How a little customer research can seriously boost your sales

Your sales and marketing plan has been trundling along for a while, doing its thing.

Inbound enquiries aren’t quite what you’d hoped, but you’re doing well on referrals and word-of-mouth, so all in all things are going OK.

You’re pretty sure most of your customers are happy, and though their annual spend hasn’t grown quite how you’d projected, it hasn’t been that shabby either.

Sometimes in business, there are small things you can do that make a big difference.

Small things that you’ve perhaps not done for a while, never tried yet, or perhaps haven’t even thought about doing before.

One of those things is very easily overlooked, and really quite simple to do.

And that is customer research.

It’s about your customer understanding you, too

Everyone goes on these days about how important it is to understand your customer. And being told that can sometimes feel both glaringly obvious and a bit patronising.

After all, how could you be failing to understand your customer, and still be doing good business?

Worryingly, it’s quite easy to do exactly that. Because the answer partly lies in how well they understand you.

The good news is, that with a bit of extra effort in understanding them more deeply – and in helping them to understand you – you can do even better in your business. Here’s how to go about it.

Digging deeper for customer researchI’ve put together a set of questions to get you started.

8 questions to check how well you understand each other

  1. How many of the services you actually offer will your customer be able to list?
  2. Can they articulate why they chose you when they were first looking for a supplier?
  3. Why do they use you now?
  4. Do you know which of your competitors they’ve used in the past and/or also use alongside you?
  5. What do they think you do really well?
  6. What would they not use you for, and why not? (That you do actually do…)
  7. How do they rate your customer service?
  8. How do they respond to your competitors when they get contacted by them?

How the answers will improve your business development

I’ll run through the questions one by one to demonstrate how the answers can give you the insight and understanding to start improving your sales, marketing and customer service.

1 – If your customer lists less than 50% of your services, they don’t know that much about what you do

You could be missing out on opportunities for cross-selling other services or products, just because your client doesn’t really know what you’re capable of.

Your relationship will grow stronger – and their spend will get bigger – with a little more TLC and closer communication. A little more strategic client development will make all the difference here.

2 – Knowing (and being able to articulate) why they chose you is about both you AND your customer being clear on how you’re different from the competition

It’s about being clear on your positioning, and your niche.

It’s about knowing exactly which type of customer you are most likely to suit, and using that knowledge to actively market to and acquire more of those particular ones.

3 – Do they use you now because you have a good relationship, or because they can’t be bothered to switch supplier?

Is it because you understand them better than your competitors do – and if so, how much does your customer recognise and value that understanding?

You can take actions to strengthen your relationship even more to prevent competitors getting a look in with a cheeky starting promotion or discount. And you can improve your understanding of how your customer works and what they like, in order to offer even greater value.

4 – Your competitors are out there – and they want the work that you’ve got

If your customer relationship is strong, then you may be aware that they currently use your competitors for certain things (which you can also do), and you will hopefully understand why.

That’s good, because it means you can work on changing the situation. If you don’t know who else they work with (and why), make it your goal to find out.

5  – What your customers think you do best should fit with the reasons that they use you now

They will be prepared to give you testimonials and to recommend you to colleagues and other contacts around this area, because they will have definite confidence in you and the value you bring to them.

What they think you do best is something you can use to help define your positioning or niche, and to look at becoming a thought-leader in. Doing more of what you do best (as long as it’s profitable) can create a virtuous circle of success.

6 – This is a critical one, and one you absolutely need to know

By knowing what a customer would NOT use you for – although you see yourselves as capable of it – you will learn a lot.

Understanding why they wouldn’t use you is the key. It  might be your existing customer service, or your knowledge and understanding, or it might be because of a particular employee.

Whatever the reason, these answers are the red flags pointing out where you could improve, or maybe even showing you which products and services you perhaps shouldn’t be offering (as they are now).

7 – Customer service is something that is entirely within your control

Because of that, you should always be asking how you can do it better.

Your own perception of how good it is may be very different from your customer’s perception. Asking them is the only real way of finding out.

Firms sometimes use independent people to conduct this type of research in order to get more open and honest answers – especially where negative or critical feedback can actually be the most constructive to receive. Knowing you’re doing things fine is rarely a case for action !

8 – Not many people ever ask their customers how they respond to competitors who make contact.

For that very reason, it’s a wonderful question, and one worth asking.

Of course, they may say they are never contacted by your competitors (really, are they sure?), or they may well ignore them completely if they do make contact (excellent). On the other hand, they may have recently invited them in for an initial conversation or meeting (eeeek!).

If your relationship is strong enough for them to have told you this, the only real conversation you can have is something along these lines….

“My worry is that you invited them in because you feel there are weaknesses in some of what we are doing for you. If you can share your concerns with me, I can try to make sure we improve in those areas. On the other hand, if you’re talking to them about things that we don’t offer – it would make me feel good to know that, and I can tell my people that they’re still doing great work and it’s not personal.”

A good customer will understand this is the way that it’s meant. That is, if you have a good relationship.

Get started with your own customer research

So, now start writing your own questions for your customer research, ones that are more specific to your own customers than mine are.

Keep it short and sweet, get a friend or very tame customer to run through your draft questionnaire with ideas and input on the actual questions and the length of the survey. Even my 8 questions would take a conscientious customer a good 20 mins to answer, so remember to explain to customers that you’re doing it to make things better for them.

Now send it out – you can do it online with Survey Monkey, or a similar tool, if you’ve got a lot of clients, or you can create a good old hard copy and stick it in the post. Or send an email with an attachment.

Remember to offer a little something, drawn at random from those who take part, as an incentive to complete the survey – Bottle of bubbly / hamper from Deliamo (these are brilliant by the way) / 3 hours free X / 20% off something useful on their next order….

Just make sure you DO something with the responses

But, as with any survey, the most important thing is to then DO something with the answers that you get back.

  • Make sure you send out the prize as promised
  • Collate the responses and look for common threads
  • Make improvements where you get the red flags
  • Tell your customers about the improvements you are making
  • Review your client development / customer service plans
  • Power up your business development with the insight you get
    • Look at what you do best and clarify your positioning
    • Identify the customers who are happiest (and most profitable) and target more of them
    • Adjust your sales and marketing tactics to reflect what you’ve learnt

This simple act of asking your customers a few questions will give your client and business development plans a serious boost – but only if you follow up with actions !

2 responses to “How a little customer research can seriously boost your sales”

  1. Another great post Kim. Often I think we’re scared to ask some of the questions you mention, but the answers can be so helpful. I read about someone recently who did a similar thing and asked their 20 closest friends and family to tell them three areas they can improve in. Takes confidence and a thick skin but definitely worth it.

    • Kim Mason says:

      Thanks Tom – glad you liked it. It’s probably hard to stay in business (and be happy about it) if your skin is too thin!

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