What Is The Best Way For Leaders To Learn Their Business?


My father was a salesman. He owned a small storm window and storm door business that he was very proud of. He worked very hard trying to grow his company as economic changes often dictated different conditions. He had an entrepreneurial spirit that never allowed him to give up or quit. Whenever I would ask him how he learned all about his products and services he would always say the same thing:

“ I learned everything about my business from my customers. They taught me the ins and outs of my industry and how to be successful.”

What an insight for any leader to recognize that they could grow and flourish by turning to their internal and external customers for counsel. It seems such an obvious place to pivot yet many leaders think they know it all. They feel that they should be teaching their customers because of all of their expertise. Yet just the opposite is true- our customers can offer us lessons and advice to be stronger leaders.

Here are six ways leaders can learn their business from their customers:


Believe it or not, if we are willing to approach our customers on our teams or those we service outside our organizations and find out how we can be more helpful, we might actually gain some important truths about our products. When people sense that we are honestly looking for helpful information about our products or services, they may be more willing to share. Although asking why we are possibly failing or coming up short may make us feel vulnerable. But don’t think of vulnerability as a negative. It is through this vulnerability we will develop trust and deeper customer relationships.


Not only do we need to ask for concerns from our customers but we also need to ask how they might solve the gaps or problems. Our customers might have creative ways to tackle a challenge or just view the problem differently from us.


Two heads are usually better than one and that means working together on solutions with our customers will often create better end results. Have fun in a brainstorming session with someone from another department. Not only will you end up with a richer solution, but also you will probably end up learning more about each other.


To benefit from our customer’s ideas and suggestions, we need to remain flexible and poised to trying something new. Leaders will never benefit from their customer responses if they think they have to control a decision.

  • Do not jump all over a radically different perspective
  • Do not take advice as a personal attack
  • Do give your brain a chance to process optimistically
  • Do stay positive


Whatever we learn from our customers it is always a good idea to try it out in a limited way first. By piloting a new product we will have the opportunity to “iron out the kinks” before going live. I learned so much from my colleagues and customers about designing my website, but I always tried things out before going live.


To continually learn from our customers, leaders need to encourage a constant flow of ideas, suggestions and concerns. To do this, our customers need to feel a level of trust and transparency with us. We also must be grateful for their sharing. My father shared his appreciation with his customers as they really helped him become a stronger businessman and leader.

How have you learned more about your business from your customers?

(Image credit: Pixabay) 



6 thoughts on “What Is The Best Way For Leaders To Learn Their Business?

  1. Love this Terri Klass…too often I have started out thinking I know what people need and want to hear when I write articles or put together training programs and then wondered why the feedback was so low! I have found that just asking people what they want is a tremendously effective way to better understand their needs and wants instead of trying to intuit them. Great advice and I will share on my platforms!

  2. It seems like such an obvious thing for us to do in reaching out to our customers for guidance and yet leaders sometimes forget the wealth of advice customers can provide. Our internal and external customers have far greater insights into their needs and challenges than we do. In addition, when we do include their suggestions, we are forging deeper and more trusting relationships.
    Thanks LaRae for your fantastic additions!

  3. A few years back I was working with a sales team that refused to engage with customers in the way you’re describing. They preferred to push a few quick hit solutions and resisted selling anything that required a longer timeline. Instead of asking the customers what they wanted, they brought solutions for what they assumed were their customers biggest challenges. Finally, they hired a new member of the team who took the advice you present here – ask, listen and engage with your customers! She built a sustainable book of business much faster than her peers would have ever guessed.

    Will share!

    ~ Alli

  4. Thank you for sharing your insightful customer service story with us Alli! How fascinating that the new team member created such a strong customer bond by just asking and listening to the customer. Our customers are dealing directly with our products and services and therefore can report to us what’s working and what needs to improve. Also, since our customers are in the trenches and dealing with many other departments and companies they will usually know the newest trends and possibilities. We owe it to ourselves to give our customers a voice.

    Thanks Alli!

  5. Terri – I love your Dad’s wisdom! And the points in your post!

    And ohh how you are preaching to the choir! Listening to internal and external customers can be humbling, energizing, and fun. It is the key to organizational health and retention of both employees and customers.

    And those customers become loyal raving fans that bring in others, and are happy to invest their time and energy supporting your objectives. Win/win/win!

  6. I love your point Chery that listening is a humbling experience. When we invest the time and commit to following-up with our customers’ suggestions, we will gain so many insights into how we should march forward. We will see what is working well and how we might need to tweak our products and services to fit our customers’ needs. And for sure, we cultivate loyalty when leaders open their ears, minds and hearts.

    Thanks for your great additions Chery!

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