Marketers love to talk about ‘relationships’. Sure, we want to sell stuff, but we want to be the customer’s friend too (or at least a trusted contemporary or colleague).
This isn’t just to make us feel less cold and cynical about marketing our products and services. A decent understanding of our customers can help guide our decisions, producing better strategies that attract more of the right audience.
But friendships rely on many complex dynamics to stay positive and grow stronger. At the heart of this, we need to know who our ‘friends’ are.
Customer profiling is nothing new. Every marketing or sales strategy should begin with a detailed understanding of the ideal customer. But, in my experience, marketers often design customer profiles based on assumption, wishful thinking and their own (biased and often irrelevant) perspective.
It’s far too easy for us to skip the research phase. “We know who our customers are”, we lie to ourselves in our eagerness to get to the productivity stages. No wonder so much marketing comes across like an awkward kid in the playground, pleading to be liked.
Yet there are many things we can do to understand our customers better.
1. THE SALES TEAM
Good friendships rely on mutual understanding and mutual benefit. And no one understands the customer better than the sales team.
Someone from sales should always be in the room whenever you’re trying to get inside the head of your customers. They know the most common questions, the most popular selling points and the most difficult barriers to overcome in closing a sale. After spending an hour with sales, you may be amazed how wrong your assumptions are.
2. CUSTOMER SUPPORT
Most of us will have known a fair-weather friend – always around when there’s fun to be had, but absent when we need some help. These friendships usually deteriorate. Instead, we stick with those that stand by us through the tough times, helping to fix our problems.
Your customer support team can be a hugely important source of information to help reduce customer churn, increase cross selling and build more lasting and valuable friendships.
What are the most common customer issues or complaints? How are these resolved? How do these bumps in the road impact the relationship?
3. MARKET RESEARCH
If you have the resources to employ a market research agency, fantastic. Focus groups can reveal unbiased and honest responses to reveal exactly what makes your customers tick.
However, most businesses balk at the cost of external research, which is why many run their own customer surveys. But these will always present skewed results.
Your existing customers have, by definition, already responded to your marketing. So surveying them won’t necessarily reveal why others dislike your brand or chose a competitor. Your friends will usually only tell you what you want to hear. Similarly, your most disgruntled customers may shout louder than your quietly satisfied customers, distorting the sample.
You need to understand the target market outside of the biased subset of your own database. This is why independently run surveys will always be more useful.
4. SOCIAL MEDIA
A good friend always solicits your opinion. On a night out, you don’t dictate the film without consulting your friends. Hopefully, you discuss the various choices and take their preferences into account, coming to a joint decision.
Social media is one place where these discussions can happen. It can be a rich source of feedback into who your customers are, what they want and how they feel about related topics.
For example, you may follow relevant hashtags or keyword searches and discover that a certain customer type is far less interested in technical commentary, but loves to share feel-good stories of people solving similar problems. This insight can inform a content strategy more likely to resonate with this group.
Or you can ask for direct input. Customers love it when a brand actively seeks out their ideas. Just look at Dell’s IdeaStorm or Starbuck’s My Starbucks Idea initiatives. You may not be able to launch your own ‘ideas’ hub, but you can still use your social media channels to kick off similar conversations.
Naturally, you do still need to heed this feedback where practical, or people will soon see it as an empty relationship.
5. LEAD NURTURING AND TRACKING
Yes, we may have a large group of friends, but it’s important to treat each as a one-to-one relationship. No one wants a friend that treats everyone generically, never acknowledging their unique circumstances – such as offering support after a recent hospital visit.
Lead nurturing and tracking allows you to follow the individual journeys of each customer through your website, and even some of your related content such as emails and ebooks. The right system can record how one person is more interested in certain product pages and downloaded that recent ebook, while another spends a lot of time on the support pages trying to solve problems.
And this information can trigger automated and tailored responses, responding to their activities with the most relevant and helpful content – one-to-one.
The beginning of a beautiful friendship…
Any good friendship is based on reciprocal benefit. No friendship lasts long if one side continually extracts more benefit than the other, without appreciation or care.
In many ways, your content marketing is a vital conversation, driving this friendship with each individual customer. It should not only say what you want to say, but also show interest in their interests and goals, listening for feedback and responding to their needs.