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Who Are You Really Working For?

Hint: It’s not your boss. Here’s how you can better meet the needs of your real boss: your customers.

Who are your customers and what do they actually need? In business, that’s the one thing you need to know for sure.

While meeting professionals might not think of themselves in terms of selling, we all provide some kind of product or service. Rather than customers per se, you probably have clients, attendees, sponsors, and other stakeholders. Understanding who they are, what they need, and how your products and services meet those needs is the key to being successful. 

Sometimes, your customer is just like you. When I was a junior meeting planner, I presented a menu for one of my first events to my manager. She took one look at the suggestions, took out her pen, and started slashing through items and making edits. When I looked back, I realized that I had picked what I thought attendees wanted to eat, but my manager’s suggestions matched up with what I would have wanted at a gala dinner. As I grew in my role, I came to see the similarities among attendees and how my services could meet those needs. Oftentimes, I could put myself in their shoes and find the best solution.

But you cannot assume your customer is always like you. This is especially important when you provide something unique or unusual—or a specialty such as technology, which is where I focus. While something might appeal to you, a wider audience might have a mixed response. Conversely, don’t automatically rule something out just because you don’t like it. This is when you need to dig a little bit into your customers’ wants and needs, and where your services could match up.

Some questions to ask yourself as you get started with a project:

  1. Who are my customers? This can be simple demographics: age, gender, geography. But try to go deeper: What are their interests? Do they have any shared experiences? Are there particular products that they seem to prefer?
  1. What are their needs? Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory states that there are certain basic-level needs that must be met before your customer can focus on their next-level needs. For example, if attendees are tired, hungry, or thirsty—meaning their basic physical needs are not met—then they are unlikely to be informed by and feel inspired by the keynote speaker, which under better circumstances would meet their next-level psychological needs. So, are their needs basic met? From there, do they have a psychological hunger—do they wish to be recognized and feel like they belong before you start to address their next-level needs? Whatever their needs, make sure you meet them where they are in their mindset at each point in the agenda.
  1. What services can I provide that will meet their needs? In many cases, businesspeople focus on what they have to offer and try to find ways to “sell” it to their customers. But our customers know what they need, and they’re trying to find it. Chances are that you’re offering something that meets their needs, in the form of an event; from there, your job is to understand and deliver what they’re after while there. When you do this well, it’s like magic—you're showing them precisely how your offerings make their work lives better.
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