The Eye of the Beholder

  |  September 30, 2010   |  Comments

Tune out the voices in your head and tune in to your customer's voice to find out their needs.

I know right where the Buy Now button should be. So do you. So does the CMO. Unfortunately, we don't agree.

I have studied online marketing since 1993 and have some very strong opinions about why some things work and some do not. You have studied graphic design and understand how the human mind works. The the CMO. None of us, however, is a customer.

Our customers don't live where we live, eat what we eat, or feel what we feel. They don't know what we know. Your customers are not in your marketing department or the CEO's office.

If you think you're doing your customers and prospects a favor by building your website to work the way you think best, think again. If your design decisions are made in passing by senior executives ("I know - a 'Tweet This' button!"), then the problem may be beyond help.

What's a marketer to do? Get out the Q-tips, the sorting bin, and the confessional.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Cleaning out your ears is an act of contrition. You admit that you've been listening to the voices in your head and you make a conscious effort to tune into the voice of your customer.

Survey them with ForeSee Results, iPerceptions, or even SurveyMonkey. Search for their comments on Twitter and Facebook. Pick up the telephone (remember the telephone?) and call them. You can learn more in a handful of five-minute phone calls with customers than you can with a stack of surveys.

Kristin Zhivago has made a career out of talking to your customers for you. With in-depth, conversational interviews, Kristin draws them out and learns things they wouldn't tell you or your salespeople...just because they're polite. She spends an hour on the phone with each customer asking about how they feel. After only a dozen interviews, she can pinpoint what people want from you, why they buy from you, and where you are actively sabotaging your own sales.

One of These Things Is Not Like the Others

Once you've got the big picture of how your view of the world is stopping you from helping your customers, it's time to narrow down the field. Everybody is not the same. You cannot assume that they will all like A better than B or this color over that color. One-to-one marketing is a wonderful idea and some of us have the luxury of time, money, and technology to indulge. For the rest of us, it's time to engage in some serious segmentation.

Start by segmenting your customers into broad categories. Over time, you'll become more adept at finding the common attributes that indicate interest and propensity to buy. Eventually, they will feel that you're hitting the nail on the head, catering to their every need, and understanding their unique situation.

Embrace Being Wrong

Every cutting edge Web analytics practitioner I speak with says the same thing: "I am wrong more often than I am right." They always smile when they say that.

Whether they're immersed in A/B testing or running their whole online marketing program as a giant multivariate test, they like to guess which color, size, layout, text, call to action, etc. is going to be the most attractive, engaging, and conversion-making. They're no longer surprised to find that they're wrong.

"I'm a 52 year old, college educated white guy with a background in systems engineering," says one. "I've been a freelance marketing geek for five years since I stopped designing skateboards," says another. "I'm a Web business analyst and have been my whole career - all three years of it," says another. And then they all say, "But none of our customers know what I know or grew up where I did or read the books I read."

Stop what you're doing
Look for ways to remove your bias from your process
Listen to your customers. Their opinion is much more valuable than yours.

And move that Buy Now button a little more to the right.

Thank you.

Jim is off today. This column was originally published on July 22, 2010 on ClickZ.

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Jim Sterne

Jim Sterne is an international consultant focused on measuring the value of the online marketing for creating and strengthening customer relationships. Sterne has written eight books on using the Internet for marketing, produces the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit and is co-founder and current chairman of the Digital Analytics Association.

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