Get All Access for $5/mo

Looking For A Million-Dollar Idea? This 3-Step Process Will Help You Find One How to survey your customers to understand what they really want.

By Richelle DeVoe Edited by Jason Feifer

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

jacoblund | Getty Images

Do you know what your customer wants? Most entrepreneurs would say yes. But I have bad news: Most of them are wrong.

Here's the problem: When businesses interact with their customers, they're often just confirming the things they already know (or think they know). It's like learning a love interest's favorite color — maybe that's useful in some way, but it hardly tells you about your true compatibility.

When you ask the right customers the right questions, however, you can unlock insights that can transform your business.

I see this happen all the time. I'm in the "customer insights" business, meaning that I identify a company's best customers, methodically survey them, and then gather insights that the company missed. These insights then drive new marketing campaigns, new product ideas, and new million-dollar ideas — and here's the craziest part: All this can be done in just ten phone calls.

Here's the process I follow.

How To Unlock Insights From Your Best Customers

This is a three-step process, each with its own nuances and complexities.

1/ Find Your Best Customers

The best marketing and product ideas will come from your very best customers — which is to say, the customers you want to attract more of. But who are they?

They're not who you think. Often, CEOs and marketing directors make the mistake of listening to everyone — but your most vocal customers are not necessarily your best customers.

The best customers are the ones who have the most of the following traits:

  • They have the highest lifetime value
  • They have the highest average order value
  • They have the best results from your product or service

This requires a little digging. If you want to find the highest lifetime and average order value, for example, you can just pull those numbers from your point of sale system. To find the customers who have had the best results from your product or service, you can leverage the customers who have left verified reviews.

If you don't have customer reviews, you'll need to start surveying people to identify who loves you the most. Identify the customers who have the highest lifetime value and average order value, and then ask them these two questions:

  1. What were you hoping your life would be like by purchasing [product name]?
  2. On a scale of 1-6, how close did you get to achieving your goal using this product? (0: No closer to the goal, 6: The goal was met.)

Edit the language to match your tone and voice. The customers with the highest scores on question #2 are your best customers, and they're the ones you want to focus on for the next step.

2/ Get Them On The Phone

Once you have a list of your best customers, you need to get them on the phone with someone from your company.

Here's how to get them to agree:

  • Offer a $100 gift card in return for their time. Visa gift cards equivalent to cash or Amazon gift cards work the best.
  • If you don't have the budget for $100, try lowering the amount to $50. It might take longer to get ten people to agree, but you'll get there.
  • If you're strapped for cash, you can offer free products or services — but know that your response rate will be low.
  • When you reach out, let them know that you're trying to use their experience to help reach more people like them. Your customers will be delighted that you want to hear from them and get their help making a better product.

Here's what a typical outreach email looks like that gets the best response:

Hi [Name],

[Person's Name from the company] here. I'm reaching out because we're looking to better understand how to connect with customers like you. You've been [purchasing since X date. You've left a review. Some other detail about why they're being chosen].

I'd love to hear your story, so we can better understand how [our product] can serve people like you.

The call will be casual. There's no need to prepare (and it won't be used to sell you anything or quote you). We're just looking to understand your story better. Would you be willing to hop on the phone next week for no more than 40 minutes?

If so, we'd love to send you a $100 gift card in return for your time and for sharing your story with me.

Just reply "yes," and I'll send over the available times.

Looking forward to hearing your story!


You may know your customers incredibly well, but a phone call will take your understanding to new depths.

Unlike written communication, you'll have their full attention, and you can sense the amount of energy and excitement (or frustration) they have in their tone of voice. Keep asking questions when you find a topic that gets your interviewee energized or animated. That's how you'll unearth customer insight gold.

3/ Ask Them These Three Questions

Once you're on the phone, ask these three questions to produce incredible ideas and insights quickly:

  • "What was happening in your life when you bought this?"

Ask them about their job, health, family, and friends when they bought your product or service. When they become animated, ask for details.

  • "What were you hoping your life would be like once you had it?"

Ask them to imagine themselves before buying the product, thinking about what life would be like if it solved their problems. Ask them to give you precise details of what they imagined their lives, relationships, jobs, and emotions would be like.

  • "If you talked to anyone about it, who did you tell, and what did you tell them word-for-word?"

This question will reveal who they tell about your product and how they pitch it to them. It will also tell you who your customers think will benefit from it the most. Word-of-mouth marketing is one of the best growth generators, and when you know what your customers are saying about your product (and to whom), you can make it happen intentionally.

How Ten Calls Can Transform Your Business

Completing ten calls will produce more effective marketing ideas and insights than ten weeks of trying to create something from scratch.

Want proof? Take, for example, the small compression sock company VIM & VIGR.

Within its first three years of business, founder Michelle Huie bootstrapped the company from zero to several million in revenue. Then she hit a plateau and sensed something was off. The company's marketing campaigns weren't connecting with her customers, and her growth rate was starting to slow. That's when she called me.

Initially, VIM & VIGR was targeting its cute compression socks towards athletes. The company's marketing focused on how the socks could help athletes recover faster and feel better during runs.

Why athletes? Because that's who Huie originally made the socks for, and it's who she believed her target market was. But when we identified the company's best customers and got them on the phone, we discovered that they weren't actually athletes! Instead, the best customers were people who experienced discomfort from standing or sitting all day, like nurses and servers. We also learned the exact language they use to describe themselves, and where to find them.

Once Huie had that information, she changed how VIM & VIGR marketed and sold its products, as well as the types of new products it launched, and the company's entire distribution strategy. The results were fantastic.

In just three years, its ecommerce business grew 110%, its profits grew 160%, and it saw a jump in average order values and conversion rates. This helped Huie personally, too: She was able to step away from the company's day-to-day operations and start a brand new company.

Let Your Customers Lead The Way

When you talk to customers and allow them to direct your marketing campaigns for you, you eliminate the need to guess.

Find the best customers, get them on the phone, and ask them these questions. When you do,
you'll be armed with an abundant resource of creativity, insights, and customer language to pull from that's guaranteed to resonate more deeply with your customers and move your business forward.

The next time your growth stalls, you now know how to let your customers lead the way.

Richelle DeVoe

Marketing Strategist

Richelle DeVoe is a fractional marketing strategist and product positioning expert. Through Richelle DeVoe Consulting, she helps six and seven-figure businesses uncover their next successful product opportunities, identify their best customers, and create products and marketing strategies that scale. She’s worked with clients like Esther Perel, Codie Sanchez, Farnam Street, and Hologram.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick


ChatGPT is Becoming More Human-Like. Here's How The Tool is Getting Smarter at Replicating Your Voice, Brand and Personality.

AI can be instrumental in building your brand and boosting awareness, but the right approach is critical. A custom GPT delivers tailored collateral based on your ethos, personality and unique positioning factors.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.

Business News

Apple Reportedly Isn't Paying OpenAI to Use ChatGPT in iPhones

The next big iPhone update brings ChatGPT directly to Apple devices.

Business News

Is the AI Industry Consolidating? Hugging Face CEO Says More AI Entrepreneurs Are Looking to Be Acquired

Clément Delangue, the CEO of Hugging Face, a $4.5 billion startup, says he gets at least 10 acquisition requests a week and it's "increased quite a lot."

Business News

Sony Pictures Entertainment Purchases Struggling, Cult-Favorite Movie Theater Chain

Alamo Drafthouse originally emerged from bankruptcy in June 2021.

Business News

You Can Now Apply to Renew Your U.S. Passport Online — But There's a Catch

The U.S. State Department officially launched the beta program this week.