Understanding what customers need and how they buy

The next component of the three C’s model is customers. For the companies I’ve worked with, this step provided a tremendous amount of value. It’s amazing that assessing customers and their needs could be a novel concept. But for many companies it is. The clients that Mezzanine serves are often thrilled that we will be interviewing their customers and prospects to systematically identify why and how they buy, what emerging needs they have, and what perceptions they have of the company and the competition.

The purpose of the customer assessment is to intimately understand buying behaviour. There are two ways to gather this knowledge secondary and primary research. Secondary research relies on published information (such as industry reports) and capturing the customer knowledge that already exists in your company (sales, customer service, and management). Primary research involves conducting interviews and creating surveys directed at current or prospective customers.

Secondary Research

Secondary research is good if you need some high-level data, like the size and structure of particular industries you’re considering to enter. It can help you make decisions about which industries to pursue or potential untapped markets or customer bases

The challenge with secondary research is that there’s either too much or too little. There are vast amounts of information 38 Lisa Shepherd on some industries and markets, and next to none on othersparticularly at the level of depth you’ll need in order to get a solid understanding of customers.

Step One What do you need to know?

Identify what information you want. Put a guideline together to structure your discussions with customers, prospects, and others. It will ensure you collect and capture all the great information you’re about to hear. Here are the basic areas to investigate

Buyer Characteristics: What industry are they in? What kind of organization? What is their role (job title)? How long have they been in that role? What are their responsibilities?

Decision-Making Process: Who’s involved in making the purchase decision? Who has the power to say yes or no? When was the last purchase of this kind made? How was it made and why was a certain vendor chosen?

Decision Criteria: What are the buyer’s priorities? What formal or informal criteria do they have for evaluating the purchase? Is there a strict structure to the criteria or a loose framework? Are there set budgets in place?

Timeline: Are purchases made on a regular basis? At what point in the business cycle does demand exist? How long is the purchase process?

Learning and Influences: How do they keep up with the industry? What trade publications do they read, what industry associations do they belong to, what trade shows do they go to? Do they attend lunch and learns? Webinars? Do they read white papers? E-newsletters?

Start with what you already know

There is a tremendous amount of customer knowledge within your own company. In a workshop or individual interviews ask the sales team, customer service representatives, and management what they know or suspect. Get answers to the questions you identified in Step One. Not everyone will know everything, and they may be uncertain about particular topics, but usually a good portion of what you need to know is already resident in your company

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