As a B2B Marketing consultant, one of the questions I get asked most frequently is “how can I really know what my customers care about?”

And, my answer is always the same — please do your research.

If there’s one thing that has always confused me, it’s why businesses choose to skip doing market research. Maybe they find the task too time-consuming, or perhaps they think they already have all the answers. But this is a recipe for failure.

According to surveys, only 41% of marketers even include market research in their budgets. Is it any wonder then that 58% of deals end in ‘no decision’? Or that only 30% of marketers claim to be “very effective” at content marketing?

Lack of proper research not only turns out to be a costly mistake (a whopping $958 million is wasted on ineffective marketing every year) but also cripples a company’s growth and success. I’ve covered four major risks associated with not doing your research in one of my previous posts. In this article, we’ll look at the brighter side of doing market research and how to get there.

Advantages of Doing Customer Research

Research doesn’t have to be a complicated, time-consuming and expensive process as many fear it is. And if you get it right, the upside is huge. Here are some of the key benefits your business experiences when you plan your processes based on thorough research.

Better reputation and more trust from prospective buyers.

Today, it’s not easy to gain the trust of your prospects. And if you fail to do so, you can be sure of one thing — sooner or later you’ll be pushed into obscurity by businesses that have earned that trust.

A company’s thought leadership has a tremendous influence on how customers perceive them. A recent survey reveals that 63% of business decision makers consider thought leadership as a critical factor in their vetting process.

But how do you ensure that your thought leadership helps build trust and reputation? 79% of CXOs believe that the most effective thought leadership is the one that addresses the issues they would be interested in. That’s where customer research comes in handy.

Done right, customer research equips you with the knowledge of what your buyers are interested in and what they really care about. This lays out a solid foundation for building your thought leadership strategy.

Decrease in losing to competitors or ‘no decision’.

While no one likes to losing out to competitors, ‘no decisions’ are oftentimes more frustrating. No decisions are the biggest dark spots in your sales. They are a huge waste of time, energy, resources, and money; plus, you are left in the lurch about what you could have done better to win the deal. The good news is, you can significantly reduce your no decision rate by investing more time into researching your customer’s purchase behaviors and preferences across every touch point, throughout the buying lifecycle. CSO Insights shows that companies with a thorough understanding of their customer’s “buying process” have experienced a 6.9% drop in their no decision rate.

Maximizing your marketing budgets.

When you know what your customers need to make a decision, you can focus all of your resources on producing effective content that resonates and helps move the sale forward. To that end, you have to gain a deeper understanding of where your potential customers place their trust, the size of the market for your product or service, and the cost of creating and disseminating the right content. Spend time to research the market to determine what type of communication your target audience is most receptive to and what it would cost to reach them in a way that will move the needle in sales.

Customer Research That Makes a Difference: Where to Start?

Now that you know how critical it is to get to know your customers, let’s talk about the methods you should be using to gather customer intelligence. We’ll split the method into two categories — secondary research and primary research.

Secondary Research – also called “Desk Research”

Secondary research is the collection of existing data and reports, and is where you should start your research.

3rd party Data.
Start by seeing what’s already out there. This includes 3rd party reports, trends and studies. Some of them are free, some of them are not. Many organizations we work with subscribe to analyst reports and databases that are produced by reputable firms. These can be a great place to start because the information is usually higher quality and validated from a reputable “expert”. For example, Gartner, Forrester and IDC are all good sources in the IT industry. Hoovers is also a great source for both industry and company-level information.

Internet Research.
General internet searches can also be insightful. Think of different ways that your customers may be asking questions related to your product category. “What is a [product]?” “What are the benefits of [product]?” “What’s the difference between x and y solution?” – move the words around in the sentence and see the results. But don’t stop at the first page of your Google search results. Go to page 2 or 3, as you may find unique or helpful information there. It will also give you an insight into what words and phrases resonate with customers.

Quora
Quora, a crowd-sourced Q&A platform — is another great resource where you can see what questions are being asked about your topic and the specific “words” that people are using to ask those questions. (This can also be considered Primary Research if you ask your own question).

Primary Research – also called “Field Research”

Primary research is the collection of new data and information, and can come in many shapes and sizes.

Marketing and Sales data.
Looking at your own marketing and sales data can be useful to identify sales patterns, trends related to your products, web interactions, online engagement, customer service complaints, etc. If you are not currently collecting this type of data, it can be a great, low-cost place to start.

1:1 Conversations.
These can be formal or informal. For example, holding a focus group with a moderator and a set of pre-identified interview questions would be a formal collection approach. Personal interviews with an unstructured list questions would be a more casual and informal approach.

How frequently is your marketing team engaging in one on one conversations with your customers? Does your company attend tradeshows, sponsor events or seminars? This is a great opportunity to speak with your customers and prospects directly. But this is also an area that is often neglected. Too many times, I’ve seen marketers miss the opportunity to engage with customers because they aren’t sure how to approach the customer with the right questions. Or worse, they are unprepared to listen, a skill that is completely underutilized in business today.

Here’s a short sample list of questions you should focus on asking your customers to better understand their needs. Note – your questions should be open-ended to prompt the

  • What are the biggest challenges you’re facing right now?
  • Where are your biggest opportunities?
  • Who do you view as our biggest competitor? Why?
  • If you had to divert all of your resources to one project, what would it be?
  • Who is generally involved in decisions related to [our product]? How has the buying process changed over the last couple of years?
  • How does our [product/ company] measure up?

Online Surveys.
Do you conduct surveys? This is another easy and cost effective way to gather information from your customers. It can be especially helpful when you are trying to validate new marketing messages or product ideas and content themes or topics that customers may find valuable.

Win-Loss Analysis.
Reviewing every sale — whether lost or won — is a great way to know what you may be doing right and what needs to change. To understand why the customer chose (or didn’t choose) your solution, make it a habit to collect valuable customer data and document the critical aspects of every sale to piece together a complete picture of what makes your customers do business with you. Knowing what makes your business tick can be a great way to replicate your wins.

Commissioned Research.

3rd party research companies exist for a reason. The fact is, customers may not tell you the entire truth when asked directly. They may feel uncomfortable sharing negative feedback, and thus, may tell you only what they think you want to hear. Depending on the type of data you are seeking, consider outsourcing your customer interviews to a neutral 3rd party.

In this day and age of shifting loyalties, it’s difficult to win and retain customers if you fail to provide them with a stellar — and consistent — service. In order to do that, you have to know what your buyers really want.

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