It’s hard to underestimate the importance of understanding your customer’s requirements.

I only needed one lesson to remember this. In my final year of college I paid a few quid to go on a 2-day ‘introduction to business’ course. It was a very academic college, with almost no course devoted to business, so this was something entirely new for many of us. It was very interactive, by which I mean we were divided into groups and completed tasks like launching a new product, negotiating the construction of a building with a local council, or selling something to customers. I remember it from thirty years ago because we learned by doing. If I’d been lectured at, the course would have melted into the hundreds of other days of ‘training’ that I’ve received.

The course was designed to simulate working in real business, not learning the theoretical stuff you do as a undergraduate or graduate. As such, the exercises had to be completed within a certain time. As you’re probably sick of hearing from me, time is the one thing we never have enough of in business, so the exercises had a genuine applicability.

In one exercise our job was to ‘manufacture’ products and sell them to ‘customers’. The product was the paper that fits into 4-hole punch binders, European A4 size. Our team was running behind on time and after a poor sales experience with our first group of customers, we were in a mad dash to get in front of our next group of customers.

This time we were ready, we had our paper, freshly punched, and proudly demonstrated this to our latest group of customers. They became really agitated and threatened to leave the meeting. We didn’t know what the problem was, so we asked them. So they took out their binders. The binders were A5, 2-hole punch.

We hadn’t understood the rules of the game, and we hadn’t listened to our customers to understand their requirements, which were different to the other groups of customers in the game.

Didn’t make that mistake again…