Customers Are People, Not Data Points

51987676_sHere’s something that all marketing professionals understand but that many marketing organizations have forgotten: the most sophisticated customer analytics tools cannot replace the insights we gather through genuine human conversations.

Humans possess the ability to be empathetic, compassionate, and intuitive. As of this writing, computers lack these abilities.

This is why no matter how powerful your data tools, you still need to talk with your customers.

We recently completed our third annual CMO Innovation Trends study. Over 100 respondents provided candid comments about the state of innovative thinking and practices within their respective organizations. Nearly one-third of the CMOs surveyed told us that one of their top three frustrations now is “taking wise action on massive volumes of customer data.”

Data does not always empower; it can also paralyze. Human contact can often break the logjams created by too much data and too few actionable insights.

Companies can mine customer data in a growing number of places: social posts, at retail points of purchase, through website analytics, and also via focus groups, investor feedback and live events. The wealth of sources lulls us into believing that we must rely on quantitative data to make sense of it all, to drive decisions, and to pacify our boss.

But by over-relying on data, you risk missing out on emotional clues and new product ideas that are often undetectable by analytics engines.

What if, in lieu of embarking on a costly predictive lead scoring model, you went back to a few basics?

Here are two time-tested data gathering strategies worth revisiting:

Ask a few senior executives from your company to call 10 customers.Such conversations provide three benefits:

  • They demonstrate to valued customers that you sincerely appreciate their business.
  • They ensure your top executives stay closely connected to customer issues.
  • They help you ascertain, first hand, why the customer chooses you over a competitor.

With preparation and practice, each call will take no more than 15 minutes. Over as little as two weeks, you will capture a surprising amount of valuable customer insights.

Ask five members of your marketing teams to attend 2-3 different industry events for one full day. Instead of using the time to pitch or promote your company, use it to network with key industry influencers. Here’s how…

At least two weeks prior to the event, visit the event website and look for keynote speakers or panelists who have recently shared a white paper, unique point of view, or commercially published book. Pick five to eight people who have an interesting story to tell. Some may be your customers; others may be industry influencers.

Try reaching out to them through LinkedIn. If you are unable to connect with them in that way, try Twitter. Pick one interesting aspect of their background, and compliment them. Ask if they would be willing to spend 15 minutes with you at the conference in a quiet location.

Your personalized message might look like this:

Hello (cool person), I am excited to learn more about (your topic) at the upcoming (conference name). I am specifically interested in how you succeeded with (specific project or achievement).

I am the Director of Marketing at XYZ Co. I have an idea that I wanted to test with you. In exchange for your time, I will share what we have learned from your peers (or competitors). Would a 20-minute coffee meeting at 8:30 am or 3 pm work better for your schedule?

In my experience, at least half of the people whom I contact are willing to meet. This data collection strategy helped me earn a five-figure top-tier client and three speaking engagements.

When you talk with customers and meet them face to face, you are using the skills that will keep human beings employed no matter how powerful computers become. The more you exercise these skills, the better you and your company will do.

Want to hear what 300+ other people thought of this post? Visit my LinkedIn Pulse page.

copyright 2016, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

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