How Well Do You Know Your Customer?

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Interview in Progress resized 600A recent client was losing share of wallet inside certain key verticals. Meeting with their leadership team, I asked “Do you know your customer?” I could almost feel the collective groan in the room.  “Yes… we better know our customer”, was the response from the head of marketing.  So I asked the next logical question: “Tell me about your buyer research; How do you do it?”  The answer that followed wasn’t so crisp.  She mainly talked about their customer surveys.  Unfortunately only about 5-7% of customers actually respond to survey requests.  And the questions really don’t provide insight into buyer behavior.

Buyer behavior has dramatically changed in the past 3-5 years.  The burden of “selling when a rep isn’t present” has shifted to the marketing department.  Buyers are self-educating more than ever.  They rely less and less on a sales rep for information.  Marketing not only has to stimulate demand, it has to nurture buyers until they are ready to engage with a rep. 

With this growing responsibility, a marketing leader must be an expert on observing customer trends: Are my customers happy? Are my customers spending?  Why are my customers spending?  Unfortunately, most marketers are ill-equipped to do in-depth Buyer Research.

In-depth buyer research captures both the articulated and unarticulated aspects of buyer thinking and decision-making.  The focus is on understanding:

  • Who buyers are
  • How they process decision-making
  • Context on why decisions are made
  • Buyer behaviors
  • Offerings
  • Attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs
  • Perceived values
  • Branding perception and sentiments

The insights gathered and analyzed help inform and shape your marketing strategies: Demand Generation, Content Creation, Branding and Lead Nurturing.  Buyer research also serves as the foundation for Personas and Buyer Process Maps

A Framework for Buyer Research

The process of in-depth buyer research consists of a four-step framework.  The framework facilitates interviewing techniques designed to allow interviewees to engage in free flow conversations.

Themes and Topics: These represent the context of your interview.  Begin with the end in mind. What insight are you specifically looking to gain?  For example:

  • What are they doing when they are not in the market for your solution
  • What things stimulate them to enter a buying cycle
  • How buying decisions are made
  • What values are perceived as important

Starter Questions: Don’t bombard your interviewee with countless questions. Get the conversation going with 1-2 good ones.  The goal is insight into their perceptions on the themes and topics from step 1.  Use open-ended questions such as:

  • What put you in the market for a solution?
  • How did you initially become aware of our solution?
  • What approach were you previously using to address this issue?
  • What is important to you when it comes to choosing a vendor?

Interview Techniques: The goal is to engage in a free flow conversation.  To do so, the interviewer uses certain skills and techniques to probe deeper.  Some critical interviewing competencies include:

  • Gaining trust between the interviewer and interviewee
  • Attentiveness to what buyers are expressing
  • Using follow-up techniques to probe deeper

Analysis: The information and data gathered must be analyzed. You are looking for consistent patterns and behaviors.  You want insight into your buyer’s goals & objectives, obstacles & fears.

KEY TAKEAWAY: In-depth buyer research yields significant value.  It is essential to understanding your buyers’ behaviors.  When done right, you gain insight into:

  • The language and terminology of buyers
  • Importance of specific buying criterion
  • Improving conservations with buyers
  • Shaping branding strategies
  • Creation of campaigns and programs specific to buyer groups
  • Identifying new revenue generating approaches to buyers

CALL TO ACTION:  If your buyer research is limited to customer & prospect surveys, there’s a gap.  We advocate at least 40-50 interviews per offering repeated yearly.  Take this data and develop your Buyer Personas and Buyer Process Maps.  Use this data to audit your content.  And share this data with the sales team.  Enable them to engage with customers with deep insight into their purchasing psychology.

Customer Interview Guide

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