Listen louder

How to get real consumer insights

How accurate is the customer feedback you’re getting? Odds are, most of it feels more generic than genuine, more passive than productive.

You wouldn’t turn to data and market research to better understand and impress a new acquaintance. For starters, this strategy likely won’t get you very far. It would also send the message that you’re more committed to gathering information than sitting down for an honest and candid conversation.

angryconsumerStoryJust as making general assumptions won’t help you build a friendship, doing the same with customers won’t result in the relationships and insights you’re after. Sometimes you simply need to “listen louder.”

The customer may always be right, but do we really know what’s on the customer’s mind? Here are a few approaches I’ve found tremendously helpful for building more productive customer relationships:

Be undeniably approachable (and helpful): How many of you would raise your hand in a crowd of 2,000 conference attendees and voluntarily share the business roadblocks you’ve been hitting? Me, neither. Now, imagine you’re in a more casual setting and an instructor walks over to talk one-on-one to help you solve the business issue, answer questions, and offer alternative approaches you probably never thought of. That sounds much better.

Each quarter (to coincide with software update releases), executives from MicroStrategy travel to select cities around the world to present at our free symposia events and meet with customers, partners, and prospects. This gives local attendees a chance to ask questions, collaborate with each other, and discover new ways to leverage our product. This is neither an easy feat or an attainable one for every company, but the lessons learned still apply. Whether online or in-person, find ways to engage with your customers that are non-traditional and more personal.

Ditch the rehearsed questions (and the jargon): Have you ever been so confused you didn’t even know what questions to ask? The more technical your company, the more likely this reality is for your customers. If you aren’t getting the information you need, one powerful question could lead to a major breakthrough: “What are you trying to do?” It’s the fastest way to pinpoint frustrations and figure out if your marketing matches the customer’s reality.

And while we’re on the topic of communicating, make sure product demos are user-friendly and include common business terms. While industry buzzwords may be second nature to you, your customers probably won’t feel the same way. Customers can’t ask impactful questions if they need a dictionary to understand what the product does.

The one exception: IT users. With this crowd, it’s probably okay to talk about the optimal output for an eight-node processor. Did I lose you? Point made.

Don’t over-rely on data (and don’t chase shiny tools): My company wouldn’t exist without data, and even I’ll admit that fully relying on metrics (or a single approach) is the fastest way to make blanket customer assumptions. Balancing qualitative with quantitative avoids becoming overly reliant on any one mechanism for understanding the customer journey— a journey that is rarely, if ever, a linear one.

Technology allows us to do things we never imagined possible, but at the end of the day, It’s important to channel your inner Mr. Miyagi: “Must have balance!”

Curation—along with human-to-human conversations—is essential. There are so many tools for making sense of marketing activities, and it takes discipline to ensure each one is complementary.

Getting to the root of what customers really think may take some trial and error. But once you’ve committed the time and energy, you’ll likely find that the feedback is worth its weight in gold.