In my last article I explained why it's so important to understand exactly what your customers' wants and needs are. So in this one I thought I'd give you some practical ways to get to know your customers better by ethically eavesdropping on them.
The best way to discover their true needs is to completely understand the problems they face. To gain this knowledge, you need to find the locations where they communicate these problems openly.
Put simply – you need to know where they hang out! This is where the ethical eavesdropping comes in.
If you’re looking to add value to the business world, and consequently your target audience are businesses, then a great place to start is online forums.
You can look at general business forums, or search for more specific forums that are targeted towards your particular target niche.
As an example, if your business operates to help businesses find finance solutions, you won't have to look far to see business owners talking about the cash flow issues they are struggling with online.
These forums provide golden nuggets of information, because you can look at threads over the last month, three months or even longer – you will eventually start to notice patterns in their problems.
If your target audience is consumer related, you can find a wealth of niche discussion forums to help you build a better knowledge of your customers' wants and needs.
There are thousands of these forums out there you just need to search Google to find them.
Similar to forums, if you immerse yourself in a group, it won’t be long before you know a whole lot more about your audience and their problems.
There are two different ways of approaching this, and both have their pros and cons.
Obviously online groups are a lot easier to find, observe and scan – so the barriers to entry are much lower. It can all be achieved from the comfort of your home or office, without having to go out and speak to anyone.
- Facebook Groups – Facebook groups are pretty well established and there are all kinds of consumer and business groups
- LinkedIn Groups – LinkedIn groups are mainly business focussed so great for B2B
- Google + Communities – Google Communities are very new so not very established yet. They are good for techie groups and business groups, however
Going to a physical offline group has its obvious disadvantages – you actually have to attend the group personally – which can take a lot of time and energy – but the rewards can be worth it.
You actually get chance to talk to people face to face, which usually allows you to gauge their true feelings better, and therefore receive more accurate and truthful information and feedback.
The groups you attend will totally depend on your target audience, but they can include:
- Networking groups (Although these tend to be specifically B2B focused with mixed vertical audiences attending)
- Community meetings
- Action Groups
- Seminars & Conferences
- Advice groups
- Focus Groups
- Niche groups
- Customer Groups
- Fan clubs
3. Q&A sites
If you have never used Yahoo! Answers, it’s a crowd sourcing question and answer platform.
You ask a question, and then – hopefully – a stranger somewhere in the world will give you a decent answer.
If it’s a popular question, you should receive several answers, and then the general public can vote on the best answer. You can then mark the question as resolved or not.
This results in an easily accessible database of millions of questions and answers.
The platform is particularly good for finding out about consumer issues and problems, because every day thousands of questions are asked, and thousands of answers are given.
Quora is a more recent take on Yahoo! Answers. It does have a few differences – that we don’t need to go into here – but suffice to say the questions on Quora tend to be more intellectual than the majority of those on Yahoo! answers.
I tend to use Quora for finding B2B problems and Yahoo! for B2C.
I also use both for content ideas – I find out what my audience wants and then give it to them!
4. Survey your current database
If you have a good, responsive database, then that's probably one of the best places to start finding out more about your customers.
A good way to do this is by surveying them, but do remember customers can sometimes act differently to prospects.
You should obviously ask them questions specifically about their wants, needs and current problems.
Survey Monkey is a cheap and useful tool to do this.
5. Analytics on current site
If you have an analytics package set up on your website, like Google Analytics – which is free – then, amongst other things, you can check what keywords people have used to find your website on Google.
This can give you a clear view on what they were searching for before they landed on your site, which will obviously indicate their intent.
Also, by installing a search bar on your website, you can easily analyse what people are searching for within your site.
If you have enough traffic, you should be able to glean some very powerful information on what your prospects and customers' wants and needs are.
6. Google Keyword Tool
If you don’t have the luxury of analysing website traffic data, you could always use Google’s free keyword tool, which allows you to research what people are typing into Google on a monthly basis.
Amongst other data, it shows you how many times each keyword has been typed in the past month, and you can also narrow the data down to specific countries, which can make it even more relevant to your market.
Again, you are looking for keywords and phrases that imply intent to solve a problem.
So that’s six different places for you to start finding out exactly what your prospects and customers truly want and need.