Customer insight doesn’t have to cost the earth

‘Know your customer’. Whether you consider your company led by amazing product development, knowledgable and genuine sales people, or even marketing, it’s likely you will have absorbed this mantra as necessary for success in the modern business environment.

Customer insight for marketers means really understanding what actual people out there in the market need, what pains they face, what they think of your company, product and people, and how you can help them (or how you can’t). You can then use this insight to create messages that hit home, target the right people , and ultimately feed back into sales and product development to drive future success. When talking about customer insight, in over ten years working in tech marketing, this is one of the most common reactions I’ve heard:

‘Well, that’s OK, we know our customers. I mean, we’ve been in this field for years, our customers are loyal, Bob in marketing used to be a customer! I can describe them to you right now, then you can build the strategy’

This is pretty common, understandable – and dangerous. This attitude, coming from confidence and good intentions, is inherently flawed as once you step inside a business or brand, it really is hard (if not impossible) to shake bias and assumption about your own product and the people who use it. You are also immediately disregarding anyone not currently using or aware of your product – and understanding that particular group can often give you direction for change that really grows your customer base by better communication, a better product fit and ultimately by addressing more of their needs. Obviously as a marketer you need to have confidence in your target segments, but plucking the information out of your head to create a persona with no qualification is a thin and artificial way to work and can become a bit of a ‘yes game’ that doesn’t yield results.

The reason too many of us fall into this trap, especially in small, fast moving businesses, is frankly because the thought of setting up a project to gathering customer insight can seem time-consuming and expensive. I’m fortunate to work with some incredible data and analytics professionals, but if you don’t, even setting up a study can be daunting. Do you go qualitative or quantitative? How big a sample? Where do you find them? How do you tell if the results actually mean anything? If you go with a third party provider, briefing a research project correctly can be hard unless they really understand your business area, and the whole process takes months, which is no good when the senior team are muttering about agility and fast iterations and wondering why the messaging just can’t be done by next week! It’s no wonder many marketers in small companies give up at this point and carry on working with the sensible-seeming picture they already have in the business, kidding themselves they are doing the right thing.

There are, however, lighter-weight and faster ways to get information that may not have full analytical rigour, but still throw up interesting insights and can provide a bit of a sanity check for the state of the market. Here’s some I’ve used:

  • Listen to sales calls, or join the team in account visits or reviews. What are the blockers your team encounter? How do happy customers describe your service? What about those who are lost? Are there any themes that shape successful calls or indicate early that a prospect will not convert?
  • Review inbound enquiries – what problems are people actively looking for you to solve? Does that match the way you describe yourselves?
  • What search terms bring people into your website organically? Do these match your offer, or how you describe your offer? Are differences positive or negative?
  • Talk to those working in support or services. They are less likely to have ‘happy ears’ about how customers actually feel as they deal with complaints daily, and may well have a feel for how you stack up versus competitors
  • Work your network. Join user groups or conferences for your targets as an audience member, not a sponsor – go to the drinks, view session titles to see what topics people are interested in and what challenges they have. Ask people if they have heard of your company, what they have heard and how. Be honest and open about your goal to improve your offer and your communication. Even your competitors will often share information – everyone loves to feel they have an interested audience.
  • Comb other internal data. For example, at Coeo, we regularly survey our managed support and consultancy customers on their overall satisfaction, but many leave free text comments about what they like or don’t like about what we do. This is an operations project, not a marketing survey, but reviewing the responses can give a good steer for messaging and also help identify issues early on – without commissioning expensive new research.

Are there any other ways you get insight into your customers? I’d love to hear them.

(article originally published on my LinkedIn page)

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