it has become lost.

An example of a focus on inventory is a Japanese auto manufacturer who has an open wall for parts delivery as needed. They go directly to the production line when unloaded from the suppliers’ trucks. This means suppliers must be located nearby, and their suppliers located nearby, etc.

Some clients might be focused on high quality and some on cost. Are they looking only on initial out-of-pocket costs or total cost over the life of the products (value)?

Many clients are protective of their technology or know-how and prefer an arms-length relationship, while others look for any help that suppliers can often provide. What is the customer’s position in their marketplace? Are they trying to catch up or are they on the leading edge?

Location could be a factor in the customers’ decisions. The stocking of stores of a large retailer varies because needs in the deep south are different from those of the northeast or of the west coast.

Customers know what they want, but may not know what they really need. So, at times, you need to do research on their market and their position in it in order to prove valuable to them. I know of a plastic producer who did research on a new milk bottle – not because they made milk bottles, but because their customers did.

In order to truly communicate and relate to your customers, you have to study and understand what is important to them, how they make buying decisions, and what influences them. In other words, understand their culture.

Lou Schultz is a Certified SCORE Mentor and can be reached by email at cabinlou@mac.com.