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Talking to a Customer

Marketing professionals too often get caught up in communicating with "markets" to remember that a market is an abstract construct. "Markets" don't buy anything -- people, that is customers, do.

It's a great exercise for marketers to occasionally talk to a real customer. Ask the sales representative in charge of the account first: in some companies, this is required, and in any case it's good practice. You'll need to assure the sales rep that you are not checking up on them; you are rahter trying to determine how well your department is doing in helping them to be more effective. No one likes someone looking over their shoulder. Everyone likes help.

Ask a customer three key questions:

- How well does our company seem to understand your problems?

- What do we do really well?

- Where could we improve?

The purpose of the first question is to determine how well your marketing literature is hitting the mark, and to find out if you are really speaking your customer's language. You may be promoting feaure A of your product, when feature C is what customers really care about.

The second question is open-ended: you are trying to determine, broadly, what your company does well. This is what to promote. Your customer has just told you your value proposition -- not what you think your value proposition is, but what your customers percieve.

The third question is more focused -- you are looking for an answer specifically related to communication. How well are you getting your message out to customers? Are you advertising in the right trade magazines? Is your Web site effective? If your customers are telling you to lower your price, well -- why wouldn't they? That's mildly interesting, but not in the least helpful. Drill down to get to answers that tell you specifically how you can communicate to your customers and prospects more effectively.

It's amazing what you can learn when you connect with actual flesh-and-blood customers, rather than thinking in terms of abstract markets.


Terms: customer communications, Web site marketing, market research

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