March 12

8 Questions to Steer Your Marketing Priorities

Marketing Strategy


You could be racing the finest Formula One car, but if you’re always steering in the wrong direction, even a horse and buggy will beat you to the finish line.

So it is with marketing.

Too many marketers think they can lead the pack by leveraging the hottest channels, software, and platforms. But these tools, like race cars, are only effective when they’re moving in the right direction.

Steer Toward Your Customers

Marketing optimization demands that you know where to find your customers – that you know what they value, where they’re looking, and how they want to buy. Fortunately, finding that out is surprisingly easy, says Kristin Zhivago, President, Zhivago Management Partners, a business-growth consultancy.

She says it requires nothing more than speaking with seven to 10 customers. Pick up the phone and ask them:

  • How do you feel about our products and services?
  • Are our prices fair?
  • What was your buying process?
  • What is your biggest problem/challenge?
  • What trends do you see in our/your market?
  • If you were CEO of our company tomorrow, what would you fix?
  • What did you type into Google when you first started searching?
  • Anything else I should have asked?

You need to use the phone, Zhivago says. You should not ask customers these questions on a social network, on a survey, or during a focus group. You should ask during a one-on-one phone interview.

She says that people do not speak openly, even in surveys, for fear of their words coming back to bite them. People are more relaxed and open when talking on the phone in their normal environments, she says.

“I’ve had marketers ask me after I’ve given a presentation, ‘Is there any way I can do this customer stuff without talking to customers?’” she laughs. “If you are selling to people, give them the respect of finding out what they want and how they want to buy it.”

Find and focus on priorities

Zhivago has successfully used this approach across hundreds of organizations, large and small, she says. The purpose is to clarify:

  • What customers value about your products and services
  • How they make purchasing decisions
  • How they move through the buying process

The goal is to not spend a dime on any marketing or sales activity that doesn’t reach customers where they are looking for, expecting or wanting to purchase your products.

A Simple Reality Check

After realizing that the leadership at many companies was out of touch, Zhivago started routinely interviewing her clients’ customers.

 “I started something called a ‘reality check’ where I said to them, ‘Look just give me some time, some names, and let me talk to folks and see what they really think,’” she says.

The idea proved so successful that Zhivago began refusing to work with clients unless she could interview their customers first.

“I knew what they were giving me and what the customer really wanted was going to be very different.”

Be the Champion

If you ask your customers these questions, trends will likely emerge by the fifth or seventh interview. It is rarely worth conducting more than 12 interviews with any given type of customer, Zhivago says. Once you compile the results, the data will put you in the driver’s seat next time you’re meeting with the C-suite.

Zhivago insists that corporate leadership is captivated by customer-centric data. She’s witnessed too many meetings, she says, where marketers get drowned out by a sales leader’s anecdote about a recent call with a customer.

“In those kinds of discussion, the sales leader typically emerges the winner,” she says, “unless Marketing has the research from real conversations with customers in its back pocket. When marketers hear directly from customers about what they want and how they want it, they have the power to stand toe-to-toe with a salesperson and win the support of the CEO. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times.”

She’s also witnessed how this information has supported sales leaders who have come to the conference room table again and again with a customer issue that the C-level dismisses. Through the customer interviews, marketers are able to support the sales leaders and convince leadership to take action. So this method can be used both to refute single-customer, anecdotal information (which can be misleading), and to reinforce the valid, multiple-customer observations of the sales force.

Have you ever spoken directly with customers to inform your marketing efforts? If so, what questions did you ask and what results did you get? If not, what held you back? Let us know in the comments …

Related Resources:

Lead Qualification: Stop generating leads and start generating revenue

5 dials to tune in your lead generation process

A New Chapter for the B2B Lead Blog

Gartner Research: Boost Your Growth From Existing Customers

How to Use Conversational Marketing to Get More Leads

About the author 

Brian Carroll

Brian Carroll is the CEO and founder of markempa, helping companies to convert more customers with empathy-based marketing.

He is the author of the bestseller, Lead Generation for the Complex Sale and founded B2B Lead Roundtable LinkedIn Group with 20,301+ members.

  1. Very good incite. Knowing what the customer wants is the best way to serve them. The marketing world is getting bigger and it is all through computers. Because of this we need to make sure we know what the customer likes and wants and deliver.

  2. I like Kristin’s point. It is important to know what customers want in order to serve them better. Businesses often take this for granted when this is one thing should be always valued.

  3. Kristin Zhivago’s point is quite a challenge in this age of social networks and online surveys. But she is actually correct that reaching out to our clients personally is still the right way to go. In our company, together with our technology partner ExactTarget, have combined the latest market optimization tools to pave the way to the right direction, like knowing specific data and trends about a particular customer. Being equipped with this knowledge has made it easier to talk to the clients personally to steer us to ask the right questions and get the answers we need. (Editor’s Note: This link takes you to a third-party site that requires your information before a case study is emailed to you.)

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