Love Thy Customer
Don't think of collecting customers' data as a shortcut to their wallets. Really getting to know the people who buy from you is a little bit like making new social connections. And just as rewarding if you do it right.
Who's your prospective customer? If your answer is "everyone", then you don't know your customers very well at all.
In finding a market, having a good handle on the living, breathing human beings that will buy from you really does matter. Remember, every single existing customer has personally decided to do business with you. You just need to find out why.
Think like them
There's a quick test to find out whether you know your market. Do you know where to look for new customers?
If you don't, try putting yourself in their shoes. What needs do they have that would lead them to find and choose you? Work backwards from there.
Understanding and fulfilling needs isn't just for new businesses, either. Forbes.com recommends always spending "quality time" with buyers regardless of whether sales are up, down or on a level cruise. Understand what's on their minds and respond appropriately.
Faces, not figures
In B2C businesses your customers are people; in B2B your customers are... still people - they're just representing an organisation.
Think about what knowing a person really means. A joint 2013 study from customer analysis firm Gleanster and email marketer Yesmail found businesses were "far too wedded to leveraging data about what customers purchase rather than who customers are or why they purchased".
The report goes on to note that while customer data tells you what they bought, knowing customers tells you when they're going to buy again. Here, propensity-to-buy modelling, channel preference and household composition are key metrics in the "getting to know you" process.
It's like with your best mate: you can describe them physically, you know their address and you have an idea of what they earn each year. But are any of these things why you are friends? No.
You are friends because you have complementary personalities. You know who they were, who they are, and probably, who they will be. They, likewise, know the same about you. (And amazingly, they like you anyway.)
It's the same with customers: they're people with attitudes, preferences and personalities. They expect you to know that.
Do your customers know you?
Knowing your customers as individuals who are keeping you in business is about having a mutually positive relationship with them.
Entrepreneur.com calls this "reciprocal loyalty". Your customers support you through advocacy, purchase behaviour and community participation, while you support them by investing in their experiences, providing value and thanking them with rewards and benefits.
It's the win-win that comes from getting out behind the busyness of business and doing the hard work to get to know your customers properly.
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