Do you understand what your customers are really thinking? A smart Outsourced CMO can help you say “Yes!”

One of the challenges I frequently encounter when coming into a new project as an outsourced Chief Marketing Officer is that my clients often don’t understand the what and the why behind their customers behavior. Like really understand it – both quantitatively and qualitatively. This sounds like an easy problem to solve, but the reality is that it’s often much more complicated than anyone in the C-Suite realizes, particularly if you’ve never looked outside your office for the answers.

Let’s start with qualitative. In it’s simplest form, this means gathering feedback from what people are saying. Think of surveys, focus groups, online testimonials, emails or letters to your staff. This is how most of us believe we are learning about our customer behavior. The problem I find is that more and more we rely on social media, email and other digital feedback mechanisms to collect this data. Sure, it feels great when a customer posts a great Facebook review. And, you can often learn something when you see someone post a lousy one. Or, your CEO gets a great email about how your product or service has changed a customer’s life for the better.

But the problem with this is that it’s not scientific. You tend to get GREAT or AWFUL – with nothing in-between. And the people who respond tend to be either huge fans or have had a terrible customer experience – think about your own behavior. When was the last time YOU were motivated to write a “3-star” review? This often skews your understanding about what’s happening inside your company – and you end up either over-reacting or under-reacting depending on what today’s reviews look like.

True qualitative research comes from focus groups or surveys. Luckily, technology has made surveys easier than ever. Use SurveyMonkey (plans starting at FREE) to generate surveys that are easy for customers to fill out and for you to read – and then email links to your customers using Mailchimp (also starting at FREE) to see who’s clicking. Provide some kind of easy-to-fulfill incentive – a discount code at the company store or a credit to Amazon.com, for instance – that you can send them online. You should work with your internal management team to create surveys designed to answer specific questions, and segment your lists by type of customer you want to learn more about. For one client I am currently doing this for, we looked at one-time, two-time and multiple-time purchasers as different segments in order to understand some of the differences in perception of our products and services between groups. This should help us modify our marketing to speak specifically to the benefits that lead to repeat purchases.

You can also conduct focus groups if you have regular gatherings of customers in a single location, without a lot for them to do. One client of mine is considering doing this with groups of parents standing around while their kids are running through activities. Another has incentivized homeowners to come together for pizza nights to share their experiences. You don’t need a professional moderator, but it’s good to have someone outside your organization to run these sessions (i.e. your outsourced CMO!) who can provide some non-biased feedback and not steer the conversation in any one direction. But by combining both surveys and focus groups, you can paint a much better picture of the full range of your customer experiences.

It’s also nice to do quantitative research on your customers. Quantitative uses actual data points to make decisions.

Think about your business metrics – how long does it take to make a sale, what’s the average sale price, how often do your customers purchase again, how long does it take to make that second purchase, etc. By carefully reviewing your business metrics, you may be able to identify pain points that marketing can help solve – particularly when combining it with your qualitative research. If your data shows customers don’t purchase a third time, maybe your surveys can help pinpoint why. If your data suggests your customer lifetime value is lower than it should be – or that customers leave the funnel at a certain point – perhaps your focus groups can revolve around why that is happening.

Often times, these are areas where a good outsourced CMO can really help. We’re not part of the “inside” team, with pre-conceived notions of what works and what doesn’t. But we have taken the time to understand your business and can help provide a broad analysis in a way your full-time team cannot. We’re also a lot less expensive than professional research firms, and because we ultimately have to work this data into actionable marketing strategies we won’t just drop a deck off on your desk and wish you good luck. It’s a real area where we drive added-value in a way that’s designed to help grow your business.

So next time you run into a business challenge, ask yourself “How well do we really know our customers?” and if there’s anyone on your team who can help provide the answers. (And if not, give me a call.)