Back to Gartner for Marketers Blog

Blinded by Big Data, Marketers Sometimes Forget to Simply Ask

By Jake Sorofman | April 13, 2016 | 2 Comments

It’s hardly news that marketers have become a bit obsessed with data. And, truthfully, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Generally speaking, data has raised the collective maturity of this often squishy discipline and granted certain superpowers to the marketers who use it to particularly good effect.

But for all our efforts to make inferences about customer needs, motivations and goals by mining vast reams of often fast-moving data—for all our close scrutiny of the faintest suggestions of behavior, preferences, intent, so-called digital body language—many marketers have simply forgotten to ask.

You see customers are often more than willing to tell you what they want and what they need if you treat them with respect, which begins with balanced communication and a fair exchange of value.

On occasion, we’ve all encountered someone who is deeply comforted by the dulcet tones of their own voice. They’ll regale you with the world’s longest run-on sentence and then promptly glaze over as soon as you’ve found that slender moment to interject. You’ll notice they rarely ask questions.

Why? Well, maybe they don’t really care. But, more likely, they’re simply satisfied with their own inferences.

They believe they’ve already figured you out.

But, of course, they haven’t. Not even remotely. They’re working with incomplete data and they’re often seeing you from the perspective of their own biases. They may be good, but they’re never that good.

And, frankly, neither are you—as marketers, that is. We can learn a lot by making inferences, but we really don’t know someone until we care to ask. And to truly respect what they have to say.

The very act of asking questions demonstrates a level of interest and empathy that’s the basis for any healthy relationship. Of course, the ability to ask questions depends on trust and a fair exchange of value.

Marketers call this progressive profiling. We learn more about our customers by asking. But we ask gradually over time, as we establish trust and demonstrate value. We never expect our customers to share their most intimate truths—well, maybe ever, but certainly not all at once.

So, as you’re considering customer insight, don’t be blinded by the inferences you make from data. Don’t forget to ask. You may be surprised. Your customers may welcome your interest.

Comments are closed


  • Prasad says:

    A very much relevant point of progressive profiling. I think It is worth while to get right feedback from customers, suppliers & partners by having constant and consistent communication rather post-mortem of past data of behavior and actions of customers to build our own inferences.

  • Tomek says:

    Absolutely! Some example of what I believe reflects idea behind this article: Customer gave us some suggestion “You should change this and that because it’s not user-friendly. We forwarded this to manager and he said: data says something different, ONE SUGGESTION CHANGES NOTHING”. I agree that we can not turn upside down our services just because of one complaint or suggestion. But I also believe that there can be a lot of good ideas that are left behind just because data says something different. And that we have to care for each customer needs.