So it is with marketing.
Too many marketers think they can lead the pack by leveraging the hottest channels, software and platforms. But these tools, like race cars, are only effective when they’re moving in the right direction.
Steer Toward Your Customers
Marketing optimization demands that you know where to find your customers – that you know what they value, where they’re looking, and how they want to buy. Fortunately, finding that out is surprisingly easy, says Kristin Zhivago, President, Zhivago Management Partners, a business-growth consultancy.
She says it requires nothing more than speaking with seven to 10 customers. Pick up the phone and ask them:
- How do you feel about our products and services?
- Are our prices fair?
- What was your buying process?
- What is your biggest problem/challenge?
- What trends do you see in our/your market?
- If you were CEO of our company tomorrow, what would you fix?
- What did you type into Google when you first started searching?
- Anything else I should have asked?
You need to use the phone, Zhivago says. You should not ask customers these questions on a social network, on a survey, or during a focus group. You should ask during a one-on-one phone interview.
She says that people do not speak openly, even in surveys, for fear of their words coming back to bite them. People are more relaxed and open when talking on the phone in their normal environments, she says.
“I’ve had marketers ask me after I’ve given a presentation, ‘Is there any way I can do this customer stuff without talking to customers?’” she laughs. “If you are selling to people, give them the respect of finding out what they want and how they want to buy it.”
Find and focus on priorities
Zhivago has successfully used this approach across hundreds of organizations, large and small, she says. The purpose is to clarify:
- What customers value about your products and services
- How they make purchasing decisions
- How they move through the buying process
The goal is to not spend a dime on any marketing or sales activity that doesn’t reach customers where they are looking for, expecting or wanting to purchase your products.
A Simple Reality Check
After realizing that the leadership at many companies was out of touch, Zhivago started routinely interviewing her clients’ customers.
“I started something called a ‘reality check’ where I said to them, ‘Look just give me some time, some names, and let me talk to folks and see what they really think,’” she says.
The idea proved so successful that Zhivago began refusing to work with clients unless she could interview their customers first.
“I knew what they were giving me and what the customer really wanted was going to be very different.”
Be the Champion
If you ask your customers these questions, trends will likely emerge by the fifth or seventh interview. It is rarely worth conducting more than 12 interviews with any given type of customer, Zhivago says. Once you compile the results, the data will put you in the driver’s seat next time you’re meeting with the C-suite.
Zhivago insists that corporate leadership is captivated by customer-centric data. She’s witnessed too many meetings, she says, where marketers get drowned out by a sales leader’s anecdote about a recent call with a customer.
“In those kinds of discussion, the sales leader typically emerges the winner,” she says, “unless Marketing has the research from real conversations with customers in its back pocket. When marketers hear directly from customers about what they want and how they want it, they have the power to stand toe-to-toe with a salesperson and win the support of the CEO. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times.”
She’s also witnessed how this information has supported sales leaders who have come to the conference room table again and again with a customer issue that the C-level dismisses. Through the customer interviews, marketers are able to support the sales leaders and convince leadership to take action. So this method can be used both to refute single-customer, anecdotal information (which can be misleading), and to reinforce the valid, multiple-customer observations of the sales force.
Have you ever spoken directly with customers to inform your marketing efforts? If so, what questions did you ask and what results did you get? If not, what held you back? Let us know in the comments …
Video of Zhivago speaking at the MarketingSherpa B2B Marketing Summit 2011 in San Francisco