At the heart of marketing and marketing strategies is the need for a fundamental understanding of customers. Some companies describe this as customer insight and allocate the job of insight to the market research department. However, at a general level, the ability to learn about customers comes through all channels of communication, not just research, whether that is sales teams, customer service, website analytics, social networks, test marketing or through survey research.
Customer knowledge is that collection of information and insight that your business has built up over time, or could gather to use to leverage successful customer relationships and provide the products, service and engagement that those customers need.
This customer knowledge is more than market research, market intelligence, CRM, website monitoring or social media as you have customer knowledge in the heads of your sales or customer services people, in the data in your accounting systems, from your web-site and it may even be something that customers want to provide to you themselves via social networks or commenting or feedback systems. Systematically organising, monitoring and analysing this data keeps the business focused on customer needs and wants and provides a rounded market view.
Many people when they think of customer knowledge think about consumers and vast databases of consumer information that can now be collected online - so called Big Data. But in some cases customer knowledge is more important in business-to-business markets where longstanding business relationships are in play at personal and direct levels and where the data and information about the customer is richer and multifaceted.
Typically much customer knowledge is distributed around an organisation in a fragmented way. Some will be in market research, some on databases, some in the heads of sales and customer service staff, some on accounts or IT systems.
To be systematic about the business needs to think about:
- Collection of customer knowledge
- Structuring and storing customer knowledge
- Analysis of customer knowledge
- Dissemination of customer knowledge
The aim of collecting, sharing and analysing customer knowledge is to help your business build sustainable business relationships with your customers, focusing on the customers needs and wants for each customer individually, and for all customers together. For consumer markets, the vast amounts of data available from online sources usually leaves customer knowledge at the level statistical relationships which can be complicated and timeconsuming to disentangle. An alternative is to use techniques like experimentation and algorithmic marketing to focus on individual experiences by testing and refining and in linking different sources of data to get to a single-customer-view (SCV). Can you link website visiting to in-store purchase, or customer service contact?
For B2B marketing where customer knowledge is richers, this means that information is needed from the front desk to the furthest back office, for a micro customer-by-customer view up to a macro market view. Not only that, but information comes in through each level of the organisation from the account manager to the accounts clerk. Being able to share and deliver on your customer needs, whoever the customer asks is what will make your business stand out from the crowd.
Thus in a business-to-business environment, customer knowledge is much more direct and personal than for consumer markets. Knowledge is typically soft data, rather than hard numbers and where the business relies on long-term high-value relationships with customers based on building a shared future together (for more details see our comparison of B2B and consumer markets).
The holistic view of all sources of customer data is extremely important to understand strengths and weaknesses of each type of data and to ensure the business is operating with the most relevant view of the customer. In addition there also needs to be a helicopter view to understand bigger trends and issues and to group customers according to need or pattern so allowing segmentation and efficiencies of scale.
Since there are relationships between the different views of the customer, it's important that they are taken together and that someone takes responsibility for ensuring that the data is used and shared. A survey may be able to explain a particular behaviour on a web-site, which in turn may shed light on where a marketing or sales team is being most effective. If the areas aren't linked, then energies are too easily dissipated. In thinking and working with the level of customer data know available, it's useful to consider trying to view and understand customer journeys through the touchpoints that your business provides.
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