By 2020, companies will primarily be competing on the basis of customer experience. (Walker Study). This means customers will choose to work with companies that offer the best experience and value. In fact, a CEI study found that 86% of customers will pay more for a better customer experience. But in order to meet your customer’s rising expectations – you have to have a deep understanding of your customer.

Technology is Not the Magic Pill

In the race to survive, succeed, and stay relevant, brands and businesses are becoming more focused on integrating digital technologies across all facets of their operations, including customer service, sales and marketing. But with so much focus on delivering mobile-first, self-serving, digitally-driven experiences, many companies have lost sight of what matters most — the customer!

Technology is powerful but it can’t do everything. Sometimes businesses forget that. They become so dependent on tech tools that they tend to forget that they are ultimately dealing with real people. For example, today companies are increasingly using chatbots to assist visitors on a website. But we have a long way to go before AI-driven virtual assistants can even master the art of casual conversation, let alone solve all of your customers’ problems.

It’s Expensive to Just “Guess” About What Customers Want

By neglecting human connection, businesses not only risk losing consumer trust but also fail to know them better, which turns out to be a costly mistake. According to Deloitte and Touche, customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable than those that are not focused on the customer. On the flipside, B2B companies waste a whopping $958 million on ineffective marketing every year.

And it’s not hard to see why.

There’s an evident gap between what buyers want and what they are being offered, as hinted by the graph below (Demand Gen B2B Buyers Survey Report). It shows that customers want B2B vendors to provide better-researched content and go easy on sales messages.

Not only that; they are practically begging to do business with companies that take time to understand them and their needs — a factor that matters the most for customers when it comes to choosing vendors.

Sales People Need to Up Their Ante

If there’s one area where the impact of knowing your customers plays out the most, it has to be sales. So it’s not difficult to imagine that in a company that doesn’t pay attention to their customers, sales would suffer. And that’s exactly what’s happening when 57% of sales reps are not meeting their quotas. In fact, as the Miller Heiman chart below shows, the percentage of sales reps that are meeting quota is declining. Of course, there are multiple reasons involved here — from changing customer demands to evolving technology to economic issues. But one thing is for certain: Knowing your customers better will only help.

Customers expect a world-class experience – from interacting on your website, to talking with a sales rep, to placing an order and paying for it. And, if the value of your product or service isn’t articulated in terms that the customer cares about, they will take their business elsewhere.

Some forward-thinking organizations have rightly figured out that in order to deliver what customers want and need, they need to align their marketing and sales teams. But the majority of companies are not operating this way, which means the one to suffer is your customer – and ultimately your bottom line.

Bring the ‘Personal Touch’ Back into Your Business

Let’s ditch the guesswork and get to know them better. Here are three ways to help you start the process.

  1. Admit that you don’t know everything about your customer
    I can’t tell you how many marketing and business strategies I’ve reviewed where customer input was completely absent. Instead, the customer was represented by a group of people across marketing or sales or product teams. Not only is this approach a big waste of time, but personal bias — such as when a dominant opinion influences the whole group — is impossible to avoid and can be a big problem.So here’s what happens. A lot of personal opinions are thrown around, and the loudest voice wins. Assumptions about the customer are made, which always leads to a lot of time, energy, and money wasted on ineffective marketing and sales campaigns. In other words, your bias as a marketer or a sales person could easily be sending you in the wrong direction.There’s only one opinion that matters: Your customer’s. Therefore, be the voice of reason and ask — “has anyone talked to a real customer about this?” If the answer is not ‘Yes’, then stop what you’re doing and talk to your customers before moving forward.
  2. Step out of your internal bubbleHow often do you meet with customers? It doesn’t matter what your role is – if you’re a CEO, business owner, marketer, salesperson, customer service, billing – whatever your function, your customers are a great source to help shed light on how your business is doing and provide ideas for improvement.But you have to ask for their feedback. And it doesn’t always have to be a big, formal engagement or survey. Send them a quick email and ask them how your company is doing and if they have any suggestions or need help. Better yet, take them to lunch or call them up and learn more about what they are trying to accomplish this year, or where they’re stuck. You may learn new ways that your company can expand its offering.
  1. Tap into the front linesThere are certain functions that interact daily with customers. Your sales team, customer service team, or billing team, for example. So when you can’t get out and talk or meet with customers, they are your next best source.The goal is to learn what’s most important to your customers and how you can serve them better. The more connected you are with your customers, the better you will be delivering highly personalized experiences — the key to repeat purchases, increased revenue, and customer loyalty. It’s a win-win.

Businesses that can keep up with their customers and deliver amazing experiences will always outpace their competitors.

A version of this article previously appeared here.

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