Friday, September 23, 2011

Where to look, whom to ask

Blog: Your company is smarter than you think

Having spent much of my career in agencies as the research guy, I can tell you that few businesses have all the market research they need.  Even agencies or companies with large, effective research departments can never cover all the angles they need over the course of a year.  Worse still, many businesses devote too little to market research and have hardly anything they can use.

What to do, then?

Fortunately, most companies know more than they realize.  The researcher simply needs to know where to look, or really, whom to ask.

We humans learn, despite a quote by Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams (“You live and learn.  At any rate, you live.”).  Not everybody qualifies for a MacArthur Grant (still waiting for mine, folks), but people accumulate knowledge over time.  Here’s how you can put that knowledge to work in a marketing context:

  • Your sales staff.  No one has more first-hand information on how people buy than your sales staff.  Yes, this information may be anecdotal.  Yes, sales folks often have their own agenda.  However, they also can tell you about the purchase cycle, how people go from just looking around to seriously considering a purchase to actually buying.  They can tell you what words, features or ideas turn buyers on or off.  They should know what attracts or repels customers from the competition.

  • Your call center/customer support staff.  I consider the call center the marketer’s secret weapon.  Even in this age of instant information online, many people prefer to call a support line for help, for both consumer and business-to-business products.  Understanding why people call, and when, can often unlock a marketing opportunity.  

    For instance, Nextel, the mobile phone company, found that new customers often called to find out how to use the push-to-talk (“chirp”) feature.  These calls cost Nextel money.  So Nextel created a welcome email for new customers that showed how to use the feature.  Not only did this email save costs, it also allowed Nextel to upsell new customers with accessories and additional phones.

  • The web geeks.  In many organizations, the people responsible for the company’s websites work within the marketing department.  However, marketers often fail to take advantage of a key research opportunity: web analytics.  First and foremost, web analytics offer sitepaths, a record of what pages visitors viewed and the order in which they viewed them.  Allied with source data, sitepath data can tell a researcher what prospects or customers care about when they visit the site.  Sitepaths might show, for instance, that consumers care about some very specific information, such as specifications or dimensions.  It might make sense, then, for this marketer to include more of that information in the ads.

Obviously, most organizations have more people who can provide insight onto the customer.  Got any favorites?  Please share in the comments.

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