I can hardly believe it, but in April next year it will be our fifth wedding anniversary. How quickly time flies and what a busy five years we have had. My wife and I had so much fun organising our wedding. As soon as we had got engaged we started designing how we wanted it to look, and for us we had one key objective. We wanted it to be the best party our guests had ever been to. I’m not sure why we didn’t start with the dress, or the honeymoon, or the ring – we just started drawing pictures of dancefloors and researching cocktails and ice sculptures!

We wanted to have the dancefloor in the middle of the room, instead of at one end – so that people couldn’t escape it! We wanted music to start as soon as people arrived and to continue through to the end. We didn’t want to break up the party with a sit down meal, so we had the meal as canape’s, including soup in shot glasses, and scallops on grass turf. We had cocktails from start to finish, and a vodka luge to really help things along. We then got carried away with an awesome magician, a caricaturist, and some great live music played in amongst the guests.

Once we knew we had put a great party together my wife-to-be and I felt comfortable moving on to the more personal items like the dress, and the honeymoon. We knew that our guests were going to have a great night, and that meant that we were going to have a great night.

Great businesses work in the same way – start with the guest (your client) and work back. If your client is happy, then your business will be happy. In contrast, bad businesses start with a new product they have designed and then try and mould it over their client without regard to their actual needs.

Often this transition happens as businesses expand. The first handful of products or services are well received, and businesses decide that they no longer need to listen to their clients and start to get carried away with their technology and bury their heads in their own business.

“Of course our clients will want this”

“Our partners will sell anything we build”

“We don’t need to ask what they think”

It’s big mistake and one of the reasons so many medium sized companies find it hard to break into the top league. A lot of time is spent focusing on ‘Product Adoption’ and ‘Upselling’ without asking the question “Would this product/service stand up on its own”?”

So how do you know what your clients want?

Understanding your clients is easier today than it ever was. 10 years ago you had to engage in expensive market research, or potentially inaccurate Focus Groups. (Did you know the Ford Focus was named as a joke in such a group and wasn’t picked up as such until the car was launched?)

Nowadays Companies can interact directly with clients on Social Networks that they are already using – Facebook Pages, Twitter Accounts, LinkedIn Groups, or FourSquare if you are a business with a venue like Cafe’s or Restaurants. Your clients are already discussing your company on these sites so it makes sense that you are involved.

If you are a smaller company without a significant brand, then search for your competitors on http://search.twitter.com and see what people are saying. Complaints about your competitors could be your next great product idea.

You already have an amazing market research tool in your business – your Sales Team. Every day they make hundreds of calls into clients and prospects. They know exactly why you lose business, why you win business, who your competitors are, what the price levels are, and what your clients are asking for next.

Most businesses don’t seem to want to ask for this feedback, for some reason they don;t believe their Sales Team has relevant input. I’d urge you to speak to them quickly. They will be overjoyed to help if it means they might have even better products or services to sell.

There are plenty of opportunities for a business today to get into the minds of prospective and existing clients and to understand how you should develop your offering in the future. As your competitors trundle on developing products that they like, why not spend some time developing something your customer’s will like?