An Unpredictable Place To Learn Your Business

As a leadership skills consultant I am often the one to be sharing a strategy or tip to help leaders grow. It makes sense that as the facilitator of a leadership workshop I roll out beneficial knowledge needed for leaders to advance in their careers. In turn, I attend conferences, take courses, read and talk to other leadership experts to educate myself on the latest trends and direction that leadership is moving. But I want to let you in on a secret about where I have learned the most about leadership: from my customers and clients. You read that right. My customers have taught me more about what leadership entails than any other source.

I actually learned about this strategy from my father, a consummate salesman. He sold his products with fervor and enthusiasm. He knew everything there was to know about windows, shades and rugs. Yet, he would tell me over and over again that he learned his business from his customers. How did he do this?

How can leaders learn their business from their customers?


To learn about our businesses from our internal or external customers we first have to think differently. Before any workshop I commit to learning new or different perspectives from my participants. To remain open-minded we need to embrace the beliefs that:

  • We don’t know everything about our industry or field
  • Our customers live it so they possess strong skills and knowledge
  • No formal learning can be a substitute for real life challenges and successes
  • Our customers are wise, skilled and experienced


Using all our senses, we need to watch and listen to our customers’ words and actions. Carefully study how they use your products or services. Where are they performing well and where are they facing challenges? Sometimes we may think a customer is facing a dilemma but is actually feeling success with a particular product or concept. Rather than jumping to conclusions look and see what is their reality.


To truly learn from our customers we often need to ask clarifying questions. Through the answers we can get a better understanding of what additional information we need to share or perhaps show them a better way to use a product. The better the question the more we learn and grow. Some curious questions could be:

  • How would you adjust how the product or information is used?
  • Why is this strategy so frustrating to you?
  • Is there a way to make this technique more impactful?
  • Can you explain your additions more clearly?


Showing our customers that we appreciate their insights through our words or by recognizing them will go a far way in building a deeper relationship. When our customers feel valued they will continue to share their concerns as well as their positive feedback. All that information will help us learn a great deal about our products and services that will propel our growth and businesses too.

How have your customers taught you about your business?

6 thoughts on “An Unpredictable Place To Learn Your Business

  1. I worked for an organization that struggled with some of our solutions. The sales team would come into the daily meeting and complain that they didn’t get it and we needed to give them more resources. In truth, we needed to do more of what you’re describing here. SPIN selling isn’t pushing solutions, it’s understanding needs, challenges, and successes too.

    Will share!


  2. I haven’t heard of SPIN selling but it seems very customer focused and relationship oriented. Those two concepts help leaders learn more about what is impactful about their products and services and what isn’t working. When we stay open to what our customers are teaching us we will be able to provide better products and services that truly meet their needs. We will also grow our leadership knowledge.

    Thanks Alli for sharing your story and knowledge!

  3. This post is full of wisdom! I totally agree that listening to customers is the BEST way to learn the true elements of leadership. This also implies that we need to be flexible when listening to our customers because too many times we think of a customer’s feedback as an aberration rather than legitimate feedback. Often, the feedback may sound different at first glance but when you dig down, you will find an undercurrent that will quickly consolidate into a trend that resonates with many others….

  4. Our customers hold a treasure trove of knowledge for each of us if we can only listen and digest their words. I can’t tell you how many times I have returned from one of my programs thinking about the information that was shared and how I learned so much from the participants. Although I facilitate, I always grow and learn.

    Thanks LaRae!

  5. Terri – This is so very important!

    I know a company that called several key customers and invited them to an event telling the customers that they wanted their feedback so they could provide greater service. The event was very well attended. However, when the customers arrived, executives didn’t ask the customers about their needs. Instead the company told the customer what they were doing. Customers left that event early, angry that they had given up their time to travel and attend the meeting.

    The flip side of that is being able to remember what customers have said they need the most – and being willing to invest time and dollars to make changes that meet those needs.

  6. What a horrible thing to do to your customers. It is far worse asking for input and feedback and not listening to it than just not asking at all. If we take the time to observe our customers and clients and ask questions about their experiences we will gain so much wisdom and perspective.

    Thanks for sharing Chery!

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