Five Ways To Know Your Customers Better Than Your Competitors Do

Creating a smart marketing strategy involves understanding what customers want and how you can create value better than the competition. When you can bring more customer value than your competition, you gain a huge advantage.

Julie Hennessy, a clinical professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and her colleague, Jim Lecinski, a clinical associate professor of marketing, say almost any manager can take steps to gain superior customer insight. We share their five steps to get to know your customers better than your competitors in this issue of Promotional Consultant Today.

1. Talk to the end user. Even though you're likely selling to different audience, spend time interacting personally with that organization's end users. Hennessy and Lecinski explain that companies that sell foods for kids' school lunches often spend most of their research dollars asking parents what they like to pack, although they would get different insights by asking kids what they want to eat. They would gain even better insight by spending a week sitting in school cafeterias to see first-hand what kids bring in their lunches, what they actually eat, what they trade and what they throw away.

2. Spend more time with the customer than your competition. Quality time matters, but "quantity" time is more important. Decision makers who spend enough time seeing the day-to-day lives and challenges of their customers have a level of understanding that staged drop-ins cannot provide. Hennessy and Lecinski say they also get the credit that comes from being the business that is willing to walk in its customers' shoes.

3. Watch customers buy similar products. Before customers can use your products in their promotions, they must buy them. Go into a gift shop, retail store or wherever similar products are available and watch how consumers interact with them. What do they pick up? Where do they spend time? Where do you lose them? Hennessy and Lecinski say that Home Depot used this strategy and found that many customers weren't thinking through the entire project and would forget to buy items they needed. So, Home Depot developed a checklist and how-to videos for common household projects—which ended up being a successful sales strategy for the company.

4. Watch customers use your product. Observing consumers as they use your products is the perfect chance to understand which features create value, which ones are never used and which ones get in the way. Hennessy and Lecinski say that watching people's behavior can help you make your offerings better and might even help you source and suggest new products.

5. Engage end users as product designers. Rather than seeing consumers as research subjects, consider seeing them as partners in product development. Companies of all sizes can explore this strategy. Software companies often employ groups of beta users to try products and provide feedback. Some companies codesign products with key customers. You can also try crowdsourcing to give consumers a voice in your product offerings.

There's power in having a close relationship with customers. Instead of spending hours analyzing data and spreadsheets, use the tips above to gain a real-world understanding of your customers and how you can serve them best.

Source: Julie Hennessy is a clinical professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Jim Lecinski is a clinical associate professor of marketing at the same school.

filed under May 2019
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