By Evan Hackel
Are you suffering from a lack of marketing data? I didn’t think you were. If you’re like most marketers today, you have way too much data, not way too little. You’re inundated with data from focus groups, customer surveys, online product reviews, analyses of prior marketing campaigns, and lots of other sources.
If you’re wading through reams of data, you already know that you are facing two basic options. You can either:
- Triage all the information you have, decide what is most pertinent, and act on it. That takes a lot of time – both yours and your staff’s.
- Ignore the data you already have, develop new questions that get at the crux of what you need to know, and present them to your customers in focus groups or surveys. This clean-slate approach is appealing because it delivers new insights more quickly than combing through reams of data that you already have.
Using the Power of Ingagement to Hear Deeper Marketing Insights
If you choose the second of those options and decide to develop and ask new questions – and chances are that you should – I would recommend a new way of asking questions and listening. It is based on insights from my book Ingaging Leadership, [http://www.amazon.com/Ingaging-Leadership-Evan-Hackel/dp/098467327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1457371310&sr=8-1&keywords=evan+hackle] and I think you will see its potential to deliver deeper insights from your conversations with customers.
- Take the practice of active listening to new levels. Most of us have been trained to avoid interruptive listening, which happens when we are so busy formulating an answer that we no longer hear what is being said. Of course, it is good to avoid that. But it is far more effective to go beyond that and listen constantly for what is right in what other people are saying, not for what is wrong – and to capture those positive nuggets of wisdom to discuss and explore further. This is the only way you will hear genuinely new things from your customers, not only your own conclusions and opinions voiced in new ways.
- Structure interactions in ways that allow customers to tell you new things. If you only ask customers 12 yes or no questions, you are only going to get 12 pieces of binary data – and only about the issues that you defined ahead of time. So be sure to use every opportunity to ask open-ended questions that allow your customers to go beyond yes or no and share their emotions, experiences, values and provide other “softer” responses. Among other benefits, this approach allows you to be sure that you have defined underlying issues about what is working in your marketing efforts – and what is not.
- Be sure that your systems allow you to capture input from customers that is new, genuine and possibly unclassifiable. Of course you are gathering and analyzing data – that’s part of your marketing job. You have developed scripts for phone survey-takers to use, scripts that are used in focus groups, and spreadsheets where you classify and report data. You need those tools, but you also need a way to capture the “softer” information that you get through ingaged listening – it could be just one unusual insight offered from just one customer that. Be sure there is a create field to capture that kind of intelligence it in your reports.
Opportunities to Talk to Your Customers in a Powerful New Way
This new way of listening and gathering data can work well in traditional surveys, focus groups and other market research contexts. However, they can work especially well in these settings too, which you might not be using currently . . .
- Create customer advisory councils. Invite high-value customers to become members in customer advisory councils and ask them to take part in brainstorming sessions about what your current marketing objectives are, what they should be, and more. Generally speaking, this works best if you are selling a relatively small number of high-value products and services to a small number of customers – not a lot of lower-value offerings to a large customer base. It’s one of the most effective ways to break out of the kind of tunnel vision that can affect many companies as they define and address marketing challenges.
- Engage actively with your own front-line employees. They are uniquely positioned to tell you about how customers are reacting to your marketing, what their concerns and issues are with what you are selling – and lots more. It is interesting to note that in their confusion and rush to develop new marketing solutions, many companies overlook this vital source of intelligence. As you gather information from your own front-line staffers, be sure to apply the ingaged listening skills.
Putting Together All the Pieces Together
As you gather new information in new ways, it is important to capture it – not let it pile up until it becomes overwhelming too. I recommend creating a master communications plan to track all your efforts on gathering market intelligence. List all the contact points you are using to gather customer insights, what questions you are asking through them and summarize what you have already heard.
If you share this plan on your company intranet with your top executive team, the result can be a growing body of marketing information that is useful, concise and ready to use – perhaps unlike the data that you have gathered in the past.