How to Perfect Your Understanding of Buyer Needs

Tim Holdsworth
Posted by Tim Holdsworth on April 22, 2015


It’s a foolish person who builds their house on the sand. So too, it’s a foolish marketer who doesn’t identify or understand their customers’ needs — or worse, assumes they do — before they begin their marketing efforts.

The perfectly crafted tweet, a beautiful call-to-action button or a painstakingly developed logo and tagline mean nothing without truly knowing what the customer needs.

Yes, it can be difficult to get a grasp on customers’ needs in this hurry-up, short-attention-span, information-overload, get-it-done-now world. But as dad always said, anything worth doing is going to be hard work.

So where do you start? Here are 4 tips for getting to an understanding of what customers need.

1. Don’t Rely Solely on Personas

A persona is as an exhaustive description of your ideal customer that captures all the values, fears, attitudes, aspirations, biases and quirks you believe describe and predict the perfect prospective customer for your products or services. And if you’ve crafted them well, these personas have names (e.g., Purchasing Manager Paul or Insurance Agent Alice) and may even seem real after you’ve worked with them long enough.

Yes, these personas are awesome for helping guide your marketing content and providing focus for your marketing efforts. But they only provide you with some guided assumptions about customer needs. Consequently, if you’re going to more fully understand what customers’ needs are, you’re going to have to have some direct interaction with them. Get your feet on the street, go out and press the flesh, so to speak.

2. Talk to Real, Specific Customers

To truly understand your customers, you have to know what their pain points are.

  • What production issues are they struggling with?
  • What unnecessary hoops do they have to jump through to develop specs for capital equipment purchases?
  • What things have their customers asked them to do for which they’re struggling to find a solution?
  • Are manufacturing lead times too long?
  • Why did they select your competitor over you for that last project?

While you probably can’t go all Undercover Boss on your customers, you do have to talk to them in order to find out what’s causing them pain. Schedule a call with them, visit their location and take a plant tour to gauge what they’re dealing with on a daily basis.

As you start having these interactions, just keep in mind you’re there to listen. Don’t get defensive. Don’t try to justify what’s been done in the past or what your company already offers. And definitely don’t try to sell anything. You’ll be surprised at how your perspective will change and how what you thought the customer needed wasn’t as spot-on as you thought.

At the very least, you should get some anecdotal research going by talking with your front-line sales and customer service people to learn what they’ve been hearing.

Once you have multiple conversations like this, you can ramp up the process through broader, more formal customer research via online surveys to get some valuable insights into what your customers are thinking about.

3. Tune In To Your Metrics

Customer conversations and interactions are great for understanding needs, but don’t stop there. Analyzing your website and social media metrics will also provide a window into customers’ needs — especially in our increasingly self-service on-line environment. Take a look at things such as:

  • The types of emails that received the most views and clicks
  • The blog topics that received the most views
  • The most downloaded eBook content
  • The CTAs that have been clicked the most and how they are worded
  • The types of content posts customers/prospects have interacted most with on social media
  • Which of your web pages are most visited and have longest time on page (e.g., pages with technical content and instructions have more longer time on page than those with product descriptions).

These metrics will provide some insight into actual customer actions, which you can then cross-reference against your customer conversations to get a sense of whether customers’ words and actions are correlating.

4. Review Your Competitors

Your competitors are another – if not obvious – source for understanding customer needs. An analysis of their site content, marketing efforts, etc. is always a good idea for understanding what they see as being customers’ needs and for understanding how what they offer compares to what you offer. As part of your review, try to take an objective view of their content – much as the way your customers would be viewing it. Such a review can also be a good source of potential survey for your own customer interview questions.

There you have it – 4 tips for identifying what your customers need. While they may seem simplistic, in practice they will require a good deal of effort. And that effort needs to be ongoing, because customer needs won’t ever be stagnant. If they were, marketing would become boring.

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