Independent counselors: Why do customers choose the competition?

If you’re an independent counselor looking to build your customer base, here’s a counterintuitive exercise. Imagine a customer who chose the competition instead of you. Then spend an hour writing an explanation—from the customer’s point of view—about why they did so. It’s even more powerful if you write it in the first person.

This is an exercise in empathy. It doesn’t work if the answer is entirely about features and benefits. And it won’t work if you discount the customer as being uninformed or otherwise flawed. That might seem true to you, but it’s not the reality that matches their world view (if it were, they would have made a different choice). So assign the most noble intentions you can, and try to be as genuine as possible.

Some examples:

I liked you, and my student liked you. But all my friends go to the competitor down the street. If I follow them, no matter what happens, they’ll never judge me or say I made the wrong choice.

Your office felt fun, informal, and almost frivolous. I want my child to take their college planning more seriously, not less so. I didn’t get the sense you were going to drive that change.

I know you’re the most popular counselor in town. You don’t need our business, and I felt that from you when we met together. I don’t want my kid to be just another student on a counselor caseload. I need this to matter more than it seemed to matter to you.

It’s really difficult to do this well. You’ve got to put yourself inside someone else’s head, take on their world view, and express how they saw you and your business. But if you can do it, it will open up all kinds of insights about why people who go elsewhere make that choice.

And here’s the key. If you can get really good at understanding why people go elsewhere, you can get even better at identifying, attracting, and delighting the people who are more inclined to choose you.