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How to Truly Understand Your Customers’ Needs

Understanding Customer Needs – More Important Than Ever

Eventually we’ll get through this current COVID-19 crisis and back to something “normal”. Exactly what, though, is still to-be-determined (read McKinsey’s thoughts on the new “normal” ).

To succeed in this new environment, B2B marketers must understand their customers’ changing needs. And due to the pandemic-induced economic pressures, the stakes are even higher. Understanding customer needs could be a matter of survival, not just increasing sales and profits.

VOC Research & Analysis – Not So Simple

Many B2B companies conduct voice of the customer (VOC) research and analysis to understand customer needs.  But too often, the research is simplistic and the results less meaningful.

Now more than ever, B2B marketers need creative insights and high-quality information about customers to make the right decisions for their businesses.

RS Consulting USA recommends considering the following factors whenever conducting VOC research and analysis to truly understand your customers’ needs.

Key Considerations for Conducting Highly Effective VOC

Who is the customer – A basic but essential starting point, and for many companies, still an open question. Clearly, you should focus on who makes the technology/product/brand decision, both within the supply chain and within the account. Exactly who needs to be confirmed for quality and cost reasons. Influencers can also provide useful perspective.

Which customers, what purpose – Which customers are studied significantly effects the VOC results. This applies to the account (e.g., type, size, relationship with your company and market segment) as well as the decision maker (e.g., tenure, job function and scope of responsibilities). Ultimately, the customers studied must align with your company’s objectives.

Customer context – Customers that operate in different contexts usually have different needs. By profiling the customer’s context, you can analyze customer insights and information and prioritize opportunities more effectively. While common profile factors (e.g., application and purchase volumes) are always useful, more unique or esoteric factors (e.g., share of wallet and operational metrics) can be particularly illuminating.

Typical vs. broader scope – Typically, the primary focus of VOC research and analysis are your company’s offering (i.e., products, services and support) and target applications.  Recently though, B2B marketers have begun to consider the broader impact of their offering as a way to redefine their value and create differentiation. How well does the company’s offering support the customer’s overall goals and align with their business motivations? Different scopes for different objectives.

Customer actions vs. opinions – While worthwhile to hear what customers think, actions speak louder than words. Investigating the customer’s past actions and decisions provides valuable input for understanding their needs and predicting their future behaviors. Also, it’s useful to ask “why not” as well as “why”. For certain projects, trade-off methodologies like conjoint analysis can be used to accomplish this.

Triangulation – VOC research and analysis is an essential tool for understanding customer needs, but it isn’t the only one. VOC results should and can be triangulated (i.e. confirmed/modified/augmented) by using other information sources and analysis. This includes internal sales data, online shopping behavior, perspective from other market players (e.g., your channel partners) and market/competitive analysis.

Common Examples of A VOC Study

The VOC concept can be applied in many ways depending upon a company’s markets, customers and business objectives. Here are common examples:

Customer journey – A customer journey study maps and analyzes the steps your customers go through to engage with your company. A key objective is to evaluate and improve the customer experience, but these studies also enable you to better understand the customer’s information sources and supplier relationships and thereby develop more effective channel and promotional strategies. To read about our thoughts on customer journey, read customer journey and digital marketing.

Purchase process – Analyzing the purchasing process and behaviors is a well-known methodology for understanding customer needs. It primarily focuses on your company’s offering and target applications and is an excellent way to assess your company’s value proposition and competitive advantages and improve your marketing strategies and programs.

Man with a wrench – With this broadly-scoped VOC study, you obtain an in-depth understanding of what the customer (or user) does each day on the job, their overall goals and business motivations and how your company helps (or hinders) the customer to do their job and achieve their goals. It is an excellent way to understand the customer’s experience with your company’s offering, assess more holistically the value of your offering and generate new, often out-of-the-box, ideas.

Analogous markets – When there are major trends, customers may lack sufficient experience and knowledge and can only provide limited perspective. Thus, it can be useful to study analogous markets to learn what happened under similar circumstances.  Although this isn’t technically a VOC study, these results can triangulate the VOC results and deliver a better understanding of customer needs.

Final Thoughts

The companies most prepared are the most likely to survive and succeed in this business environment.  RS Consulting USA has conducted VOC studies for numerous clients, enabling them to truly understand the needs of their customers and develop more effective marketing strategies and programs.  We welcome the opportunity to discuss your VOC needs and how we can enable your company to be prepared for the new “normal”.

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