Focusing on what your customers want from you as a business is the cornerstone for any successful venture, from the smallest corner shop up to the largest multinational corporation. After all, without customers you have no business! Even if you started your business as a way to make a positive difference in the world, you will soon run out of resources if your customers aren’t happy with what you are supplying.
Being really in tune with your occasional customers’ needs is also a great way to turn them into loyal brand advocates – worth five to seven times as much as one-time buyers (depending on the source you read).
That answers the question of why you should be focusing on your customers’ needs but this article is about the ‘hows’.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
Start your quest for information with your closest competitors; after all, their target market is likely to overlap considerably with yours. Also compare your products and services with those offered by industry leaders. Use the ‘four Ps’ of marketing as a measuring stick. In other words, are these businesses successful because they offer:
It could be that you’re doing almost everything right but you’re not promoting yourself through the right channels, or you might be selling similar products at a price that’s too high or too low.
After your competitor research you should have at least identified some areas which are ripe for improvement. But unless you get some actual data to work with, you are still shooting in the dark. You need to start asking some questions.
Surveys and focus groups
The Chartered Institute of Marketing defines marketing as: ‘the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.” Market research is the activity that focuses on the first element of that list: identification.
Two key tools for effective market research include surveys (online or offline) and focus groups. These can work well in tandem, with surveys used to gather the raw numbers for an overview of a market’s needs and focus groups set up to gather more qualitative information.
For example, if you are a sportswear manufacturer entering a new town or city you might send a survey to your target market asking which sports they participate in and watch. If you identify that sailing is big in the area, you could follow this up with a focus group aimed at the sailing community. Focus groups can be as simple as booking a venue, organizing some light refreshments and asking a set of open questions to generate in-depth discussion. A skilled facilitator will maintain the focus of the group while exploring interesting avenues of discussion.
Putting market research to work
Once your customers’ current wants and needs have been identified, a clear and measurable market strategy can be drawn up, again focusing on the 4 Ps of product, price, place and promotion. Measurable aims (such as increasing market share by 2% or competing in the local sailing wear market by the end of the year) should be drawn up so that results can be analyzed and evaluated.
Evaluation and renewing the cycle
Finding out what your customers want is a dynamic process since trends, new technologies and social and economic conditions cause priorities to change. Your marketing strategy needs to be cyclical ,with customers given the opportunity to feed back on your performance, and that data used as part of the next round of market research.
The more quickly you can react to changes in the needs and wants of your customers, the more likely it is you will start to anticipate the market and stay one step ahead of your competitors.