Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Customer Insight Three Ways
Customer insight is important to marketers for many reasons. Understanding your customers helps you in formulating market strategy. It helps in campaign design. It helps the sales force understand how to approach acquisition targets or retain existing customers. It is the raw material out of which great marketing happens.
In the B2C space, customer insight is well understood, and whole industries and many great companies have made it their business. Segmentation schemes that provide predictive lift in product design, creative design, and direct marketing campaigns make billions of dollars a year for companies like Axciom and Claritas. However, in the B2B space, customer insight still has a long way to go.
The reason is simple. Companies are a lot more complex than individuals or households. For one thing, companies can be very small--say one worker--or very large. For another, companies have different locations with different functions. Capturing all of this diversity is difficult.
A good way to start simplifying the customer insight question in B2B is to focus on three key dimensions. First, what products are companies buying? Second, how is the company structured from a decision making perspective? Third, what information channels do decision makers and influencers in the company use to make decisions? This simple triad--product / audience / channel--can be very helpful as a "check off" list when thinking about marketing strategy. How would this approach work in a simple marketing campaign to say, sell a new type of tool to construction companies?
First, the product dimension kicks in. What companies currently have similar tools? What types of industries would need this tool? If the tool is very expensive, is there a lower bound on company size? A marketer could use data on product sales to build a predictive model of the most likely firms to purchase this new tool. It's important to note than in most cases, the product dimension is relevant at the firm and not the contact level.
Then, the audience dimension comes into play. Who is going to make the decision to purchase this tool? Are there key influencers to the purchase, the actual users of the tool? What are the features of the tool that will be most appealing to them? A marketer could create a contact strategy that hits each audience with the selling points that make the most impact--price on the buyer, value on the CFO, features on the users, for example.
Finally, the channel dimension is used to understand how marketing and sales should be executed. Do buyers and influencers read a specific type of publication to understand more about this family of tools? Are there influential communities that they listen to that we need to plug into? Are there key distributors that must carry the product for it to penetrate the market?
Of course, getting customer insight--the raw information--across these three dimensions is difficult. Doing this requires at the very least a qualitative market research study. However, by beginning to think in terms of these three dimensions, marketers will make better decisions and begin to collect information on their B2B customers that they can use over and over again.