Let’s face it… in today’s digital era information means profits, especially when it comes directly from customers. But why aren’t marketers leveraging it like they should?

Not all (but many) organizations make the mistake of not listening closely to their customers. A study by Yesmail Interactive found that 80 percent of consumer-facing companies don’t understand their customers beyond basic demographics and purchase history.

No one should even lift a finger until substantial customer intelligence is gathered and considered, especially since customer intelligence can be found online for FREE!

Let’s take it one step back for those who still haven’t grasped this claim. According to Techopedia, Customer Intelligence is “broadly defined as an effort to collect and analyze data about customer behavior. Businesses and organizations use customer intelligence resources and methodologies to understand what customers are doing – and why.”

To succeed in today’s interconnected world, marketers need constant feedback from their customers regarding their brand and products. Thanks to today’s social media sites, it has never been easier for organizations to connect with their customer base, see them in a whole new light, and gather really good insights to bring in the cash!

In recent years, social media has become a preferred source to identify and predict customer behavior. Yet a recent study of nearly 800 marketers at Fortune 1000 companies found that they still rely too much on intuition. On average, only 11% of marketers depend on data for all customer-related decisions, according to recent statistics.

That’s a shame!

The good news for marketers is that getting valuable information from social media is free. And fortunately, there are vast amounts of data and countless tools to analyze and measure it. With the combined power coming of data and tools, marketers can better understand their customers and where competitors fit in the pie. For that reason, clearCi came up with five easy ways marketers can get customer intelligence:

1) Monitor customer comments and behaviors in real-time

With products and services always changing, it can be challenging to track relevant and timely feedback from customers across products, markets and distribution channels. Customer intelligence tools empower marketers to track things like purchase history, customer online interactions, and live browsing behavior. For instance, organizations can analyze customers’ Facebook ‘likes’ to reveal their religious beliefs, political views, product preference, age group and other important characteristics. Another way companies can gain customer intelligence is by using Facebook or LinkedIn polls to post questions about existing or upcoming products and to gather the answers for future initiatives. With Facebook polls, marketers with a large following can replace traditional surveys that pop on their website or those that are sent by email. Polls, one of the many polls apps on Facebook, allows marketers to create an ad poll for free and feature it as a tab on their profile page. Many of the other features (saving polls, a poll ad system, among others) are for premium users.

On Linkedin, polls can be done in group discussions. Analytics are not available, but the results can be seen after marketers vote themselves.

All of these activities can attract and retain customers, increase revenue and gain a competitive advantage if done consistently.

Marketers can also group customer intelligence to pinpoint success and respond rapidly to negative feedback. Social media allows real-time information to be collected as it’s taking place, unlike surveys or focus groups that take longer to conduct, collect, organize and then analyze. In the last ten years more professionals are opting out of market surveys and are moving resources to conduct more online research. According to recent statistics, online research will increase, taking 50% of the value of data collection by the year 2015.

A great example of an online tool that can be used to gather customer and competitive intelligence is Slideshare, which LinkedIn purchased in May 2012. Many companies upload presentations and webinars to this site, which reflect products, services and ideas. The best thing about Slideshare is that these presentations can be downloaded for companies to study their competitors and analyze their customers’ comments.

2) Read blogs related to your industry

If you are not already doing so, it’s not too late to start becoming familiar with industry trends caused by changing customer behaviors. Having a list of top blogs that cater to your target audience is a great way to stay informed about changes in their industry affecting the competition. For instance, Auto Observer, Autoblog, and Autopia are considered one of the best auto industry blogs. These sites usually reveal the latest news about car technology, auto companies, and the future of transportation. Similarly, Considering Convergence and Phone Mag are two reliable blogs in the telecommunications industry. Many of these industry specific blogs are written by experts in their respective fields, including competitors with customers leaving behind comments everywhere. So why not keep an eye on all of it?

Finding industry-related blogs and forums helps marketers locate terms or phrases that ensure marketing campaign effectiveness. You can also use these blogs and forums to gauge what’s working and what’s not; something all marketers should detect sooner than later.

3) Track reviews and online discussions

It’s important to develop targeted communication strategies that guarantee brand preference and loyalty. Customer-centric organizations zoom in on what customers are saying about their brand to identify issues that are impacting their market position. In monitoring discussions, the objective is to find ways to communicate value and solve customer problems better than the competition. It may not be so easy, but it’s not impossible either.

Today, customers access different websites offering reviews or discussions about a wide range of products or services. With active reviews from social media commentary, it’s easy for customers to make more educated purchase decisions. Quora, for example, is a great site to see some of the questions, concerns and understanding individuals have about your company. Quora is a Question and Answer social media site which relies on individuals (crowdsourcing) to both create and answer questions.

Therefore, it is crucial for marketing teams to gather this customer intelligence to monitor tone, theme, and attitude toward the subjects discussed by their customers.

4) Collect Case Studies and White Papers (B2B)

Customer insight can play a vital role in helping companies understand how competitors are winning more customers.

The idea is to follow your competitor’s marketing content and find cues on who their customers are, and what exactly they like about their vendor of choice. Customer intelligence fuels better marketing communications, product development, strategic plans and service operations. This type of customer intelligence can also be used to help companies know how competitors are engaging with their customers and how customers are responding to their efforts. You will also have some insight about who is doing business with your competitor, while answering whether or not you could be doing a better job to service their needs.

5) Study Trends by Following Keywords on Twitter

It has been long suggested that different social platforms work for different sectors. It seems that for B2C organizations, the most valuable social media platforms are Facebook and Twitter. Both platforms allow consumers to share information about their experience, consumer habits, likes and dislikes, which can contribute to marketing efforts.

For B2B organizations, professional-oriented sites like LinkedIn offer a more in-depth customer intelligence about products or services. Twitter, on the other hand, is a great way to see what topics are trending as well as find cues in strategic partnerships, rising companies, and the customers raving about your competitors. Marketers can research industry keyworks, look at the handles of the people using your industry’s hashtags and see what they’re saying and who is engaged. Twitter is also great to see who your competitors are following and who is following your competitors. Positive comments are good, but take note of the negative ones as well.

Listening to what your customers, competitors, critics, and supporters are saying about you is key to creating better marketing campaigns. The key is to gather customer intelligence, stay organized, and stay focused. Look at who is a thought leader and who simply is stating their opinion. Both offer important bits of information depending on the types of insight impacting your business.