What’s Customer Data Good For?

Let me take a step back and build a case for analyzing customer data.

The political bickering inevitable at this time of year reminds us there are few easy solutions in life, business, wherever. What’s important to one person is not to another. What one perceives as the solution, another perceives as the problem. Individuals must decide for themselves, based on their own personal situations — their knowledge of their own personal customer data if you will.

There are examples of this universal truth in the most mundane aspects of everyday life. John lost 50 pounds on the Atkins diet with hardly any effort. He thinks it would work for Joe, too. Similar builds, similar habits, similar size. But will Joe blindly take John’s advice? No. Joe is a vegetarian and has to evaluate his diet options based on his individual situation.

Sue found true happiness by downsizing, which included a pay cut. Her blood pressure is at an all-time low, and she is certain it’ll work for Pam. Will Pam blindly quit her job? No. Pam has three kids, while Sue has none. Pam has to evaluate for herself whether the approach is suitable in her situation.

For some reason, business decisions don’t always get made with the same discernment. It’s so easy to go along with the crowd. What worked for one company will surely work for us, right? It sounds like a good idea; we should try it, right? Of course the marketing VP always knows what our customers want and the CEO knows exactly how our new product should be priced. They seem so sure, so why should we question them?

If you’re reading this column, you’re probably engaged in online business activities of some kind and interested in furthering your knowledge of the industry’s issues. Good for you! After all, you can’t operate in a void. You turn to others for ideas and advice: articles, columns, conferences, colleagues. Advice and ideas can be found almost anywhere.

These pieces of advice and ideas are so critical because change is the only constant in the evolving online marketplace. Search engine marketing (SEM) today looks nothing like SEM five years ago. OK, two years ago. Seven years ago it wasn’t that hard to get somebody to link to your Web site for free. The players and methods have changed, and we all have more work on our plates than we can possibly hope to accomplish.

All things considered, it’s natural we relying heavily on ideas and input from others to help us optimize our business efforts.

How do we make heads or tails of these (sometimes conflicting) bits of advice, the deluge of ideas? That, my colleagues, is where you earn your paycheck. You have to use your own judgment and your own knowledge of your business to figure out the right path. Nobody can hand you a magic formula for running your business. If you’re looking for one, you’re wasting your time.

The formula for success — though there’s nothing magic about it — is found within your customer data. You need to get back to that data… and to your customers. That’s where you’ll discover the subtle nuances that make your business different from your competitor’s. Your smartest colleague may swear her idea has worked numerous times before at other companies, but don’t be tempted to take her word for it.

At the end of the day, you have to know your own business. Draw your own conclusions. Reading columns and articles, attending conferences, and studying industry research are tools to help you stay on top of the game. But they’re not solutions by themselves. And the person who speaks the loudest at the meeting is not always the most knowledgeable.

It’s hard to navigate the decision-making process when you’re overwhelmed with conflicting advice and ideas. Rely on your data and on input from your own customers. You’ll start from a position of strength.

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