The importance of customer research in business development

July 15, 2019
The importance of customer research in business development

What's the importance of customer research in business development? Easy, that's what you do if you want to be successful! Read more here.

Recently I got in touch with the founder of a brand-new online business. He was looking for someone who could help him build a business development strategy and grow his company.

We talked for almost one hour, I explained how we work and what we can offer. At first, he seemed quite ahead of his game, but things changed when I asked deeper questions about his target audience.

My goal was to have a better understanding of his goals, so I could come up with something tailored to his needs. He was quite evasive and I thought he probably didn’t want to share too much info.

But I soon realized, the real problem is that he simply didn’t know and he wanted to figure out things along the way. He wanted clients, that’s it.

Of course, that’s the goal of pretty much any business. However, thinking that it's enough to hire a business developer and magic will happen, is highly unrealistic.

My advice instead was to actually research the market, the new trends and then pick something to get started. An audience, a market, a value proposition.

But the bottom line was: don’t go after clients if you don’t know what type of clients you actually want to sell to.

Ever since that meeting, I felt the urge to repeat once again why it is so important to run customer research and really know your audience before you start building anything.

And for full disclosure, this won’t prevent you to make mistakes, but it will definitely help you make less.

So, here I am, in this short guide to remind you of the importance of customer research. You will learn:

  • What is customer research?
  • What is the importance of customer research?
  • How to do customer research?
  • How to apply the info you gather?

What is customer research?

Let’s start with the basics for those of us who are not familiar with the topic. Generally speaking, we can define customer research as a process that focuses on customer behaviors, needs, and motivations, through observation techniques, task analysis, and other feedback methodologies.

We like to see it more as a tool that any company should use before building anything.

The thing is, there are many ideas put out there every single day. Some of them are great and with the potential to really have an impact on the market.

What is sad tho is that of all these many ideas, only a very few manage to become real and actually successful. Why is that? How comes so many amazing ideas, simply don’t make it?

The true answer is that the emotions and enthusiasm of the moment make us naive. I experienced it myself.

When I first started conceptualizing The BD School about two years ago, I was just looking at the potential I saw in it. My focus was exclusively on how much I could help other business developers with their challenges.

But, the first thing I did when I got serious about it, was to actually ask people what they thought of it. I asked my closest friends working in business and then I started asking other business developers. And founders, and heads, and so on, and so forth.

What I realized from this initial research is that yes, most business developers faced the same challenges as I did. But, there were a lot more issues that I simply didn’t know about and that I could help them with.

The point is, you are not building a company for yourself and to show how cool you are. You are building it for people who need help with what you have to offer.

And that’s why it's so important to know everything you can about them before you start building something.

Download our customer research template to understand your audience.

What is the importance of customer research?

A mistake I see happening very often is that companies simply don’t give the right importance to customer research. They don't want to put give effort into it. Mainly because they feel the pressure of having results, so they jump to the next step too quickly.

Now, because most of us start from our own network, we actually almost surely manage to find some initial clients. That gives us confidence that what we are doing is exactly what we should be doing.

However, what is really happening is that your family and friends are supporting you. And let’s be honest, they would buy pretty much anything we would propose to them, even if they don’t need it.

So, strong of these amazing first results, we keep going. Until we are stuck and start wondering what happened and why we are not getting more clients. We panic and we take random, harmful decisions which will just pave the road to failure.

This leads us to the first benefit of running customer research. If you know your audience, you will build a product or a service that actually fulfills a need. When you do this, you can then appeal to more people than your close network. That’s how you can aim at scaling your business and get more clients.

Another key reason why customer research is so important is that it opens up a lot more opportunities than you originally thought.

Getting back to the origin of The BD School, when I first thought of it, I wanted to build a network of business developers and "lend" them. When I started asking around, I actually realized that the main issue was not finding people. But it was finding knowledgeable professionals.

That’s when I thought that we should act at the root of the problem and help professionals acquire the right skills before, so they can be a valuable resource for any company.

The bottom line here is that if you only stick to your idea without considering your audience, you leave a lot of opportunities untouched. As usual, you are a lot more successful if you put your customers first!

Last, the other important benefit of doing customer research is that it removes your bias. We are all guilty of this with no exception. And that’s fine.

When we create something new we do it starting from our beliefs. We have an intuition, or maybe we experience the problem first hand and we know we have to do something. That’s how most companies are created.

But the problem with this is that one person's experience is simply not enough to create something useful for most people experiencing the same challenges. You are an amazing individual, but you’re still just an individual.

By focusing on customer research, you can both validate your original assumptions, or maybe disrupt them completely. But at least you know which direction you should head towards.

Download our customer research template and build your buyer persona!

How to run customer research?

Hopefully, by now we are all convinced of the importance of customer research. But how do we actually do it?

That’s something I personally struggled with a lot. In one of the last companies I worked for, I was having some issues finding the right target. I was asked to contact more and more people every day, but I wasn’t allowed to actually ask our current clients questions to better understand that audience.

So with my limited resources and great obstacles from the management, I developed my own methodology to go around that. I started reading a lot about customer research and how to actually do it.

Of course, everything was super general except for a few ones which I basically combined to make a new process that would cover absolutely everything I wanted to know about my audience.

There are plenty of things you can do to research your audience, but it all starts with asking yourself the right questions and moving accordingly.

Step 1: Set your goals

Before starting to ask questions to your audience, set a goal for yourself. What do you want to achieve with your customer research? Do you want to tap into new segments or markets?

Or do you simply want to know more about your current audience to be more targeted? And why not, do you want to create a new product?

By asking yourself these questions, you can make sure your customer research will be hyper-targeted allowing you to get the right info you need.

Step 2: Create and share a survey

One great way to do customer research is by launching and sharing a survey. So, create a Google form or Typeform with all the questions you’d like to ask.

Then ask your connections to fill it out. Just go on your social media channels and look for people that match your criteria.

You can also ask your current clients, or maybe ask them to forward it to their colleagues.

Step 3: Start from your current audience

If you already have clients, start observing them. Identify key information such as demographics, geography, the job they actually do, how they use your product or service, etc.

A good way to do it is by checking your CRM or customer support systems and start recording the info you find. Make sure you register this info on a spreadsheet.

Step 4: Run interviews

Of course, don't forget to run interviews. Among all the tools, this is the one I prefer.

You can sit with the person, and go more in-depth if something is not clear. And the biggest advantage is that the interview will be filled with personal stories and anecdotes.

This will help you have an even better understanding and give context to the info you gather.

Step 5: Analyze social media

Another very good way to gain insights about your audience is by checking the social profiles of some of your customers or potential ones.

Read what they post, what type of content they like, and what topics they are more interested in. This will provide you with a deeper knowledge of what things you should be focusing on when talking to your audience.

Step 6: Identify shared characteristics

Run the customer research for at least one month and when you have enough data, start connecting the dots. The cool thing about customer research is that as soon as you have some data, you can start noticing patterns.

You will observe that your audience has something in common. Maybe they share the same interest, or they have the same struggles.

This is the key result of customer research: finding similarities and use them to build a persona.

How to apply the info you gather?

Awesome, now you have a lot of data about your audience. You know what they like, what they struggle with, what they wish they had to solve their problems.

So, how do you make use of this data? The most amazing thing about customer research is that it gives you such a good overview of your audience, that you can really optimize all your processes.

As a business developer, you can use this data in different contexts and make sure you reach out to the right people, at the right time, on the right channels:

  • Sales: use the info to write better calling scripts, create your own objection-handling playbook, and write better emails. It all works towards closing more deals
  • Marketing: use the info to identify the channels where your audience is more likely to be. Then use it to write hyper-targeted content, create a better social media strategy, write the copy of your ads, create more compelling value propositions
  • Product development: use the info to identify gaps in the market and build new products. You can also use it to extend your range or maybe improve existing products
  • Market entry: use this info to adapt your offer to the new market. You can also end up finding out you have to change everything completely, and that’s ok! As long as it’s what your customers want.

One last word

To sum up, customer research is a great tool for any ambitious company. It helps unveil opportunities, be very customer-centric and eventually get more clients. Customer research allows you to create products people want to buy and ultimately, to consistently grow your company.

What seems useless, endless research is actually the foundation for success. Miss it, and you’ll struggle. At some point.

To make it easier for you to navigate business development, we created The BD School:

The first platform is entirely dedicated to business development.

Our mission is to help ambitious BD pros and companies acquire the skills they need to be successful in their job.

If you’re looking for a complete course to help you advance your career, check out our Business Development Course.

And if you manage a business development team and need help making them more effective, visit our tailored business development training.

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