I’m 54. I’ve been in marketing and communication all my life, both in agencies and at companies. I thought I’d seen it all. Until my wife told me: go to the counter of our restaurant and serve the customers.

Are you bored this summer? Go along with your sales to talk to customers. Or take an apron and help your deli shop visitors as if you were really a sales assistant. Or if you’re in for a rude treat: take a seat amongst your telemarketing team staff. Because here’s my point: (digital) marketers never feel how it is when a customer throws out a complaint, compliment or a remark. For us, desk marketers behind our screen, customers are just marketing numbers. And we make stupid decisions because our emotions don’t think along (except for the emotion: I want to reach 20000 followers on Instagram, which is after all not always a very useful emotion.)

The scene

Restaurant Anders. Vietnamese yummie food. My wife told our friends: you know, Frank is really good at marketing the restaurant. I was quite happy. Every week, better attendance numbers than predicted. More reach. 200 likes in two weeks. All very positive comments on all channels (it helps when you have a good cook!).

But like in every story you want to share with an audience, suddenly something happened that was not predicted by my marketing dashboard: the customers stayed away. For a whole week, our food was not getting sold in our small village.

Of course, I dived in my numbers. Less visitors at noon, no new customers. We were surviving on our enthusiastic returning customers. Mmmm. My conclusion: time to expand our territory. I tripled the Facebook advertising budget. I reached 19 000 people with my new ads. I’ve constructed several state-of-the-art personas to differentiate between 12 o’clock buyers, evening hungries, B2B buyers, I-want-a-quick-sandwich guys,… you name it.

It didn’t help that much. We did not get the attendance of the good old days.

Don’t get mad, Frank

Time to go offline. I started distributing door-to-door leaflets again. It’s good for your condition, and you see where your potential customers live. By doing this for a while, I could predict which neighborhoods would come to order. It turned out that streets with a lot of letterboxes marked: “no publicity – no free press please” were not open to exotic Vietnamese cuisine. Now, which marketing dashboard could give me that kind of info?

My final aha-erlebnis occurred when I passed by a car-rental company again. They had ordered the week before and as a seasoned marketer, I asked for their opinion about the food. “Your sandwiches are too small, and my colleague said you shouldn’t open a take-away when you are still painting. That is disgusting.” Inside I started boiling. How did he dare to talk like that? I wanted to defend myself. In short, I had an emotional reaction with an unhappy customer. At the same time I had a flashback of a sales training: “an unhappy customer is an opportunity”. I know that the sales people in the room had a look at me like they were thinking: “yeah right”. Now I understood them. Fully. I swallowed my pride and answered to the rental car guy: “thank you for your feedback”. And “oh yes” replied the guy, “your sandwiches are excellent. You could taste that they were super fresh and made with love. Just make them a little bit bigger.”

The epilogue

I got my answer to why we had a week with fewer sales. We were painting and decorating, in front of my nose, but I preferred to look at my marketing dashboard to find the answer. And at noon, when people ordered a quick sandwich, they were not returning as the bread was yummy but not big enough. You’re never too 54 to learn. And you are certainly never too smart to leave your desk and meet your customer in person. The answer to your marketing question may be walking just down your street.