The pandemic may (hopefully) be waning, but it continues to transform how we do business. Some changes in customer behavior that we thought represented some kind of “new normal,” it turns out, were more temporary than we imagined. Other pandemic-era evolutions – such as flexible work environments and rising demand for cloud-based business services – appear to be longer-term changes.
How has the pandemic transformed your market, your customers’ behaviors and your employees? And, more importantly, which of those changes will last? The only way to find out, of course, is to ask.
Market trends come and go, but the need for smart market research never gets old. Done well, market research provides executives with the compass that guides their business, helping them anticipate customers’ needs, maintain customer relationships, stay ahead of the competition and run an efficient enterprise with highly motivated staff.
This does not mean, however, that businesses need to spend exorbitant sums on exhaustive surveys and focus groups. There are three quick, relatively simple things you can do to feel more confident about how your competitive landscape has shifted over the past few years: Map your market, discover your customers’ latest needs and listen to the voice of those customers using data you already have.
1. Mapping your market
At Mod Op Strategic Consulting, we often start with helping clients develop a “market map” to gain a deeper understanding of their enterprise’s positioning in their marketplace. Broader than a competitive analysis, a market map is a graphical representation of your organization and its “place” in its wider commercial ecosystem.
You can start by calling a senior staff brainstorming session. Ask your team to name your various customer market segments. Then describe the landscape of companies (or nonprofits, or government agencies, etc.) that also seek to provide similar products or services to those customers. Through the exercise focus on this question:
How have the players changed since the pandemic began in early 2020?
Go further and examine the other layers of the market: Your suppliers, vendors and communities of common interest. Use lines and arrows to describe how all these points on the map interact with each other. End the session with an understanding that the map will undergo multiple revisions over several weeks, but the result will be a useful “You Are Here” map of your enterprise’s broader market landscape in this increasingly post-pandemic world.
This exercise serves multiple purposes: Foremost, it will help the team to visualize a collective idea of the environment around them, which leads to more collaboration and quicker decision-making. It also will help you uncover opportunities in the market. Ask the team questions like: “Which of these players will cease to exist in several years? Which do we depend upon the most, or fear the most?”
Aligning your staff around the same market map makes it easier to take the next step in market research: Identifying the present-day needs and pain points of your customers and categorizing your customers into groups who share those needs (“personas”), rather than just by their demographic market segments.
2. How to discover your customers’ needs
Business leaders hear a lot these days about a “customer-first” or “user-centered” approach, but too few understand that these are not simply useful principles for design or customer service: They are holistic ways to run an enterprise. Effective market research depends on asking the right questions – and focusing on customer needs helps you to do that.
Typically, executives delegate the job of understanding their customers’ needs to their marketing and customer support teams. This can limit an organization’s thinking about customers to demographic market segments and a list of customer support trouble tickets. What gets lost is a thorough, company-wide understanding of why your customers interact with you, what they actually need and why they need it.
We’ve written a lot about customer-centric approaches to running a business. It starts with listing the specific tasks that your customers are trying to achieve when they use your products or services. Known as a “jobs-to-be-done” framework, you start by making a list (based on staff expertise and experience) of the “jobs” your customers are trying to do when interacting with your business. Examples would be “As a banking customer, I want to easily deposit a check using my phone, so I can save time.” or “As an industry professional, I want to network and collaborate with others, so I can advance in my career.”
Notice the structure of these statements: “As a [type of user], I want to [carry out a task], so I can [fulfill a need].” We view this problem statement as a kind of Rosetta Stone. Equipped with a list of such statements, again, based on your staff’s assumptions, you now have your own job to do: Ask actual users if they really need what you assume they need. You can do this through phone conversations with current or potential new customers who typify the types of users who you think share those specific needs. Online surveys are also quick and effective, through emails to customer lists, or through Twitter or LinkedIn polls, if you have built audiences on those platforms. All these touchpoints can help you better understand your customers.
There is another way to hear the voice of your customers: Listen to what they’re saying through the data you already have.
3. Using existing data to assess customer needs
When it comes to market research, it’s important to know what you want to measure. Select relevant metrics that provide accurate and representative data about your customers’ needs. Examples include:
- Sales and consumption data: By mapping your products or services with your list of customer needs, your sales or usage data can suggest which needs are being met most successfully and point to opportunities for product optimization.
- Web analytics: Usage statistics can provide real-time insights to support assumptions on user needs. What pages do users visit the most? Where are they coming from and where do they go next? Be careful, though, to distinguish true interest from visits to pages that are necessary due to poor site design. In fact, you may quickly realize your entire web experience and messaging needs to be oriented around your newly confirmed customer needs.
- Customer support data: Analyzing customer inquiries, support requests and complaints can provide a trove of information about what customers truly need. It takes a highly motivated user to take the time to seek support or lodge a complaint. Treat this customer data like the gold that it is.
All the techniques described above qualify as “market research,” but they don’t require hiring an expensive market research firm. It just takes the right needs-based mindset and the will to lead your team to take a more customer-centered approach to all aspects of your enterprise.
As consumers have spent more time at home during the coronavirus lockdown, their expectations for a superior customer experience have increased significantly. The new challenge is to create a positive and consistent customer experience across all channels. Market mapping, combined with user-needs-based market research and leveraging your existing data, are the ingredients you need to optimize customer retention.
We at Mod Op Strategic Consulting can help you assemble and combine those ingredients. Get in touch to discover how you can move your business forward in a post-pandemic future.