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Change is a natural part of any business that happens in response to customer behavior. When those behaviors shift quickly, you need solid strategies to ensure that your company achieves positive growth.
Ways to get information about your customers
No matter what might be going on in your industry or the world, these three methods can consistently provide information about what customers are doing.
1. Listen and read
Today’s professionals have all kinds of tools they can use for marketing research. However, some of these options might not be within reach — or even practical — for smaller companies because of infrastructure, cost or other hurdles. The next best option is to listen and read.
What you consume in terms of articles, books, reports, podcasts, live streams and even press releases will depend to a large extent on your industry. But these sources can give important information about what’s happening in local communities, how people are thinking and how to prioritize goals or needs.
The key here is that you cannot be passive when you listen or read. There’s an enormous amount of other content that’s going to fight for your attention. You need to be intentional, sit down with purpose and know ahead of time what kind of data you’re looking for. If you have clear questions to answer, it’s easier to choose sources wisely, cancel the distracting noise, and get real insights.
2. Flip your role
Even though you’re a business leader, you’re still a buyer, too. Switch hats for a moment and think about what you’ve been doing personally — not just with products or services in your area, but overall. Are you looking for more convenient ways of approaching things because you’re tired, for example? That self-inquiry can give you an empathetic perspective and get you thinking about what’s motivated you to change your own habits. Then, look at your customers. Do you see them doing or saying the same things you are? What would they likely do or appreciate from your company, and how would you feel in their situation? From there, you can take that information and act accordingly.
3. Engage directly with your customers
Nobody gives customer insights like customers themselves. Talking directly with the people buying from you will show you how accurate your assumptions about them are. The trick is to make sure that you use simple but specific open-ended questions when you interact with them. Open-ended questions let your customers respond in ways you might not expect and dive deeper into their issues in more personal ways. They also give you more information that makes it easier to respond to each customer as a genuine individual — allowing you to build trust in your relationship.
Keep in mind here that the way you talk to your customers will be different depending on the niche demographic and your setting. Younger buyers (e.g., Gen Z) might be fine talking with you over text, for example, whereas older buyers might want face-to-face meetings. Additionally, if you use technology, make sure that it’s personalized and interactive. Social media, in particular, is especially good for getting real-time feedback and conversation.
Related: How the Crisis is Changing Consumer Behavior, and How Entrepreneurs Can Act on It
Taking action after you learn
Once you’ve got some answers from these strategies, you still have to ask yourself a number of questions to make decisions from the data:
- How quickly are customer behaviors shifting?
- How likely is it that different scenarios you’ve identified are actually going to happen?
- How long will the changes last?
- How do the changes in customer behavior influence your business?
Generally, if customer behavior is changing quickly, you don’t want to lag in your response — you need to act quickly, as well. If you wait too long, buyers might see you as unprepared, and competitors can get out ahead of you. Similarly, if those changes aren’t going to shift much at your company or are fleeting, then it’s probably not worthwhile to change your business model in big ways.
Based on the information you get, there are a lot of pathways to growth. For example, you can modify or scale what you’ve already got available, or you can innovate and come up with something fresh to address completely new markets. Additionally, you can consider options like price skimming, partnerships, or even acquiring other businesses.
Related: 5 Small Business Strategies to Recover, Rebuild and Be Ready
Even with changes in behavior, controlling growth is possible
Customers are incredibly dynamic in terms of what they do and think. Thus, good business requires you to be mindful of shifts in buyer behavior — as that’s what allows you to meet customers where they are and deliver competitively based on current needs. Listening/reading, putting yourself in your customer’s shoes, and getting feedback directly from your base are all reliable ways to assess behavior and chart a path forward. Be as receptive as you can and analyze quickly to make sure that your growth exceeds expectations.
Related: The ‘Why Before You Buy’ Is Key to Connecting With Customers