farmers mktI had coffee a few weeks ago with an investor. One of his portfolio companies is having some growth problems and he’s been thinking that maybe they need to spend money on marketing help. The company is a farm-to-market retail store in a somewhat obscure location without much customer foot traffic. Because the company is small, can’t rely on foot traffic, and has limited resources, the investor and I talked about some easy, inexpensive ways that the company could learn about their customers for free before investing in marketing.

Knowing about your customers is critical because the more you know about them, the more you can tailor your marketing tactics to fit their needs. For example, if you know that people are primarily coming to your store when they’re preparing a special occasion meal, your marketing activities and messaging would be different than if customers were doing their regular, weekly food shopping with you.

Since the store’s staff interacts with the customers all day long, there is some basic research that the team can easily incorporate into their regular operations. For example, it’s easy enough for the cashier to ask people as they checkout how they heard about the company (WHY: helps identify traffic sources). It’s also easy and non-obtrusive to casually ask if this is the customer’s first visit (WHY: helps establish repeat rate). And if they are a repeat customers then by all means, ask them why they came back (WHY: helps establish your point of difference)!

Rough demographic information can also be gathered either by an intern/minimum wage worker standing near the entrance. They can make notes on:

  • Gender of the shopper
  • Approximate age of the shopper
  • If the shopper has children with him/her
  • Approximate ages of the children
  • Number of filled shopping bags on exit
  • What they purchased (more complicated)
  • Shop in the late afternoon/evening dressed like they’ve come from work

How to use the information gathered:

If You Know This                                                                                                   

Then You Can Do This

1. Who are your best customers Target specific groups of people instead of “everyone
2. Why people are returning Establish the unmet need/niche you fill and why you’re special so that you can write better messaging and create better tactics
3. How people are finding you Figure out ways to amplify what’s happening organically

B2B companies can also try to leverage their sales reps in a similar way.  Sales reps spend a lot of their time interacting with customers, so there is a lot of customer information that they can gather. Even if it is something as basic as asking every new customer why they decided to buy/work with your company can help build stronger tactics. This is something I strongly urge all of my B2B clients to not only ask but, just as important, to write it down.

While one or two answers aren’t useful, over time you’ll gather statistically significant information for free regarding why customers choose to work with you.