In designing your agency, your purpose, your service offering, and your marketing — it's important to include the voice of those you work with or want to work with.

The best way to do this is to actually go and listen to them.

"If I asked people what they wanted they'd have said 'faster horses'"
— Henry Ford

It's important to ignore any entrepreneurial or marketing guru who rolls out this alleged quote — or at least ask them to point to the original source of it — because there is no evidence he ever said it. Yet it has passed into entrepreneurial folklore as an excuse not to listen to customers.

In reality, there is lots of evidence (including in his own words) that Henry Ford did actually go out and listen to and observe customers choosing and talking about cars. That's how he found out that price was a more important factor for a large and underserved part of the market than distinctiveness or colour.

And it's insights like these that are gold to us as we design our businesses — those slight 'twists' that connect our offer more solidly with clients' needs.

Who to interview

There are four types of interview that are great to do:

  • Clients who have worked with you for a while, or former clients where you completed a project together
  • Clients currently working with you
  • Target clients that you'd really love to work with
  • Clients for whom you lost a pitch

In each case you want to interview the person who would be actually finding and choosing the agency to work with, or the person who would be leading the project on the client side.

If it is too hard to get any of these for some reason (or hard to do it in the timescale required) you can also interview 'proxies' — people who are one level removed but can still give you insights:

  • Other contacts in client/prospect organisations who know their needs well and have seen their projects in action, but wouldn't be the key contact on a project
  • Industry experts like trade journalists, consultants

How to approach them

People are often nervous to approach customers for this type of interview, so it's important to state that most customers will be really happy to be asked, and more than happy to take part. Nobody will be offended. So don't be shy to ask.

But first, here are a few things not to do: