You’ve researched your competitors. But have you spared a thought for self-reflection?
We’ve been talking recently about how critical competitor research is for businesses to provide the best customer service. But no market research project is complete without taking a look inward, at your own company, and how well it lives up to its own brand promises.
After all, businesses change. The people within them come and go, the services they offer evolve, and customer demands shift in response to other external market forces. Over time, businesses can become misaligned with customer needs, and when that happens, even the most faithful clients can decide to take their services elsewhere.
So, if it’s been a while since you did some business introspection, here are a few questions you should ask yourself.
Who are your customers?
Businesses both large and small are sometimes surprised to realize that their core client base isn’t quite what they thought it was. Maybe their service offering shifted, or maybe they fulfill an unexpected market need. Either way, learning more about your current customers is critical for creating strong customer personas.
There are any number of ways to learn more about your customers, and the method that works best for your business will depend on your size, target market, and business structure. If you work closely with your clients, contact them to see if you can have a quick 15–20-minute chat with them to discuss their experiences with you. On the other hand, if you have a large e-commerce business, try running a customer survey to gain more insight.
How do your customers find you?
Knowing how your customers first encountered your brand can help you learn more about which of your marketing tactics are most successful in converting clients. To some extent, you can learn about this via your metrics. If someone finds your business through a digital ad or organic search, you should be able to track that through your various analytics tools.
On the other hand, if a customer’s heard of you through a friend or some other piece of non-trackable advertising, then you may need to ask them directly, either in your interview call, or through a customer survey.
Are you leaving any of their needs unmet?
An unmet customer need is an opportunity to grow your business and improve customer satisfaction. Even better, if your customers tell you about it themselves, they’re basically closing your sales for you.
Of course, sometimes your customers want things that don’t fit your business plan. Developing new services can sometimes be more trouble than it’s worth. In that case, it’s fine to decide for yourself that expanding in this new direction isn’t what’s best for your company. However, it’s still valuable to know what your customers are asking for so that you can do a better job of explaining why you may not be offering that service.
Do your customers say good things about you?
Conducting your own market research provides an excellent opportunity to ask for some referrals. These make for valuable marketing copy on your website, and are also great affirmation for your work in general. If you find a particularly happy customer, talk to them about creating a case study, as these can be some of your most valuable sales tools.
On the other hand, if your customers have less flattering things to say, you can use this time to find out how you’re falling short and if there are any ways you can make amends.
How long is your sales cycle?
Another key piece of information every business should know is how long it takes to convert a lead to a closed sale. Long sales cycles are expensive, and there are plenty of businesses that have run out of funds waiting for a prospect to decide on a purchase.
By examining your sales cycle more carefully, you may be able to identify ways in which you can shorten the cycle, close more sales, and grow your profits. For instance, if your clients typically stall for a while after initially discovering your business, a strategic marketing piece aimed at increasing conversions can push your lagging clients over that sales block.
What does your customer retention rate look like?
Every business loses some customers, and that’s OK. But if a lot of your customer base is dropping away, it’s time to find out why. It may be that a competitor is syphoning off some of your market share, but customers are generally reluctant to leave a company they’re satisfied with to work with an unknown.
A struggling customer retention rate probably has more to do with something on your end—an unmet need or poor customer satisfaction. Finding out what the issue is and working to manage it should be your top priority.
Researching your own business gives you the perspective you need to succeed.
Doing market research for yourself can give you insight into both those things you do well, and the changes you need to make to improve. While it may be tempting to assume you already know everything about yourself you need to know to do well, you don’t actually know until you pause to take stock of your position.
In the best case scenario, you could learn some positives about your business that can affirm your strategy. But even if you uncover some less pleasant news, you do so in time to correct those errors before they becomes serious.
In other words, researching your own business is like getting a checkup at the doctor. Do it often enough to gain a good understanding of your business, and you’ll have a much better chance of staying healthy.