Customer research makes gains in 2010

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Recently, I lost my crystal ball.  So, I won't be adding to the posts about predictions for the new year.  Instead, I took a look backward to see whether previous year end posts still apply.  I think they do.

Learn from the past, capitalize on success

At the end of 2008, in Shorten the sales cycle next year:  Year end marketing planning, I advocated taking stock of what worked and what didn't--so that you can capitalize on your successes and avoid repeating what turned out to be mistakes. In particular, I suggested focusing on buyers' perceptions in four areas: the desirability of the solutions, the reputation of the vendor, the effectiveness of the communications, and the responsiveness of the individuals leading the sales or business development effort.

Sales enablement software prods companies to focus on customers' buying process

Two years later, few companies do the kind of structured analysis I recommended on an ongoing basis.  Yet, prodded by their acquisition of sales enablement software, many more companies are beginning down this path.

They're developing buyer personas (based on past experiences) and mapping their best customers' buying processes to identify points where they can influence the ultimate outcome of the sale. So, we're making progress.

Product teams incorporate customer feedback throughout the development process

On the product development front, product teams are increasingly using a process called "customer development" that calls for learning and iterating rather than linear execution.  This methodology, introduced by Steve Blank in the Four Steps to the Epiphany, and popularized by Eric Ries among others, advocates using minimally viable products (prototypes) to gather customer feedback throughout the development process.  This methodology also requires developers to validate the product market fit-before they launch new products-by finding early customers who will pay for the product under development.

Strategy trumps tactics

Last year, I questioned the seeming emphasis on demand generation and lead gen-at the expense of longer term strategic investments.  At the time, the economy was at its worst and  a lot of companies felt they couldn't afford to invest in gaining deep customer insights.

Today, with increasing competition, many realize they can't afford not to invest in learning about their best prospects' buying processes.  Moreover, automation has dramatically reduced the cost of gaining deep customers insights.  No longer do companies need to invest a lot of money in travel or convening a group of users at a common location to get deep customer insights.  In fact, they have lots of relatively inexpensive options for doing so:  social media, online communities, web analytics, online marketing research, and online usability tests to name a few.

Automation prompts strategic thinking-and makes it affordable

Each of these avenues is:

  • relatively inexpensive to administer (the bits travel, the administrators stay put),
  • offers greater reach and access than more traditional research methods (anyone with an Internet connection can participate), and is
  • more usable (automated tools for compiling and analyzing the data each creates are now accessible the non-statistician).

In fact, one of the experts I interviewed for a blog post, pointed out that digital marketing, by making it so easy to relate behavior to outcomes, has opened the door to strategy.

Customer research has crossed the chasm

I ended last year by asking, "Will 2010 be the year of the customer?".   Twelve months later, I think it's safe to say that we've crossed the chasm-and that we're definitely marching in that direction.

Too bad I couldn't locate that crystal ball.  I'm wondering what the future holds....

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