How carefully do you listen to what your site users want?


As online marketers we often pay lip service to “meeting customer needs”. In fact, we have a whole slew of jargon to describe our apparent efforts to serve our prospects and customers.

Now compare your own emphasis on what customer want to that of

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Brian Carney asked Craiglist CEO Jim Buckmaster why he didn’t make a few tens of millions in extra revenue each year simply by adding some banner ads to it classified listings pages.

Buckmaster replied, “It’s not something our users have asked us for.”

That’s something of a quantum leap when you compare it to what the rest of us consider “listening to what our users want”.

Most online marketers will serve and listen to their visitors on one condition: the service provided must lead to enough additional sales to deliver a positive ROI.

It is tempting to say that the Craigslist model is unique, and that the lessons they learn cannot be applied to most other businesses.

But then again, Craiglist is the seventh most popular web site in the world. And it’s not enough to say that being big is easy when most of what you provide is free. There are many, many sites that have tried and failed while offering a service free.

To address the issue of what your “users have asked for”, you can tackle it at two ends.

The first is to make sure you have a strong and genuine value proposition. That is to say, make sure your business and site are built on a product or service that people really do want or need. And make sure that you offer what they want in a way that can be truly differentiated from what your competitors offer. Finally, take the time to articulate that value in a strong and honest way.

The other end? At the other end there is an opportunity to keep asking your visitors and customers what they want. Many sites ask for feedback in a half-hearted way. But that’s not the same as making user-expressed wishes a major driver of your business.

In a way, this is the tail of any good value proposition. At its inception, a value proposition is your best guess at what your customers want. But as your business grows, you can strengthen and adjust your original proposition based on what your site visitors and customers ask for.

The trouble is, few of us have the courage to do that.

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