How to Boost Your Customer IQ
Do you know ‘who’ your ideal customer is, ‘what’ triggers their search for solutions and ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘when’ they go about selecting them?
At the heart of any business is the customer—they are the reason your business exists, plain and simple. And yet many businesses find it difficult to be customer-centric.
Here’s the thing about knowing your customer that gets lost in strategy: it is a tremendous source of competitive advantage.
Businesses that embrace a more customer-centric approach to everything they do have a significant competitive advantage that is hard to replicate.
- Your competitors can never know as much about your customers as you do.
- Your clients value relationships, not transactions. And, building profitable long-term relationships requires customer intelligence.
- Modern B2B buyers expect outstanding experiences from their service providers, just as they do from consumer brands.
The more you know about your customers, the better you can deliver awesome experiences and build lasting, profitable relationships. No competitor can truly replicate your unique brand experience. And if the experience is outstanding, customers will reward you with more business.
Demand Generation Checklist
10 steps to growing your service business using a customer-centric approach to demand generation.
The Need for Customer IQ Is Increasing
B2B buyer expectations and demands have rapidly evolved in recent years. Over two-thirds of the buyer’s journey is primarily completed in digital channels motivated by distrust of ads and powered by an abundance of online choice and information.
- 93% of B2B buying processes begin with an online search (HubSpot)
- 80% of business decision-makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus an advertisement (Content Marketing Institute)
- B2B researchers do 12 searches on average prior to engaging on a specific brand’s site (Google).
- 96% of B2B buyers want content with more input from industry thought leaders (Demand Gen Report).
Businesses that embrace a more customer-centric approach to everything they do have a significant competitive advantage that is hard to replicate.
Customer-centric B2B businesses know that understanding and solving for client needs is the key to building long-lasting relationships with the individuals they serve. They step outside of the business to talk to customers and appreciate the challenges of the buying process, what drives their decisions, and what success looks like for them.
Here are some ways to boost your customer IQ in ways that will benefit both your customers and your business.
Mine Your Customer Analytics
If you have a website and are communicating with prospects and clients through digital channels, you likely have access to a treasure trove of digital analytics that you can dig into for insights.
Your website’s analytics is a great starting point. Tools like Google Analytics can reveal a lot of valuable information about who your customers are and the digital paths they follow in engaging with your brand. Analyzing this data can also help you uncover opportunities to attract and convert more of the customers you want.
Google Analytics can help provide answers to questions such as:
- Which marketing programs and channels generate the best leads?
- How can we make the website convert more leads?
- Which programs and channels should we spend more on?
- How can we attract and convert more high value clients?
- If I spend an additional $1 on digital marketing, what will the result be?
Google Analytics also offers an easy-to-use mobile app so you can check your marketing performance on the go.
Here’s a summary of the main types of reporting available in Google Analytics and how you can use them to boost your customer IQ.
Visitor Demographics and Interests
By identifying the overall behavior of different demographic groups, based on age, gender, location and interests, you can tailor your content and advertising to better suit them. You can also track how well your digital presence is generating awareness and attention in terms of the number of new vs. returning visitors. You’ll be able to set up custom segments to more closely monitor visitors that match your ideal customer. Note: this data is collected mainly from people who are logged in to a Google account, so it is somewhat limited.
Channel monitoring (acquisition reporting) helps you track the path that leads a visitor to your website. Channels can include organic search, referrals from other websites, social media, emails and paid ads. Knowing the digital channels that lead prospects to your front door allows you to focus marketing mix in the best channels and maximize performance of campaigns.
Organic search will typically be one of the largest channels, since most B2B buyers search online to research problems and discover solutions. With Google Search Console integrated, you can get a better idea of what visitors searched for before they visit, and then optimize your pages for those topics and keywords.
Onsite Behavior and Engagement
Google Analytics also provides a lot of insight into the paths visitors take throughout your website, the topics they find most popular, and the actions they are taking. For instance, you can determine the most viewed initial landing pages and content clicked in order to optimize your conversion path from initial visit to lead and client.
Set up conversion goals to evaluate how well offers and calls-to-action are driving desired outcomes to optimize your digital conversion path with the best offers presented at the right time to the right prospects. Measuring your site’s engagement rate takes into account both time on pages and conversions, so it is a strong indicator of how well your website is doing its job – in terms of converting new traffic to interested prospects and clients.
Engagement is also important to SEO as it is a signal used for search ranking. A website visitor’s level of engagement is a major factor in Google’s search algorithm. This not only helps your organic search ranking, but also improves your Google Ads quality score.
In addition to Google Analytics, another great tool for optimizing engagement is a heat map. A heatmap displays a visual representation of how people engage with your content — where they click and how much they scroll before clicking or leaving a page. The “hottest” areas are the ones that get the most clicks. This type of insight is especially helpful when you need to determine how and why a landing page is not converting or when you’re trying to pinpoint usability problems. Some of the most popular heatmap tools include Hotjar, CrazyEgg, and Mouseflow.
Sample Website Heatmap
Source: WikiMedia Commons
Combine Digital Analytics With Voice of Customer Data
Now that you have mined your customer analytics data, it’s time to combine these quantitative data points with some fresh qualitative insights to get the most out of it.
You might be asking: why can’t I just use digital analytics for this? Why do I need to talk to customers?
Digital analytics are great for determining the ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ of customer behaviors. However, quantitative analytics methods usually fall short on explaining ‘why’ people do what they do. Clicks alone cannot explain a person’s motivation and intent, and they don’t provide a lot of context about their lives, work and drivers of behavior.
Also remember that much of the B2B sales process is already completed before that first visit or click. The modern B2B buyer is very self-reliant with access to more information than ever before. They are doing a lot of self-research and vendor comparison before their first interaction with your brand. In other words, you’re blind to the bulk of their journey – unless you know how to talk to customers and examine their journey.
Combining quantitative and qualitative research into customer behavior also presents opportunities to generate some very powerful predictive and strategic business planning insights such as:
- Developing and delivering more compelling offers
- Understanding why prospects are not yet customers and how to better convert them
- Determining the best services and features to launch
- Forecasting business performance based on motivational factors and sales pipelines
You’ll want to combine the quantitative and qualitative insights in a way so they can reinforce one another. For instance, starting with digital analytics can uncover clues that can lead to a hypothesis that can be further explored and tested by talking to customers. On the other hand, a new solution test that is informed from persona and journey research can be verified through digital analytics post launch.
Voice of Customer Research
To truly get to know your target customer, you have to talk to them and dive deeper into the path that leads them to discovering and doing business with your brand.
Talk with customers to understand how they find solutions and how they define value and perceive your brand. These ‘non-sales’ conversations can be informal and impromptu. However, you’ll get better insight with a more structured approach using an interview questionnaire and planning a time with customers so they know what to expect.
One-on-one, open-ended discussion tends to provide more useful insights than focus groups or surveys. For larger accounts, try small group interviews to get the collective insights from a buying committee. The objective is to explore their needs and sources of satisfaction and frustration, their main drivers of choice and decision, and the compromises they make in using your services. This is best achieved by asking open-ended questions designed to un-cover previously unknown facts and perceptions that drive behaviors.
These are not satisfaction surveys or sales calls. Keep the focus about them, not you. Try to see the world as your customers do using an empathic approach. This is a great first step to better orient your business around customer needs and expectations. You want to get into the minds of your customers to understand what drives them and holds them back.
Go beyond asking about desired features to understand their sources of satisfaction and frustration and what motivates their choices and decisions. Inquire about compromises they are forced to make, and mistakes they have made. Customer input is an invaluable (and cost-effective) source of insights to inform future strategy. For instance, ask questions to test hypotheses and new ideas you have about the business.
You are blind to the bulk of the customer journey – unless you talk to customers.
Define customer success
You probably have an idea of what success looks like for your business. But, what about your customers? High performing service businesses understand and share accountability for their clients’ success. Your customers (especially today’s B2B buyer) buy solutions, not products or services. They expect solutions to their problems, and ways to meet their own goals. So, you want to know what a successful solution looks and feels like to customers.
You’ve probably heard the adage, ‘people don’t want a ¼ inch drill bit, they want a ¼ inch hole.’ True, but the story doesn’t really end there. You should keep asking ‘why?’ Why do they want the hole? Is it to mount a shelf, to hang something, to get stuff organized? Is it for them or someone else? Why is this important to them?
Eventually, you’ll get to the real motivation for buying that ¼ inch drill bit. And this higher-level IQ about your customers is what separates successful customer-centric businesses from the rest.
The best time to talk to customers
When is the best time to talk to customers? The sooner the better. As much as possible. Ideally, you would gather formative customer input in the early stages of developing a new business strategy or service offering. During development, you would also gather feedback on a prototype or MVP. And you could collect input post-launch to refine the offering and go-to-market strategy. The more frequently you talk to customers, that more you will learn and the more you will show them that you truly value their input.
Learn the customer journey
In speaking with customers, take some time to learn about the path, or journey they take in finding and choosing solutions to their needs. Discover what triggers them to seek out or switch to a new solution. Find out where they go to find information to inform decisions, what search terms they use, and what they consider as helpful, trustworthy content.
Understanding and optimizing your customers’ journey is important because buyers control the majority of their purchase journey leading up to becoming a client, and the business only sees a small part of this. If you focus only on internal process and touchpoints you will be at a competitive disadvantage to companies with a more complete understanding of the overall experience that shape the decisions and viewpoints of your customer.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when learning your customers’ journey.
First, much of their journey happens before initial contact with your company, so your digital analytics, CRM or transaction data doesn’t provide the complete picture. And, even for the part of the journey you do have visibility it only tells you ‘what’ they did, not ‘why’ they did it. The customer journey should include the full lifecycle of a client’s engagement with your company, from initial awareness to first-time and repeat engagements, and all the service steps along the way.
Second, your prospects are at different stages in their journey (and your sales funnel), and thus have different levels of awareness of their own challenges and your solution to those challenges. The more you know about where they are in the journey and what’s important to them in those moments of decision and action, the better you can tailor an approach to building awareness and inspiring action at each stage.
Third, don’t forget to talk to the decisions makers and other people who play important roles in the purchase and service experience. These usually include a buyer (making the buying decision) and a user (using your offering). It might also include suppliers, partners or other stakeholders.
Build a Customer Journey Profile
Now that you have talked with customers and learned about their journey, it’s time to begin organizing what you have learned so you can use it. A great way to do this is by organizing your key findings into a journey profile.
More than a basic persona, a journey profile is a concise way of organizing what you should know about your ideal customer(s) in context of their purchase journey. The profile helps bring clarity to who your target customer is, as defined by their goals, motivations, challenges, common objections, and decision triggers, along with demographic and firmographic information they share. It plots these insights associated to the key steps and levels of awareness in their journey.
Read more: Building a Customer-Centric Sales Funnel
To be effective, journey-based profiles need to be more than just a name, some demographics and quotes. Dig deep in conversations and synthesize customer feedback so you can uncover patterns and draw plausible conclusions about the most predictive motivators, triggers and pain points in their journey. These insights are what you want to inform and de-risk new opportunities.
Here are the most essential elements you can use to build a journey profile:
- Demographics and firmographics (age range, role, industry, location)
- Their goals and pain points, related to a solution like yours
- What triggers their search for the solution and what do they search for (keywords)
- What influences their decision to choose a solution like yours
- Where do they go for information about this (online search, reviews, friends, etc.)
- What experiences are they looking for when seeking your business
- What alternatives have they tried – what did they like and dislike?
- What are their common objections to choosing a solution like yours?
- What are their key moments (‘moments of truth’)?
Use a diagram to visualize your ideal client’s relationship with your business over time, from their point of view. A journey map is a sequential set of steps that customers take in their buying process. It starts with key moments that trigger a need or recognition of a problem to solve, then progresses through engaging with your brand. If done well, journey maps can help to uncover powerful insights into the motivations and attitudes of the people that make up your target market. You can then use this to improve service experiences and marketing strategies.
You can think of a journey map as a series of key ‘moments’ that trigger ‘thoughts’, ‘feelings’ and ‘actions’ that influence customer behaviors and decisions. Try to find and multiply the positive moments that lead to desired results such as the switchpoints from passive discovery to active consideration. Also, find and eliminate the negative moments that lead to weakened relationships, such as unresolved complaints. Look for other opportunities such as which offers would most likely convert.
Sample Customer Journey Profile Template
Additional Sources of Customer Intelligence
Combine online and offline sources
Combine direct customer feedback with touchpoint data from CRM, sales calls, events and service inquiries to improve key service interactions that are most important to driving outcomes. Keep in mind that much of your customers’ journey happens before initial contact with your company, so your CRM or transaction data doesn’t provide the complete picture. Voice of customer research helps to fill in the missing pieces.
Keyword research is an essential method for boosting your SEO, and it can also be useful in strategic customer research. You can learn a lot from doing your own online search, since most of your customers will use it on their journey to finding you. To do this, search as your customers would – for the most helpful information to discover a solution to their needs. Note, they probably aren’t searching for ‘your brand’ by name. Rather, they are seeking to learn and understand their problems and find solutions using certain keywords that you’ll want to uncover.
A good way to begin uncovering keywords is to search for your service offering or category. Use question style searches such as “what is [your product/service category]” or “how to [the solution you provide]” to model a prospect in their discovery phase. Then, use a search like “how to choose [your product/service category]”, or “guide to [your product/service category]” to model a prospect in the consideration phase.
These searches are also a great way to find out what offers and content your competitors are using to attract similar customers. Pay attention to which types of content they use for each phase of a typical B2B buyer’s journey.
Here are a few free tools to gather insights on how customers search online and get ideas for offers and content (some of these are also handy for doing competitive research).
Google’s Autocomplete feature (free)
Google’s Autocomplete is a feature that autocompletes a partially typed search query. However, you can use it to find different ways people may ask a question about your offering. Just type in a word or phrase related to your business or service to see what Google inserts after it. Try typing it in the form of a question that matches the stage of a customer’s journey and level of awareness. For instance, a small business owner learning about ‘CRM’ might search for ‘what is CRM’. Another small business owner who now wants to find a CRM solution might search for ‘best CRM for small business.’
Google’s People Also Ask feature can also reveal keyword insights. Just do a search for your target keywords or questions a target customer would ask. Look for the ‘People Also Ask’ section in the results for clues into different questions and ways in which they are asked.
Remember, researching keywords on Google is pretty representative because over 90% of the world uses it.
Ahrefs Webmaster Tools
You can use Ahrefs to check your current SEO ranking, i.e. the keywords you currently rank for in Google, along with their estimated search volumes, Keyword Difficulty scores, traffic potential, and other useful SEO metrics.
For more advanced search keyword analysis, try Ubersuggest. Just type in your website domain name, or a keyword to get started. Ubersuggest offers a basic free version and a paid version with more features.
Put Your Customer IQ to Use
At this point, you’re probably wondering, how do I put all of this new knowledge about customers to use for my business? Here are some of the best use cases for fresh customer intelligence.
- New product / service launches. De-risk investments in and inform market testing for new offerings. This includes prioritizing the best features to achieve good product-market fit.
- Marketing and sales ROI. Knowing which offers and messaging prospects are most likely to respond to – and more importantly, ‘why’ – is invaluable in maximizing the return on your marketing dollars. This includes understanding why prospects are not yet customers, how to better convert them and forecasting sales based on predictive triggers of action.
- Customer retention. If you’re having a problem keeping clients or extending their scope of engagement, customer research can help uncover why. There may a friction point in your onboarding or service experience that is leading to quiet dis-satisfaction. Or, a missing feature that would boost loyalty if added.
- Market / industry shifts. As new industry trends emerge, customer research can help you understand possible impact on customer behavior. You’ll want to get their point of view on how your adoption of new technologies may improve experiences.
Find your right-fit customers
Your right-fit customer is simply the best customer type that will drive future value and growth. They are your most valuable type of customer because of the ideal match between their needs and your offering – and you have a differentiated approach to create value for them that they appreciate. Having this focus and a superior understanding of right-fit customers gives small businesses the advantage to ‘punch above their weight’ in terms of competing more profitably.
This customer-centric approach requires a re-thinking of how you run the business to focus on the most valuable customer relationships, then matching your offering and business processes to that.
A deeper look at segment planning helps to focus your efforts on the right fit customers by answering these questions:
- Which customer types are most important for future growth?
- How large an opportunity do they present?
- And how much can, and should we invest?
Discover and de-risk business opportunities
With a better understanding of past customer behavior, reinforced with insight about their underlying motivational triggers, you can begin to predict future behaviors and build more accurate sales pipeline forecasts. Additionally, you can influence the behavior of individual customers through presenting the best offers at the right time in the right way.
This goes beyond measuring averages. Promotions aren’t going to be equally effective for everyone. For some customers, offers will have little to influence on behaviors and business outcomes. For others, they will. The key is to find the most predictive moments, triggers and offers characteristics to present to those ideal customers where there is a match between offer and motivation.
In this case, you can think of customer intelligence as part of an R&D strategy that improves your likelihood of launch success through having a deeper, more accurate and more precise understanding of your target market. This strategy essentially changes your product development curve to boost the certainty of success earlier in the launch timeline, which lowers risk.
In other words, knowing your customers underlying motivations beyond just clicks and actions gives you the foresight of not only know the market’s response to a single offering, but also many potential solutions to pursue. This, combined with a market test should help significantly de-risk any new service launch or new market opportunity.
When you do this well, you can eliminate many of the following risks:
- Missing an important customer need
- Pursuing the wrong customer need(s)
- Over-designing and adding unneeded features
- Measuring success differently than customers do
- Overlooking an important competing alternative
- Assuming customers will pay more than they will
- Under-valuing your new product when pricing
- Using the wrong go-to-market messaging
We Can Help
At Bevelroom Consulting, we believe a customer-centric approach is essential for growth because thoughtful experience design is essential for differentiation and advantage in increasingly competitive and disruptive markets.
Our approach to marketing brings in a healthy dose of customer-centricity and design thinking that optimizes for both the customer experience and business outcomes. It starts with the customer and the journeys they follow in discovering and doing business with you.
Rewiring a company to provide leading customer experiences is a journey in itself, and we have 15+ years of experience guiding businesses through this transformation.
If you want help boosting your customer IQ, get in touch!