One of our frequently used phrases is, “It’s not about what you think of your product or service; it’s about what your customers think”. Too often we use “self-reference criteria” ie what I/my boss/the MD likes, to determine which products or services we should develop and how we should promote them and sell them. Frankly, you are not important. Your customers are.
Here are four steps for truly getting to know them.
- How much have your customers bought from you in the last year? Which products or services are most popular?
- Do most people buy once and never again or are they a repeat customer?
- Is it the same product they buy or do they try different ones?
- How many long-term customers do you have (the definition of “long-term” will very much depend on your business and your offering) and how much have they spent in their lifetime?
- Have they recommended you? If so, who to? How did that go?
- How many one-off-purchase customers do you get? Can you work out why they might have stopped buying from you?
- Do your customers click on your social media posts? Do they open your emails? Do they open your e-shots? Do they forward them? If the answer to any of these is “yes”, which ones are most effective?
- If you sell a digital product, how is it used? Do you have a facility to monitor the way customers interact with it, how often, and for how long?
- If you have an online support section of your website, which page is most viewed? If you don’t, what is the most common reason why customers phone/email you to complain?
Collate and save all this data in a database. Even a simple excel workbook is better than nothing.
2. Watch your customers’ behaviour: Look at data you can get elsewhere.
Get your sales and customer service teams involved and ask them what they think. Do they have any insights into customers’ and prospects’ behaviour?
Are there any online reviews of your product, service or company?
Have people talked about you on blogs or on social media?
Thoroughly Google your brand name(s) and see what comes up way down the listings beyond the pages you’re already aware of. Depending on the size of your business this could be unfeasibly arduous or it could be a goldmine of untapped customer information.
If you manufacture a physical product consider setting up a focus group to watch how your customers interact with your product.
3. Talk to your customers
Ask existing customers what they like and what they dislike about your company, your products and/or your services.
What are their “problems”?
What are their “needs”?
How do you solve their problems and meet their needs?
What could you do to better meet their needs?
If you supply a high-value offering to a relatively small number of people, then choose a method to gather this information appropriate to your relationship with them eg taking them out for lunch.
Another method is via a questionnaire, incentivised with a prize-draw or appropriate thank you gift. This is an objective, anonymous way to gather feedback, and can be very useful if you feel your clients’ relationship with you or your business might hinder them in providing totally honest answers.
Whichever method you choose, word your questions carefully as leading questions will give you skewed information.
If any of the information gathered conflicts with the data you got from different sources, then work out why there is a discrepancy, so that you can address it in your marketing messages.
4. Use this information to form a customer profile
Write as detailed a Profile as you can: the more specific you are the easier it is to form an effective strategy around it.
Some companies give their customer profiles names and detailed personalities so that they can create campaigns targeted to “Olivia who has 2 children and a dog, works part time, likes going to the gym and drinks skinny hazelnut lattes”. Whether that approach is appropriate to your business is up to you, but if you are specific, it will help your marketing be targeted and specific too.
Understanding your customers is an on-going process. Your customers’ needs and expectations will change and evolve, as does the market place in which they make their buying decisions. Make gathering data about your customers something that happens every day, analyse this data at regular intervals and use it to inform your marketing all the time. You don’t want to find out too late that your customers’ needs have changed and your product or service no longer meets them.