Ask Listen Innovate 
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Ask, listen, innovate!

Building a high-margin business based on a deep understanding of the customer's pull
Friday, Oct. 13 Location Code
8:00am-12:00pm Sheraton, 2nd floor, Independence West FW/02

Learn how to engage your customers and prospects in conversations that reveal what is driving them. Discover how you need to innovate to become their hero.


Let’s talk about operations managers. If an ops manager is going to build or redesign a production line, the first task is to run out to the customer with a checklist to understand their pull.  But…how often does that ops manager actually get out from behind their desk and do that?  In many cases they don’t feel comfortable talking to customers because that’s a “sales” job. Or, maybe they give it a try but they don’t get meaningful results. Understanding customer pull entails meeting with the customers and discovering their needs, but if you run through a checklist and get only the easily articulated needs you will miss the GOLD. You will miss their unmet needs, their unspoken and hidden needs and their emerging needs. You will miss the needs that you could address uniquely based on your strong understanding of their business, and then you risk commoditization. If you learn from the customer, you can learn all the other pressures that a customer faces, the opportunity to develop unique solutions becomes unlimited.  Ask, Listen, Innovate is a “HOW TO” workshop that solves that problem.

While some business people will have excellent techniques for discovering the unmet, unspoken, hidden and emerging needs of their customers, many will not. Those who do not will ask a list of clunky questions and get spotty answers; some will even use the Voice of the Boss or the Voice of Sales and they will create an offering which is entirely internally conceived, without customer input. The Voice of the Boss and the Voice of Sales are no substitute for the Voice of the Customer. An excellent technique for discovering customer needs will be opened by you carefully accompanying your customer through a process of discovery, holding the stage for them, just as a best supporting actor would support the scene for a movie star. It takes humility, but stepping back and giving your movie star the time and space they need to recall, and tell you what they need, what they dream of, is an honorable job and it is well worth doing. This is not a sales workshop; this is not solution selling—although some stronger sales people would benefit. This workshop is for business line and product managers who want to--and need to--get out of the office and LISTEN. Not talk, not explain, just open a conversation and listen. It is everyone’s responsibility.

Imagine that you are a best supporting actor and your customer is a movie star, starring in several movies. If you ask the customer a question, they will answer as the star of the movie that is playing in their head at that very moment. If you ask, “what keeps you up at night?” and the customer answers “my daughter’s new boyfriend,” you know that your customer has the mindset of a parent. The conversation you will have while your client is in this mindset will not be mutually beneficial. You need to move your customer to the mindset of a professional for whom the challenges of the job are foremost and present in his or her mind.  Ask, Listen, Innovate teaches you how to get them there.

How long has it been since you introduced a new product that fit into a new application? How much of your revenue is dependent on product that you have been making for generations? Changes come out of nowhere just like airplanes challenged railroads, just as cellphones challenged landlines, just as Google challenged card catalogs and just as wind is beginning to challenge coal and oil. Are you having to customize product to make it fit? Do you have a shelf of beautiful products that have never sold? Is your “innovation funnel” inspired by your boss or your customers? Using the Ask, Listen, Innovate methodology you can easily move your customers and prospects into a mindset where they are ready, willing and able to recall their struggles, and where they are excited to tell you what they need. There hasn’t ever been a customer who wasn’t eager to express his/her needs when invited into the proper mindset, when given the time, when given a generous ear, and when listened too and heard. Ask Listen Innovate will teach you how. If you do well, you’ll discover needs that your competition will not find. You can exploit your deep knowledge of your customer to build a unique, high margin business based on the customer's pull.

“As I have developed and used Ask, Listen, Innovate I have found many needs, but my favorite find of all time was when I was on a customer needs discover mission at a GOLD mine in Nevada, and I discovered it by speaking with a PLC programmer, not the CEO! By the time I was done doing my discovery with him he told me that The Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration would require him to report the diesel particle content present in the effluent from the mine vent within 2 years and nobody had an instrument that did what he needed.”  I discovered a federal requirement with no solution. In this example, I discovered a requirement for a new product and a well-constructed exercise to uncover all kinds of needs. This program will literally unpack the needs of (almost) anybody. What will your customers tell you if you get them into an appropriate mindset then ask and listen?”  -- Mike LaFleur

Discovering customer needs is an “analog process.” Asking questions and checking boxes is not sufficient and can leave you stuck with product that is sub-optimal or even useless. Experience and technique matter when discovering customer needs, and when specifying a product and all that goes with it. Ask, Listen, Innovate is a “HOW TO” workshop. It will enable you to jump right in, and within an hour’s time, you will be uncovering and discovering needs that none of your competitors will ever find.


Ask Listen Innovate provides consulting and training services helping companies to discover both their customer's and their prospect's current and emerging needs. This is the best way to generate high margin sales in the near and long-term. The key to strong margins and top line growth rests with knowing and addressing your customer's current and emerging needs.

Presenter: Mike LaFleur

Over 25+ years, Mike LaFleur has assisted organizations, including Emerson, Dynisco, vCentrix, AT&T and BellSouth, with product development, market expansion, strategic acquisitions, cost identification and expense reduction initiatives, driving top-line growth while boosting margins and profitability. He founded Ask Listen Innovate in 2016 to address one of the most common gaps in corporate strategic planning; the practice of discovering and developing new solutions to address their customer's emerging needs. LaFleur holds a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.