Market driven organizations have continually outperformed their peers in terms of sustained revenue growth and customer satisfaction. A cornerstone of this philosophy is understanding market facts about customers and competitors. According to George S. Day, the Geoffrey T. Boisi Professor Emeritus at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania:
“Rather than basing decisions solely on gut instincts or qualitative research, the market-driven organization has a superior ability to make decisions based on the facts. It can base its strategy on the actual behavior of customer and competitors, or information that provides insights into future opportunities and risks. This requires knowledge bases that capture what is known about a) market structure – how are the competitive boundaries shifting and market segments evolving? b) market responses – what are the drivers of customer value and how will consumers, competitors and channels respond to these drivers?, and c) market economies – where is the firm making money, and what moves will improve profitability?”
Market-Driven Winners, SYMPHONYA Emerging Issue in Management
The challenge organizations face is how to gather market facts in the first place? One answer maybe to leverage the day-to-day interactions each part of your enterprise has with its customers, capture relevant information, and then broadly share it across the organization. Each contact with a customer or prospect provides an opportunity to learn.
Who Can Listen for Market Facts?
For example, consider how the following roles in your organization can contribute to the collection of market facts:
Product Managers. Product Managers are responsible for gathering all types of information to learn about market opportunities, customer problems, potential solutions, product requirements, value equations, and proof points. These product professionals participate in activities like customer listening sessions, sales calls, RFP responses, customer support escalations, and trade show events. Each one of these activities provide them with an opportunity to listen to customer and prospect needs, concerns, and opinions that in turn can be incorporated into their day-to-day activities.
Product Marketers. Product marketing is the process of bringing a product to market. This includes deciding the product’s positioning and messaging, launching the product, and ensuring salespeople and customers understand it. Product Marketers are constantly talking to the market, including existing and potential customers — all with an eye to drive demand and usage of the product. Product marketing also interacts with key influencers such as press and industry analysts. Listening to how these audiences respond to messaging and positioning is an excellent way to discern market facts that could help the enterprise evolve its solutions.
Sales Development Representatives. SDR’s are in a great position to listen for market facts. A typical sales development rep will complete 90 activities in a day – responding to emails, making outbound calls, researching prospects, interacting on social media, etc. For inbound contacts (website downloads, CTA completion, …) SDR’s are constantly asking themselves, “What is this person really looking for? And why?” These insights can lead directly to discovering key market facts.
Account Executives/Outside Sales Reps. Sales execs are perhaps best suited to help the organization discover market facts. They deal directly with prospects and customers. A core part of any sales process is understanding the value of solving a customer’s challenges, and how your solution provides that value. Understanding how a solution falls short of a customer’s expectations or a competitor’s solution is precisely the type of market facts that can help an enterprise improve its position in the marketplace.
Presales Consultants. Presales consultants can often glean the pragmatic reality of how well a company’s solutions do or do not meet a customer’s requirements. Through the demonstration and piloting of solutions, presales consultants learn firsthand what a customer or prospect’s real needs and expectations are.
Customer Success Managers. Customer Support Managers help ensure that customers receive the maximum benefits they can from implementing a firm’s solutions. Unearthing challenges associated with implementation or usage of a solution can provide insights into how your products are not meeting the needs of the marketplace.
Customer Support Personnel. Customer Support Reps deal with customers every day and all day long. Customers contact Support to get answers to “How To” questions and resolve defects/bugs in the product. When customers say “I wish the product would do this ,” it provides great insight into how the product can be evolved to better meet the customers’ needs.
Finance Personnel. Finance personnel involved in billing or renewals can listen for customers’ frustrations with the level of value they are receiving for their investment.
Market Fact Listening Programs
There are a couple of programs you can implement today that will significantly increase the quantity and quality of market facts you learn from your market.
A formal Win/Loss Analysis program is an excellent way to gather market facts from customers and non-customers. In a typical Win/Loss program, a third party acting on your behalf reaches out to recent customer wins and losses and, in a structured interview process, asks a series of open-ended questions like:
- How did your buyer go about selecting a vendor?
- What media or thought leaders did your buyer consult before they made a decision?
- Could you have done something differently that would have given you a better chance of winning the business?
- Does your buyer feel that they got the value they expected from their purchase?
- How did your marketing efforts impact the decision?
If you would like to learn more about Win/Loss, check out the Win/Loss Agency.
Employee Listening Program
Another program that’s worth considering is an internal employee market-fact listening program. Develop three or four open-ended questions for each major role in the company, designed to elicit market facts from customers. At the end of an engagement with a customer – like a customer support call, a billing inquiry, or a trade show booth visit — ask the customer if they would be interested in spending two minutes to help you better understand their needs. Use the open-ended questions to initiate a dialog with the customer.
At the conclusion, have the employee document the interaction with a simple Intranet form – capturing the name, company, title and role of the person they talked with. It is important to document the customer’s actual words, to avoid introducing the preferential bias any one person’s role at the company might have. Store the information in a central place and make it available to everyone in the company. Periodically, product management and product marketing should review the information and produce a summary of the learning t0 share with the entire company.
To encourage participation, offer the employees a $25 Amazon gift card for every 4 or 5 encounters they document. Run this program 3 or 4 times a year. For a relatively small investment, you could have the results of 200 or 300 encounters with customers. This would be significantly more cost-effective than a market research study that cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. This type of program also helps reinforce management’s desire for everyone in the company to be sensitive and alert to the market facts that can help drive the business’ success.