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From the Trenches

Why Customer Insights Will Improve Your Strategic Marketing Plan

Mike Sweeney | March 24, 2017
Why Customer Insights Will Improve Your Strategic Marketing Plan

Interviews: 7

Hours: 21

Transcribed words: 3,478

Customer insights: Priceless.

We recently delivered our latest content-driven marketing plan, and here’s what happened during our presentation of slides 9-16: Reassuring nods. Quizzical looks. And of course, the almost too common, “Who in the hell said THAT?”

Slides 9-16 were a recap of the customer and employee interviews we conduct as part of the marketing planning process, and when presented, they always generate discussion. Sometimes, clients are so shocked, I wonder, “Are you actually talking to your customers regularly?” That was not the case here, yet the customer insights still managed to get folks to sit up and pay attention.

Getting these insights out of customers is not as easy as it seems. It starts with identifying the right mix of customers and asking them (ever so nicely) to spend an hour of their time speaking to someone they don’t know about their impressions of the company in question. Then it requires a mix of luck and skill to schedule and prepare for those interviews, followed by the ability to steer the interview in the intended direction, even when the interviewees seem intent on talking about what they want to talk about. It may not be Edward R. Murrow or even Barbara Walters-level work, but it does require a certain knack for getting answers to the important questions.

So why do companies sometimes resist this type of primary research effort? Sometime it’s the anticipated effort and depletion of relationship capital. Sometimes it’s that the company thinks it already knows their customers’ perceptions. And sometimes it’s just a decision to take a shortcut.

Here are just a few reasons why the shortcut is a terrible idea, and why incorporating customer insights into your plan is essential.

It forces you to take an outside-in approach to your messaging.

It’s astonishing how many executive-level thinkers still develop messaging from the inside-out, meaning they decide which messages they think will resonate with their customers. Really, hotshot? Talk to your customers, man. Or have someone else talk to them, because perhaps your customers won’t give you the real scoop.

Here’s the deal. It’s not that you want your customers to solely determine your messaging, but if you hear similar messages and themes from a group of customers, then you have to consider whether they are right, and you are wrong.

It impacts your product and service offering.

Congratulations. You sold your customers a product or service, and they are now using it in some form or fashion. Have you checked back in with them to see if they still agree with the way the product or service was/is packaged and priced, or are you assuming that because they haven’t canceled their subscription or fired your firm that they are in love with what they were sold?

By interviewing the right customers and asking the right questions, you will find out what they truly value about your product or service and — just as important — what they don’t. Like messaging, the answers may not be the lone factor in determining your product or service offering, but they ought to play a major part.

It informs the types of content you create and the topics you cover.

No-brainer alert. With content-driven marketing as critical an approach as ever, customer research will help you determine the types of topics you need to address. Heck, customers may even feed you the specific topics they’d pay attention to.

Will your audience read blog posts? Ask your customers. Will they attend a webinar? Ask your customers. Do they assign more credibility to you if you speak at the big industry trade show or run a local workshop? Ask your customers.

It helps you lead the horse to water.

As the proverb says, you can lead the horse to water but you can’t make him drink. From a marketing standpoint, how about this: lead the horse to water, and at least you have a shot that he may drink.

The water is your distribution channels. By doing customer interviews and asking about where they get their educational material — which blogs, industry publications, trade shows, or podcasts they pay attention to — you will gain an understanding of where your earned and paid media opportunities lie.

It keeps you top of mind.

What I often find when we conduct these interviews is that the customer has NO idea about all the things their partner/vendor offers. By discovering that, we often identify that priority one in the marketing plan is to inform and educate the existing customer base about what the company offers before we even reach out to prospective customers. After all, it costs seven times more to obtain a new customer than to retain an existing one.

And here’s the bonus (as if you need one): In these interviews, customers are often reminded of why they love your company or service and then say things like, “I’d be happy to send other customers their way.” Talk about business development gold — loyal customers referring prospective customers? For god’s sake, people, make sure you include customer insights in your marketing planning process.

Need help with marketing planning? Download our eBook, “Build Your Content Marketing Plan: A 10-Step Guide.” Or just get in touch. We’d be happy to chat with your customers as a starting point.

Related Resources

About Mike Sweeney:

As Right Source’s co-founder and CEO, Mike Sweeney creates, plans, and implements our vision, mission, culture, and strategic direction as well as serving as an advisor to our clients. Mike received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in marketing from the University of Notre Dame and has more than 20 years of experience in B2B marketing strategy, including digital, content, and marketing technology. You can find Mike on X (formerly Twitter) and LinkedIn, or read his other posts.