Think You Know Your Customers? Do Some Customer Research to Make Sure

If you want to sell more, know your customers better. Here are five ways to do it.
Successfully growing your business is impossible without understanding your customer base. Here are a few inexpensive wats to learn more about your customers.(Photo: Kzenon/Shutterstock)
Dean Levitt

Dean Levitt, founder of Teacup Analytics, suggests using Google Analytics to track traffic on your website. (Photo: Dean Levitt)

Once upon a time, small business owners knew many of their customers by name. Today, you sell too much to too many people for that — and that’s a good thing. But it also makes it harder to know and understand your customers.

You could pay a big company to help you with business analytics, and part of that analytics would include demographic, economic, geographic and even psychographic information on the people who shop with you. But you don’t necessarily have to go that far.

Here are a few inexpensive ways to learn more about your customers and how to grow your business.

Set up Google Analytics

Google Analytics, a Web service that tracks and reports traffic, is an easy way to collect data on your website’s visitors for free. You can learn about where your Web traffic is coming from, the average age of your users, where they live, how long they stay on your site and much more.

“The real value is in the way Google Analytics can uncover opportunities for growth and areas that need improvement,” said Dean Levitt, founder of Teacup Analytics, which provides a library of data reports for small businesses.

“By focusing on high-quality channels to grow or low-quality channels to improve and optimize, any actions the business then takes are efficiently focused and often directly tied to the bottom line.” “Channels” describes where you traffic comes from; they include paid search, organic search, social media and email. “For example, when a traffic channel is performing well, by growing it, the business is adding new customers to an already strong sales funnel.”

By learning which specific pages on your site are performing well, you also gather insight into what your customers rely on your site for.

Bryan Clayton

Using the U.S. Census is an easy way to collect data about your customer base, according to Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal. (Photo: Bryan Clayton)

Use the census

Since 1790, the United States Census has surveyed every American citizen and published its findings. Small business owners can take advantage of this data for free to learn about their local customer base.

Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal (“the Uber for lawn care”), has leveraged census data to develop marketing strategies.

“We ran pay-per-click AdWords campaign with one ad targeting the entire metro Nashville area. The headline read ‘Local Lawn Pros in Nashville are a click away,’ and I thought the performance

of the ad was good.” But he wanted to make it better, so he looked at the census data on East Nashville to learn more about customers in that area.

“We found that East Nashville, an up-and-coming neighborhood, was populated with more working-class people and a creative class demographic. We hypothesized that this customer segment would be price sensitive but would not want to cut their own lawns. So we segmented those zip codes and ran a specific ad for them, with a headline ‘The Cheapest Lawn Mowing in Nashville. Lawn mowing from $20.’”

The result was a 200 percent boost in the click-through rate and a 30 percent increase in conversion from reader to buyer.

Read reviews of your business

Michael Lai

“Reading negative reviews can be an invaluable tool to improve your products and services and clarify and improve marketing.” -Michael Lai (Photo: Michael Lai)

Online reviews provide more than just feedback. They also provide useful data about your most passionate customers.

“Reviews not only provide information on who your customers are, but also give direct feedback on how the business is perceived and additional opportunities for growth,” said Michael Lai, co-founder of consumer-based business reviews platform SiteJabber.

Don’t be afraid of bad reviews. “Reading negative reviews can be an invaluable tool to improve your products and services and clarify and improve marketing,” said Lai. “Negative reviews can also help you train customer service staff. Lastly, negative reviews give you a chance to retain an otherwise unhappy customer — 92 percent of customers who have had a bad experience will give a business another chance if their issues are addressed.” Sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp allow business owners to post a public response to reviews.

Popular reviews also provide an opportunity to grow your business. “Collecting reviews on a public review site is a great way to identify your strongest promoters and influencers,” said Lai. “They can help you discover that some of your biggest fans may have thousands of followers on Twitter and might be excited to tweet about your business if prompted.”

Conduct a survey

Free survey software, such as SurveyMonkey, puts this data collection tool in the reach of every small business owner. Surveys help you learn about what your customers want. They also give them a chance to provide feedback.

“Provide as many opportunities for feedback as possible,” said Stephanie Hackney, chief brander at Branding Masters, a marketing consulting firm. “Link to quick surveys in email footers, conduct quick polls on your site or through social media, and when meeting prospects and customers in person, always ask at least one question that will lead to you better understanding them and their needs.”

Hackney also advised putting a suggestion box at your brick-and-mortar location.

Conduct in-person research

The Google AdWords Keyword Planner can tell you which search terms get the most traffic. What it doesn’t tell you is user intent. The fact that “windows” gets high search volume, for instance, doesn’t mean purchasing the keyword will drive traffic to your doors and windows website. The user could be searching for something entirely different, such as “Microsoft Windows.”

Jesse Harrison, founder and CEO of Zeus Legal Funding, a legal funding company in Los Angeles, California, ultimately changed his keyword research tactic.

“When I was first marketing our firm, I was advertising for a keyword that got 1,500 searches a month. I was spending a lot of money, and yet getting no clients,” he said. He figured out that the terms were too technical for the average customer, so those hits were likely coming from competitors.

“To target the right customers, we got five iPads and hired five people to go out and collect data for us. Each person approached 100 people, handed them the iPad and asked them ‘If you needed a loan for your lawsuit, what keyword would you search for?’ We got 500 data points this way and figured out the keywords that the average person searches for. This resulted in higher revenues and less waste for our business.”

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