There is tremendous value in having a better understanding of your current customer base. Knowing what your customers think about your company and how well your products and services align with their current and future requirements will help focus the direction of your organization. Deeper B2B customer insight will also enable you to grow your business with current customers, which is far easier than starting from ground zero and attracting new customers.
Many companies rely on their own salespeople for customer insight. While helpful, customers reveal only limited information to someone pursuing their business, which is one reason why a third party study is so valuable. Customer insight research typically centers around an in-depth customer needs assessment that evaluates your performance and value against customer requirements to determine alignment as well as gaps to understand what is important. It also includes assessing competitors, to better understand their position and direction. The research should research yield both quantitative and qualitative data that serves as the foundation for future strategic direction and action. Key questions that can be answered in a well-designed customer insight study include:
- How are you performing compared to what customers expect?
- What is most important to customers?
- What are priorities for improvement?
- Where are your customers going tomorrow?
- How do you measure up against competition in general?
- Where are you ahead of and behind specific competitors?
- Are there areas of product or service performance where some competitors are vulnerable?
- Who poses the greatest threat to your business and why?
- Are you aligned with what customers want?
- What are competitors signaling about their future direction?
- Are you investing resources in the right areas?
- Are you fully capitalizing on areas of performance where you exceed expectations and exceed competitive performance?
Growth with existing customers is the fastest and safest growth option available and focusing on the customer’s satisfaction and loyalty levels can provide solid direction on overall business improvement opportunities. A well designed customer insight study typically collects both quantitative data and supporting qualitative data to determine realistic growth strategies. Common outcomes of the research should include:
- Areas of strength and weakness
- Relative performance on key attributes compared to competitors
- Opportunities for improvement
- Paths to increase customer/market share
- Potential for new product/service development
The analysis builds from a foundation laid by a customized and comprehensive survey of customers designed by evaluating the business environment, identifying survey goals and objectives, and customizing the overall survey design. The B2B (business-to-business) survey process is substantively different from that of B2C (business-to-consumer). In the B2B world, many traditional ideas of survey design either do not apply or must be modified. The process is illustrated below. (For a more in-depth understanding of the fundamental differences between B2B and B2C surveys, follow this link to a whitepaper titled B2B Customer Surveys: Unique Aspects of B2B Marketing and Research.)
The first step in a customer insight project is to review survey objectives and to gain understanding of the strategic business environment (e.g. product/service differentiation, competitive strengths and weaknesses, market segments, client value position). We work to identify critical survey requirements through the review of any existing information and discussions with management, employees, and selected customer contacts.
A sample survey plan can be developed based on the appropriate customer contact information from common CRM systems. Initial drafts of survey documents are then created, such as questionnaires, letters, and correspondence. Documents should be reviewed and revised as necessary based on the overall research objectives.
To jump start the project, pre-tests are used to refine survey design. An internal survey of client management team can be completed as an option to compare with customer evaluations. This is helpful in determining perceived gaps in performance and to gain commitment to the process.
Because the B2B environment is characterized by relatively small sample sizes, it is particularly important to achieve a high response rate. A well-executed survey should be able to achieve response rates near or even above 50%. This helps to ensure that the resulting analysis is statistically sound and also increases the likelihood that key individuals will not be excluded from the survey.
Results are carefully analyzed in parallel with survey objectives so that each question is addressed directly. The final report provides detailed feedback on performance, importance and competitive position, and can help guide and direct various corporate initiatives including:
- Process Improvement,
- Business Strategy Development,
- KPI (Key Performance Indicator) Design and Tracking,
- New Product Development,
- Key Account Planning,
- Other areas.
Using this formula, companies can develop a well-constructed and effective customer research project that will provide the outside data necessary in developing customer driven strategic initiatives.