If you want 2019 to be successful for your business, then you need to better know and understand your customers and would-be customers.
I mean really know them. Deeply and intimately.
You need to be able to finish their sentences.
You need to know what keeps them up at night, at least when it comes to their professional lives.
You need to know your customer so well that you could order for them at a restaurant without it being creepy and awkward.
Unfortunately, many of you don’t know your customers. You probably have a good sense of your customers, sure. You may even have a buyer persona outlined someplace on a slide deck. But could you respond confidently – or dare I suggest, push back – when someone from your leadership team, especially the sales team, suggests you start marketing to X buyer instead of Y?
Do you have any idea, switching costs aside, why your current customers stick with you over a competitor? Who buys your product or service? And why? Who obviously needs your solution, but seems to resist?
Why is understanding customers important?
When you can answer these questions with detail and clarity, you have a template for your future buyers. You can’t sell to everyone.
These insights give you the information necessary to create content that’s persuasive and relevant, which helps buyers trust your company and believe you can solve their problem.
These insights will help you choose what tradeshows and events to attend and sponsor. These insights will tighten the focus of your paid campaigns.
A deeper understanding of your customer will reduce your customer acquisition costs and increase your revenues. I’d bet you a beer on that.
And these deep insights will allow you to better leverage tools, such as marketing automation, to better segment your audiences and give them a more personalized experience engaging with you, whether you’re a credit union, IT wholesale supplier, or coffee distributor.
5 hacks for gaining key insights about your customers
OK, you’re sold on the importance of better knowing your customers. So, how can you do that when you have a to-do list that is only getting longer and a budget that is only getting smaller?
Here are five hacks for gaining key insights about your customers.
Tap into your current customers
Make a list of your best customers, your most profitable customers, your oldest customers, and your newest customers. And get a list of customers who left in the last six months. Try to get four or five customers for each category. That’s either a list of 20 or 25. Totally manageable.
Now go give them a phone call asking if you can interview them and listen to their stories. Most will say yes. Record the calls, and make sure they know you’re recording.
Begin the interview by asking your customer to recall what happened when they first started looking for the solution your company provides. The answer to this is probably something you already know, but it should set you up to ask the second question. Your goal is to understand the personal or organizational circumstances that lead your buyers to spend their time, money, and political capital to get a solution. Ask open-ended, probing questions instead of yes/no timeline questions. Probing questions usually begin with “Why …” or “How …”
Can’t talk to your customers? Talk to your sales teams, both the account reps and the SDRs. Ask follow-up questions that try to get more specific (and actionable) intelligence. Again, ask probing questions. Why does our target audience choose competitor A over us? When and how did our prospects first learn about our offer? What are their top priorities in a solution?
Better than talking to your sales rep is gaining access to recorded calls between your sales teams and prospects. At Act-On, we use Gong. It is pretty awesome, and I recommend all marketers go listen to a call or two at least once a month. You’ll learn the language your prospects actually use (hint: it’s probably not the marketing speak you’ve been pushing).
Re-thinking the Role of Marketing in B2B Customer Engagement
Mine the data you already available
You already have a trove of information about your customers collected from Google Analytics, as well as the analytics tools included in your marketing technology stack, such as Act-On’s Engagement Insights. Other data sources to mine include the internal search function on your website.
With Google Analytics, you can learn what age groups are coming to your website most often, as well as whether they are mostly men or women. You can find out whether they are mostly in the US, and whether they are East Coast or West Coast-based. What operating system are they using? Are they desktop or mobile? How is the traffic coming to your website getting there? From organic search or paid ads? What social platform is sending you the most traffic? What social platform is sending you the best converting traffic? Yes, that can be two separate platforms.
You can learn where they are traveling on your website from the initial landing page to the exit page. What types of blog posts are the most popular with your website visitors? Are there any trends over the last quarter, six months, or year? If you’ve built in goals, your understanding of your visitors will be even deeper.
There are literally a bazillion posts about setting up Google Analytics. My favorite sources are Andy Crestodina at Orbit Media and the GOAT, Avinash Kaushik. Sign up for their newsletters.
With Act-On, you can learn how many people coming to your website are known or unknown visitors. Like your Google Analytics goals, you can see what gated content is engaging those visitors. And with native integration into all the major CRMs, your buyer insights can be collated from cold lead to closed/won deal.
Chatbots are a trendy addition to most B2B websites. They allow you to be available to answer questions visitors have 24/7 and, theoretically get smarter over time. They are also a great tool to learn about the immediate pain points and questions your prospective buyers have. Is there one question that keeps bubbling up? Consider creating a gated piece of content (eBook, video, on-demand webinar) that answers that question and make sure these folks are seeing it.
Using third-party tools and vendors to learn about your buyers
If you have the cash, consider purchasing at least an analyst report for your industry. These typically include in-depth research from skilled professionals who have interviewed your customers and would-be customers.
Check out Scott Brinker’s latest version of his MarTech Supergraphic. It likely has a list of vendors willing to take your cash for better insights on your buyers. You can also check out this podcast interview with Rand Fishkin, whose startup SparkToro is building a tool to help you find where your audience is on the web.
Know more about your customers from social listening
Spend a Friday afternoon when the boss is out on PTO to build some social listening reports to better understand your customers.
Start with some simple Google Alerts about your top keywords and targeted buying groups or industries. For example, Act-On is a popular platform for credit unions, so I’ve created some Google Alerts around credit unions and marketing automation, etc.
Next, do some exploring on Twitter to see who your buyers may be or what they may be talking about. Back to our credit union example, we could track hashtags for key credit union conventions or events. Once behind the curtain, we can see what else folks are talking about. You can do the same with LinkedIn Groups.
And speaking of events, skip the breakout sessions or checking your email at your next industry conference and instead go around asking folks who they are, what they care about, and what they were hoping to learn at the event. With registration, hotels, lodging, and so forth, they are probably investing more than $1,000 in the event. Why?
You can also spend a few bucks on social ads that allow you to really dial who you want to get in front of with an ad. Along the way, you can learn tons about your buyers. Are demand gen marketers also Facebook followers of Justin Timberlake? I dunno, but I can find out.
If you really have a day to kill going down a rabbit hole. Then I suggest dipping your toe into the Reddit universe. Once you learn your way, you can really get the bleeding edge of the bleeding edge sort of insight into your buyers and marketplace.
Your competitors can also help identify your customers?
You never want to simply copy whatever your competitors are doing. But they can be a great – and relatively free – source of information about your own buyers.
What’s their market positioning? What are customers purchasing from them? What can you learn about their pricing? What are their customers willing to pay? Would they pay more if you offered something extra?
What are their customers saying about them on social? What social channels are they publishing on the most? Least? How are they describing their business and products?
What are their customers, former customers, and former employees saying about them on review sites?
Are they a public company? Who are they identifying as their key competitors, key markets, and growth opportunities in their annual and quarterly SEC filings?
If you have a couple of specific competitors that are changing any time soon, then spend the time benchmarking what you can learn about their employees on LinkedIn. Are they hiring Artificial Intelligence geeks, customer marketers, or international sales people? Track this over time to gain some key insights about where your industry and market place is headed.