How-To: Know Your Customers

To better understand the needs of your customers (including prospects)…

  1. Research Continually – both quantitative and qualitative
  2. Develop Segments and Personas – Organize and profile your customers based meaningful differences in the way they make buying decisions.


Be Balanced: Insights from data will get you most of the way there… but don’t overlook old-school qualitative research and observations. Interviews and focus groups will help you tease out subtle insights and really get inside your customers heads.

Still, let’s start with data…
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  1. Website Data

    At a minimum, you should analyze data from your Web analytics system.

    • Bounce-rate and time-on-site metrics will help you understand how well your site and landing pages meet the needs of your customers
    • Visitor flow data will help you understand which buying phase visitors are in, what content formats are most popular what content is most effective at the different stages of their buying process
  2. Channel Data

    BtoB Research for B2B Marketing Customer Experience

    • Search data allows you to identify the top keywords and keyphrases that each persona is using to search in each phase
      • Google’s keyword suggest tool will help you better understand how customers describe their problem
      • Advanced SEO Tools can help you understand the long tail keywords that customers are using to search for solutions to the questions/problems they are trying to solve in each phase.
    • Email, display and social media front-end metrics (clicks, impressions, views) allows you to test messaging and content, identify sentiment, and begin segmenting your users based on interests and roles.
      • Data from display and email programs will give you insights on which topics or messages are is resonating.
      • Data from social media listening tools will give you insights on customer sentiment – conversations happening online about the problems your customers are trying to solve, the approaches to solving these problems and the specific offerings from you and your competitors.
      • Data on the degree to which your customers are sharing your content in their social networks will give you insights on how well your content is resonating.
  3. Look-Back Data

    You can collect data in a data warehouse on anonymous visitors and create profiles  mapped to an IP address and/or cookie. Then, when these visitors ‘register’ and provide more information later in their journey, you can tie the early data to known prospects or customers. You can then analyze data on site flows, content consumption, keyword research, etc. to map customer needs by persona and by phase. This “look-back” analysis allows you to:

    • Develop personas (identify roles, behaviors and content needs)
    • Optimize your content strategy
      • Get insights on which content most resonated with different roles or personas at different phases.
    • Optimize your targeting strategy
      • Identify what phase customers are likely in based on data that signals intent such as downloading a certain content asset that historically correlates with a given phase.
  4. Testing

    Testing is a direct way to learn what’s resonating for your customers (or not). Start with simple A/B testing and move to multivariate testing when you’ve hit diminishing returns. You should continually test and refine the following:


    • Content topics
    • Content formats
    • Messaging and headlines
    • Channels or media types
    • Frequency
    • Page layout and site flow
  5. Ideally, you can test the above with groups at each phase of the buying journey.

OK, now let’s move to good ‘ol qualitative research…

  1. Current Customers
    Seems obvious, right? These folks went through a buying journey and are experiencing your offering so don’t be shy… talk to them!

    • You’ll get direct insights on people’s needs and mindset in each phase that can be tough to pick out of hard data.

    Interviewing customers one-on-one is best but you should also try conducting focus groups and surveys.

  2. 3rd-Party Material
    Review any customer research or case studies from industry analysts, industry media and even competitors. Don’t be cheap – if there’s not much out there, commission your own study.
  3. Industry Events
    Go to your next event with the main goal of understanding your customers. Use this as your lens whenever you’re talking to colleagues, customers or prospects, listening to presentations and, to a lesser extent, seeing what your competitors are up to. You’ll be surprised how valuable these events can be.
  4. Social Media
    Listen and engage with your customers on professional social networks. You’ll get a good pulse on how people are talking about you and your category. Ask direct questions and remember to always be upfront about who you are. Start with LinkedIn and see if there are industry-specific networks as well.

BtoB Research for Better B2B Marketing Customer Experience


Build the right number of personas for your situation with this rule:

  • Create a new persona only when there’s a meaningful difference in the way that a group of customers make their buying decision.

Don’t go nuts by defining personas for each job title in every customer segment.

Also, be practical… you need one persona for every group that you’re marketing to, so:

  • Limit the number of personas by how many different strategies you can realistically manage.

Forrester defines personas as: “The aggregation of individual customer characteristics and preferences into a unified archetype… a proven way to inform the design of user experiences.”
Forrester BtoB Data for Better B2B Marketing Data Management

Meaningful Insights

Stay focused on what really matters. Make sure you understand these salient items for each persona:

  • Their primary responsibility in their company.
  • Their connections to colleagues and superiors.
  • How they measure success.
  • Any obstacles between them and your company.
  • Their approach or process to the company buying journey.
  • Their role and decision criteria in evaluating solutions and vendors.

Resources on Personas: