When working with a new customer or client you obviously need to understand their business and the market(s) they serve. You know you need to dig in and get some research done, but as you begin to think about this task you may start to feel a bit overwhelmed and a bit stuck as to where to start. No worries. Just take a deep breath and use the ideas below to help you begin the process.
1. Ask Questions—Lots of Them
The only dumb question is the one not asked. As you strive to understand your client, their challenges, their customers, their market, etc., you have to ask questions—and good clients understand that this will happen. What questions should you ask? HubSpot has put together a handy resource that gives you 90 questions to start with.
Beyond these, however, you’ll want to inquire about key resources they regularly use and read that are related to their industry and market, who their key competitors are, what emerging trends and technologies they’re seeing and are concerned about and anything else you can think of. Also ask for a list of their customers to whom you can speak with so you can hear directly from them what their needs are, how they view your client, what their pain points are and the issues/ trends they’re seeing.
2. Read—A Lot
Entrepreneur Jim Rohn said, “The book you don’t read won’t help.” And while you probably won’t be reading a lot of books as you set about the task of learning your client’s business, you do need to heighten your reading radar—meaning keeping your eyes open for anything and everything you can read related to the client’s business, their products, and the needs of the customer targets they’re pursuing. Yes, that’s a bit daunting, and it will be somewhat intense at the start, but as you identify key resources to follow and find ways to work it into your daily routine, the task will begin to feel more manageable—and even enjoyable. Plus, through your reading you may gain a perspective slightly different from what the client has expressed to you as sometimes they may be seeing things only through the lens of their business and company culture.
3. Write It Down
Essayist Joseph Joubert said, “To teach is to learn twice.” While this is true, I’d say “To write is to learn twice.” There’s just something about the process of writing that brings clarity to what you’ve heard and read about your client and their business. You’re forced to process the information in that brain of yours and put it into your own words, which help you process and comprehend it much better. The writing part also helps you identify both what you don’t yet know and the relationships (good or bad) between a client’s business processes and their customers’ pain points.
4. Lurk on Social
Get out on the social networks and try to locate other industry-relevant networks where your clients’ prospects may be. These provide a quick and easy opportunity for you to observe and listen to understand the ongoing challenges those customer groups may be having. It’s also a great way to enhance and confirm the information you may already have and to identify connections between people and groups.
5. Stay Alert
As part of your ongoing initiative to keep up with mentions of your clients, its products/services and any topics and trends relevant to them, you can create alerts that will deliver the latest information to you. An older way of staying alert to these things was to create a Google Alert or Google Trend. However, alerts from these two services are too sporadic to be much use. Instead, look for alternative services that perform the same function, such as Mention, Brand24 and Talkwalker.
Whichever service you choose to use, be sure to review the results of what you set up to ensure the search parameter you set provides the type of information you intended to receive.
6. Be Competitive
A key component of understanding your client is knowing their competitors and how they size up—these are the companies that potential customers may be considering working with as well. Dig into their websites and pull as much information as you can about how they position themselves, the types of customer questions they’re working to answer and dig into any relevant research and/or case studies they’ve published. Reviewing all this information will help you understand the prospective customer base as well as how your client compares to their competitors.
7. Dig into Analytics
Confucius said “Study the past if you would define the future.” One way to do that is to look at your client’s web analytics. From this historical data perspective, you’ll get a sense of customer/potential customer behavior and interests and what opportunities there are to make future improvements. Some key things to review include:
- What visitor behavior patterns are evident?
- What types of content perform best?
- Which pages perform the best / worst?
- Where are visitors dropping out?
- Are there noticeable patterns that tell you where visitors are in the buying process or what content is performing well for each stage.
Developing an understanding of your client and keeping up with topics, issues and trends related to their business isn’t easy—after all Aristotle said, “We cannot learn without pain.” But with concerted effort and some basic planning, the process doesn’t have to be (too) painful.