If you work on a marketing team tasked with capturing buyer attention and improving lead quality, then the idea of listening to customers should not be an alien concept.

Taking a journalistic approach to demand gen and content creation, I've spent the better part of my career to find out why people do what they do, where they get stuck, and how buyers and sellers connect to solve problems.

That behavioral element of what triggers a purchase in a business, along with why and how people move toward the purchase decision—or don't—really fascinates me. Most fascinating of all is that companies rarely seek direct input, at high volumes, from the smartest people on the planet on the subject of purchasing behavior and customer experience: current, happy customers... and former, not-so-happy, customers.

And so, I'd like to share an approach to tapping into the voice of the customer.

I interview people who buy products—and those who've stopped buying them—as well as the people who make or sell them. I'm going to show you why I do it, how I do it, and how you can do it to be a better marketer.

Nobody knows more about the value or broken promises of products or services than the people who buy them. Those buyers, along with unconverted prospects, also have a keen sense of where the buying process bogged down or derailed a purchase. In addition, they know where and how they prefer to consume information and what information helps the most at any given point in their journey from curious to customer.

With the help of a few former colleagues, I have honed a process around gathering that information. My clients and I use that process to create buyer-centered campaigns.

Here's what we do and what you need to do it, too, as well as what outcomes you can expect.

Voice of the Customer Starter Kit

1. Secure a list of the happy customers and the haters

This step is vital. We need the people who bought to tell us the details—the how, the why, the when... and what they needed to gain purchase approval.

Happy customers will usually respond without an incentive. Haters, prospects, or people who don't know you or your company will probably require an incentive (think gift card), and you'll need a longer time frame to capture enough completed surveys.

While you work the phones, you should also be sidling up to your sales team and mining your CRM for closed/lost reports and any lost customers. When I do surveying for clients, I shoot for 100 completed surveys. That usually takes 10 days to a month, depending on the audience I'm trying to reach.

2. Create a script that asks a mix of open-ended and multiple-choice questions

That does not mean asking, "Do you like us/our product/our messaging?" or Net Promoter-style questions. Instead, the questions should refer to purchases and preferences, such as the following (and about 10 more along the same lines):

  • Who was on your buying committee and who had to be consulted during the purchase?
  • How did you start the consideration phase of the purchase?
  • Where did you go to capture information, online and offline?
  • What kind of information helped you the most?
  • Which marketing/info-gathering channel was the best for you during that process?

3. Get a telephone, a SurveyMonkey account, or a scalable calling operation to gain actionable intelligence from larger sample sizes

You can do this—call or email—to find out what you need to learn to discover how, why, where, and when people buy your stuff.

4. Have a big bag of patience

My experience is that the process takes a while (about 4-6 weeks, end to end). But if I do research on known buyers before I try to reach unconfirmed audiences with unknown needs, then the campaigns I run outperform previous campaigns in engagement metrics by as much as twofold. That usually means...

  • Higher click-to-open rates
  • Higher lead scores, faster
  • Faster funnel progression
  • More Marketing-qualified leads (MQLs)
  • More Sales-qualified leads (SQLs)
  • More closed/won deals

In the case of one client, the research-fueled campaigns shortened a sales cycle from 16 months to 6 months compared with a holdout group of un-nurtured contacts.

If you ask your customers how their purchase process really goes and who else needs to be convinced, your campaigns will perform better.

5. Find people who like data-crunching and picking fights

You'll also need a couple of people to help you compile the data and challenge your thinking on what those responses mean and what you can do with them.

Smart people who call BS or lazy logic when they see it are vital to using the data you've just captured. Don't go it alone! (And, if you need a sample, I can share recent outputs of that kind of research.)

The Result of Listening to Customers

Satisfied customers will share their opinions on anything you need to do your job better and be less annoying to others. They also really appreciate the post-sale, consultative connection—i.e., knowing you want not just their money but also their opinions.

By asking question about where people most engaged throughout the sales cycle, you can learn which channels are most likely to work and which won't drive customer or prospect experience improvements.

That helped one client discover that email marketing would be a black hole for outreach, but that using the phone to discuss live events, one-to-one Web events, and demos were home runs. He slowed his roll on a particularly lengthy and costly marketing automation purchase and implementation, and instead closed more deals by going all-in on events and demos.

A B2B Voice of the Customer Script/Survey You Can Use

Here's a script template with sample questions, but tweak it to make it your own; mine may not work for your customers. Be less verbose, keeping your script to 10-15 questions—and even fewer for people who don't like your company any more or don't know all that much about it.

Bust the phones yourself for a couple of weeks. Talk to customers. Hear their stories. Compile the answers. There's gold in them-thar hills! And if you that's too big a step now, or if you want to open it up to prospects in forums or relevant LinkedIn Groups, create a little skunkworks survey on SurveyMonkey. And entice your customers with a $5 coffee card or a free company-branded thingamajiggy. You will reap the rewards of building a customer-driven nurture-outreach strategy and a martech stack that delivers leads that close.

Reach out if I can help. I love the excavation process and making productive campaigns in the footsteps of successful purchasers. You'll love it, too.

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How to Use Voice of the Customer in B2B to Improve CX and Increase Engagement

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image of Mark A. Evertz

Mark A. Evertz the marketing adviser and director of client demand generation services at Televerde, a global sales and marketing solutions provider. Reach him directly via email.

LinkedIn: Mark Evertz

Twitter: @MarkAEvertz