“How well do we know our customers?” This is the question increasingly at the forefront of marketers’ minds. If you’re not yet thinking about how to gather customer insights and leverage them across your organization, don’t delay. Customer insights are becoming the lifeblood — and driver — of most businesses, whether B2C, B2B or B2B2C.

The unending race to grow one’s customer base often leads marketers to overlook existing customers as a profitable source of revenue. I see this frequently in inquiry calls with demand generation-focused B2B organizations, prompting a reminder that marketing and selling to existing customers typically yields higher ROI than targeting prospects, thus making your customer base one of your company’s most valuable assets. That doesn’t obviate the need to attract net-new customers. Rather, it underscores the importance of applying the same level of discipline and rigor to nurturing existing relationships with high-value customers as you do to acquiring those customers in the first place.

The Economics of Customer Insights Are Clear

Rising interest in account-based marketing among B2B organizations is based in no small part on the principle that your current customers are your best customers. For such organizations, high renewal rates and success in user expansion, cross-sells and upsells, particularly over a long period of time, indicate a happy and loyal customer base. These satisfied customers often can act as references and advocates, which can be influential in helping prospects choose your offering over a competitor’s (Gartner client subscription required). Customer experience also can be a sustainable source of competitive differentiation, although as my colleague Anna Maria Virzi pointed out in a recent post, that focus is not without potential pitfalls.

Zero in on the Right Data

However you look at it, customer insights are the starting point. Robust intelligence helps you fully understand your customers’ sentiments about your brand, their satisfaction levels, their loyalty and profitability. Tapping into the voice of the customer can uncover vital data points. For example, as Jennifer Polk observed, “customers may have clear expectations of a utilitarian product, like insurance, but decidedly negative attitudes toward insurance providers.” Unpacking such distinctions is crucial for successfully communicating to your customers.

The challenge is that your customers interact with you in multiple ways, touching many groups within the organization. These myriad interactions, fragmented across a proliferating array of digital and traditional channels and touchpoints, complicate the systematic capture of relevant customer data. As a result, that unified view of the customer we all seek remains a lofty if often elusive goal.

What I typically find when talking to B2B clients is that much of the data marketers need is scattered in various places across the organization. These include everything from locally-stored spreadsheets to internal and external community sites to sales force automation tools to other systems and applications spanning customer service, campaign, order, revenue and partner relationship management. So expect to do some legwork in running down all the relevant data sources. Beyond simply locating the right data is ensuring that it gets collected in a more programmatic way. If your organization has a chief data officer or an equivalent executive role with enterprise-wide ownership of data management and governance, you may be able to save time by collaborating with such a leader who holds the keys to the kingdom, so to speak, and the authority to mandate systematic data collection. Otherwise, plan to work with your peers in other parts of the company to get what you need.

Identify Growth Opportunities

Identifying the right data, ensuring it is accurate and continually collected, and making it accessible are key steps toward laying a solid data foundation. Next come data exploration, pattern identification and model building. Predictive modeling can help your team capitalize on important factors that drive engagement, including timing, message content and delivery channel. Advanced analytic tools — whether embedded within your existing marketing automation platform, or furnished by a third party, agency or service provider — can enable your team to understand, act on, satisfy and anticipate your customers’ evolving needs.

Segment and Personalize

Collecting, organizing and analyzing the right data are stepping stones to developing customer segments that reflect more than just product ownership. Just as not all prospect buyer journeys are alike, the same principle holds true for customer life cycle journeys. For example, customers who have been using your product for six months are at a different place than those who have been using it for several years. From there, identify which customer segments are most profitable and which have the greatest potential lifetime value. This enriched customer understanding is a vital ingredient for optimizing your marketing content. There’s a strong correlation between your ability to create relevant content tailored to specific customers and the urgency, depth and duration of their engagements with you.

I’ve focused here primarily on observations gleaned from speaking with B2B organizations (these will be reflected in a forthcoming research note, “Four Ways B2B Marketers Can Generate Demand Within Existing Accounts”). But the fact is that the economics of customer insights are not segment-specific. Our ability to corral relevant data, segment, analyze and model it, and disseminate insights in a timely and actionable way, increasingly will separate leaders from laggards among all types of marketers.

 

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