Thought Leadership

Customer Intelligence Sources: 28 Marketing Experts Reveal Their Single Most Effective Source for Gathering the Most Meaningful Customer Intelligence

There are a variety of sources today for gathering customer intelligence, from traditional surveys and focus groups to one-on-one conversations, social media, and more. But what sources do today’s marketers turn to to gather the most meaningful customer intelligence – data they can use to craft messaging, target the right audiences, drive sales, and create exceptional customer experiences?

To find out which sources of customer intelligence today’s marketers find most effective, we reached out to a panel of marketing experts and asked them to answer this question:

“What’s your single most effective source for gathering the most meaningful customer intelligence (and why)?”

Meet Our Panel of Marketing Professionals:

Find out what sources of customer intelligence you should be tapping into to drive marketing decision-making and by reading what our experts had to say below.


Mordecai HoltzMordecai Holtz

@mordecaiholtz

Mordecai is co-CEO of Blue Thread Marketing, a boutique digital agency based in Israel with clients that span 8 countries and customers range from startups to entire cities.

“The most meaningful source for gathering customer intelligence has been Social Media…”

In today’s hyper-digital world, social media has become a prime resource for gaining customer insight. Statistics have shown that today’s strongest customer market (millennials) spend almost 1/5 of their day on social media. With 20% of the day on social, why wouldn’t a company use this information to gather customer insights? It’s there, it’s public, it’s the secret sauce to make better business decisions. The challenge is that social insights are a bit scattered, often times confusing, and speak to many customer preferences. To better target, the data on social media, use digital listening tools and cross-platform aggregators to get a hone in on the real valuable information.

By learning the customer behaviors (time, images, content, style), brands can maximize their efforts and appeal to the strongest digital consumer. Build the database with new analytics that you’ve gathered and allow the data to inform your business decisions.

In today’s millennial mindset, ads that are pushy, strong sale point, or too brand focused, will not work. Create content that is compelling, authentic and offer a value-add (like social impact or tell a good story).

The stronger the analytics, the easier the story will be and the more successful your customer intelligence will be to drive sales.


Fiona AdlerFiona Adler

@FiAdler

Fiona Adler is a writer and serial entrepreneur with an MBA. She recently created Australia’s largest business reviews website. Currently building Actioned.com – a productivity tool for teams, while living in France with her family.

“Tools can be helpful, but often they just distract us from the basics…”

The simple art of conversation. That’s right, the very best way to get customer insights is to actually talk to customers. Real people. Some that are loyal customers, some that decided not to use your business.

Radical I know, but it’s surprising how few businesses actually have a process in place where senior people are regularly in touch with customers.

All it takes is for you to get on the phone and start calling some of your recent customers. Ask if they have a moment to give you some feedback. Then start discussing how they came to use your service, what they use it for exactly, what they like, what they don’t like, what other alternatives they would consider using, etc. You can also ask them about different ideas you have for future iterations and get their feedback on those.

After 15 minutes, you’ll have a wealth of really deep customer insights, a much better gut instinct about your customers, and you’ll also have strengthened an existing customer relationship.


Anna CroweAnna Crowe

@annaleacrowe

As the Marketing Manager at Firesnap, Anna builds every marketing campaign as a race walking athlete prepares for the Olympics; with tenacious energy, mindful preparation and a relentless pursuit of greatness. She combines design, content, and social to drive performance and foster long-term engagements. Anna loves burritos and puppies (in that order.)

“I live and breathe every morning in HubSpot…”

It’s one of the most useful tools I use to gather meaningful customer intelligence. HubSpot’s contact record allows me to view where my leads have been on the site and what forms they filled out. I can identify who my best customers are and what type of content they’ve been engaging with to help build in-depth persona profiles. I analyze my top customers once a week to pull get the most data out of their activities.


Dave RobinsonDave Robinson

@DRobDriven

Dave is founder of Driven Insights, an outsourced accounting firm. He also started a private equity firm, serving as CEO & chairman for one of its portfolio companies. Before that, Dave worked with two venture capital-backed software upstarts, both of which went public. Dave earned a BA from Dartmouth College and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

“My firm – whose mission it is to inform client decisions – serves as an outsourced accounting department for client firms…”

We routinely serve up customer intelligence using a variety of tools & technologies, but the single best source remains well-designed financial statements generated by the core accounting software package. As unsexy as it is in this age of big data, establishing a foundation of sound internal accounting practices with an eye toward customer-centric findings yields powerful data, ranging from basic customer profitability to a wide range of segmentation analysis. Depending on the end market, customer intelligence from core financial reports should be complemented with industry-specific metrics (which are sourced in many ways). But it should always start with a thoughtfully architected chart of accounts in the general ledger program coupled with a standardized set of accounting procedures that produce accurate, timely ongoing reporting.


Geoffrey ChadwickGeoffrey Chadwick

@gchadwick

Geoffrey Chadwick is the Chief Marketing Officer for FortuneBuilders.

“Facebook gives you advanced intelligence about your customers if you know how to leverage their tools…”

I would recommend uploading your customer list to Facebook’s Audience Insights. There you will receive basic information like age, gender, relationship status and education levels. The most important thing you will learn is your customers purchase behavior, other brand affinities and household income estimates. Once you have this knowledge about your customers your ability to target new customers increases and your marketing efficiencies increase.


Anubh ShahAnubh Shah

@FourMine

Anubh Shah is the Founder of Four Mine.

“Our most important source for gathering meaningful customer intelligence is…”

Our customers themselves through their behavior throughout the buying process.

Engagement ring shopping is a traditional practice that has seen little innovation in the last 2 decades. We’re revolutionizing this experience with the use of 3D printing technology and a Free Home Preview – that lets consumers try 3D-printed, realistic replicas of their favorite ring styles at home before they buy. Our highly realistic rings mimic the look, shine, luster, and sparkle of a real diamond engagement ring. Customers select from over 130 engagement ring styles on our site and receive their three favorites as replicas to preview. Then, they return to FourMine.com to customize their ring with a metal, size, and diamond from our inventory of over 120,000 conflict-free gems. During this process we are able to learn about the preferences, tastes, product choices, budget, style, and purchasing timeline of our customers. This granular data helps us to personalize our marketing and speak to the customer on a personal level. We’ve also gathered valuable data about this location and income level and are able to move forward to better target our customers.


Kevin W. SmithKevin W. Smith

Kevin W. Smith runs his own consulting firm helping the world’s most well-known financial and professional services brands meet their business challenges through effective marketing and communications. His specialty is a deep understanding of the financial services industry and the challenges of B2B and B2B2C marketing.

“It may seem simple, but my advice for clients looking for meaningful customer intelligence is to…”

Get them to interact and then just sit back and listen. I’m not talking about a focus group with marketers hiding behind a mirror, but one where consumers interact with marketers and each other.

Some of the most powerful insights I have seen come from workshops that are designed and curated to get the consumer to interact with stimuli, the brand and each other. Marketers can even be in the room when this is going on, as long as the activity is well planned and moderated. Once you get consumers talking to each other and reacting to prompts, their guard will fall and the real insights will come out, so all the marketer has to do is sit back and listen.

A facilitated group like this is not the only place you can gather great insights. As long as a marketer can be in a listening mindset, website feedback mechanisms, customer service emails and casual conversations at industry and client events all offer additional opportunities to gather insight in a less structured setting.

Listen, we will never get the right answer by just asking a head on question– consumers are too savvy for that, so we need to look for situations where we can let consumers express themselves and then we can really start learning what they need and want.


Chelsea TrautmanChelsea Trautman

@chelseatrautman

Chelsea is the PR and communications specialist at Matrix Marketing Group, a full-service marketing agency in Burlington, VT and Denver, CO. With an MA in Public Relations and Advertising from DePaul University, Chelsea is a strategic thinker with an exceptional ability to build strong client relationships and develop effective marketing solutions to meet her clients’ needs.

“At Matrix Marketing Group, we use…”

Surveys (using SurveyMonkey and Pollfish) as an affordable, effective way to gather customer intelligence. Why? Because who better to ask, than the customers themselves?

To get a true understanding of our target audience, it’s important to gather more than just data, we need to have context. We want to understand our customers’ stories and lifestyles. Surveys allow us to begin building those stories by gathering basic demographic information and pairing it with unique actions taken by respondents. All of the data comes together to provide distinctive customer insights and define trends that fuel a plan of action.


Zondra WilsonZondra Wilson

@zondrawilson

Zondra is the Founder of Blu Skin Care, LLC. ‏

“The single most effective source for gathering meaningful customer intelligence is…”

Referrals! Many times on a sales call I’ve always been too preoccupied by tracking all the information about the client that is relevant for me to close a sale, but forgot to track the referral source of the lead. Without the referral source, it’s hard to understand how I can better reach my customers because I don’t have clear data about where my existing customers are coming from.


Ravi RamkeesoonRavi Ramkeesoon

@raviramkeesoon

Ravi Ramkeesoon is the founder of FindMyFans.co, a music technology startup focused on democratization of data in the digital music industry and was a finalist at TIC Americas in Mexico. He is a graduate of the MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, earned a B.S. in Management, and studied at Harvard and St. John’s.

“The single most effective source for gathering the most meaningful customer intelligence is…”

Data aggregated from social media and music streaming sites via APIs. While they do not provide all of their data, they do many. At FindMyFans we’re using this data, especially geo-data, to create real insights and interactive maps for artists, bands, and the greater music industry.

By utilizing these we’re giving artists and bands access to their customers (fans) and providing information that is unknown, though available, in an easy to digest way and that is actionable. Essentially the app serves as a marketing department in the pockets of musicians – once reserved for only the elite.

These APIs are vital for transforming society and the democratization of information.


Nafi DhananiNafi Dhanani

@missnafi

Nafi Dhanani is Director of Marketing at EQ Works, one of Toronto’s longest-standing technology firms and home to one of the top three location platforms in North America.

“The single most effective source for gathering meaningful customer intelligence is…”

Location, location, location!

The jumping off point for all kinds of highly targeted, highly successful marketing strategies is location. However, it also presents one of the biggest challenges faced by marketers – specifically, navigating the world of location-based data and using it effectively.

Our world is growing smarter, and the continued adoption and use of GPS-enabled smartphones provides for the inevitable shift of traditional marketing to the significantly more data-influenced predictive marketing – meaning that advertisers can (and do, more than ever before) communicate with their audiences in real-time to influence customer behavior, such as increased visits to a store or other location.

There is, however, one caveat to the use of location-based data: accuracy.

Most data provision companies will rely on SDKs, or software development kits, that gather location information from apps that require the user to enable location services. Because these apps are not ‘always-on’ (meaning that they often do not have access to the user’s location unless the app is active), the availability of data around the clock may not exist.

In addition, not all desired end users will have the application installed, meaning insights gained are often skewed, missing vital segments of the target audience. The provider would also need access to a vast array of apps to be able to gain enough data to provide real and actionable insights.

Lastly, each app has a different resolution, meaning that they will track the user to a specific (and not necessarily disclosed to the end user) radius, anywhere from 50 meters to a a few kilometers. Thus, being able to accurately determine a user’s actual presence in a specific retail or other location is spotty at best.

Other data providers will rely on a service like Bidstream that provides a significantly larger dataset. However, due to the sheer volume of data, the user is faced with the need to refine results to eliminate ‘noise.’ This is essential for accuracy, and represents a resource-rich undertaking that only a few take the time to actually perform.

A significant advantage, of course, is produced when this is done. The end user has access to a host of new game-changing metrics that have the power to create results previously unimaginable. For example, an advertiser can measure the time between first ad exposure and a walk-in. Such metrics mean better targeting, better insights – and, most importantly – increased campaign success.


Meg BrunsonMeg Brunson

@EIEIOMarketing

Meg is the Founder and CEO of EIEIO Marketing. She is a former Facebook employee with a passion for helping businesses leverage the power of Facebook. Originally from Rochester, NY, she now lives in Phoenix, AZ with her husband and their four daughters.

“As a marketing agency, the single most effective source for gathering meaningful customer intelligence for our clients is…”

Facebook. Over two billion users access Facebook worldwide, which makes the platform not only the perfect place to find and connect with potential and current customers, but also to learn more about them.

Facebook has access to so much information regarding their users based on the information that users are revealing to the platform through their profiles, as well as through the actions that they are taking with other Pages and posts. Their Facebook Pixel technology also extends their reach into a wide range of websites and mobile apps. In addition to all of this first-party data, Facebook has strong relationships with a variety of third-party data partners to provide even more in-depth data.

As Facebook users, this is how Facebook is able to place ads in front of you that are SO relevant to the things you recently viewed online, purchased, or discussed with your friends. As marketers, this is information that we are able to access and leverage to strengthen our business goals.

Many of our clients come to us with an existing customer database. It’s possible that this includes a customer list and/or engaged fans on their Facebook Business Pages. Our preliminary steps are always to take any offline customer lists and upload those to the Facebook platform. From there, we have the ability to recommend that the matched Facebook users like the client’s Page if they have not done so already, and we can create Audiences of their current customers as well as their Facebook Fans.

Facebook Page Insights offer an abundance of valuable information about their Fans. From Pages Insights we can see the growth of the fan base, demographic information (sex, location, and age), and by analyzing their Page Posts we can determine what topics are of interest to them.

But, that’s not all! Facebook offers us an even deeper look into our Facebook Business Page Fans, as well as any custom audiences we create from customer lists or other sources through the Audience Insights tool. This is where we learn the most meaningful customer intelligence, which we then leverage within our organic and paid marketing strategies.

Facebook’s Audience Insights allows us to learn so much information about our desired audience and how they relate to the general Facebook population. An example of what we discover includes:

  • Lifestyle (a blend of demographic and interest data)
  • Relationship Status
  • Job Titles
  • Education Level
  • What other Pages they follow
  • Location (countries and/or cities)
  • What devices they use to access Facebook
  • Household Information (income, ownership, market value, family size)
  • Purchase Behavior
  • Retail Spending vs. Online Spending
  • Spending Methods
  • And more!

With this knowledge we’re able to evaluate what messaging – both copy and creative – will likely resonate best with the client’s audience. We are always split testing and analyzing to continuously optimize marketing strategy. Facebook is our favorite marketing platform for its reach, affordability, and superior targeting capabilities, and it provides us with the best tools for customer intelligence.


Adam WatsonAdam Watson

@lightupmirror

Adam Watson is the Affiliate & Partnerships Manager at Hollywood Mirrors.

“The most valuable way I have found for gathering customer intelligence and getting some new insights is to…”

Survey them. For this I use the Survey Monkey tool and send them an email with seven open-ended questions to get their option on what they like and dislike about our brand, products, and service, and what future products they would like to see.

It is important to find patterns in the answers that regularly appear and adjust your business accordingly.


Steve PritchardSteve Pritchard

@digitalsteveuk

Steve Pritchard is the Search Content Manager for giffgaff.

“Analyzing your customers’ behavior in real-time is…”

One of the most effective methods of gathering meaningful intelligence information. Surveys are fine for collecting surface information like gender, age, interests etc., all of which is still very useful, but real-time adds much more to your findings.

Real-time behavior allows you to analyze how long visitors are spending on your website, where they are spending the most time, what links they are clicking, etc. You can see where they are spending the least amount of time, which can show you the areas of your website which need improvement, as well as which content they are most likely to share on social media and what is making them want to share it.


Jordan HarlingJordan Harling

@InteriorGoods

Digital Strategist at Roman Blinds Direct. Jordan Harling has been a professional marketer since 2011, working across a number of sectors including charity, digital and ecommerce.

“There’s a lot going on in customers’ heads that they don’t signal or even know they are subconsciously thinking…”

But people’s eyes are a giveaway to their true thoughts. That’s why running eye tracking tests and creating heat maps for your website is crucial for your business’ success. If you know where your customer’s gaze is immediately drawn to or, perhaps more importantly, where it never wanders, then you can optimize your layout accordingly and ensure that your customers are looking at what you want them to.

In this digital age, we are bombarded by adverts and distractions on a daily basis; almost every surface is competing for our attention. So to stand out, you need the data on what catches the eye. Surveys, questionnaires, and focus groups go some way towards gathering that data, but the only true way is through eye-tracking.


Ayat ShukairyAyat Shukairy

@ayat

Ayat is the Co-founder of Invesp, a conversion optimization company. She is a recognized expert on marketing strategy and an in-demand speaker who has presented at marketing conferences throughout the world. With over 12 years of entrepreneurial and marketing experience, Ayat’s consulting company helps companies increase online sales including eBay, 3M, the Special Olympics, DISH Network, Discovery, and many more.

“One of the main criteria surrounding any conversion rate optimization project we conduct on a client site is…”

To tap into customer voice, data, and intelligence. We have a number of ways to understand what visitor motivations are, their site behavior, their pain points, and much more.

Our methodology can be summarized in the acronym SHIP, which stands for scrutinize, hypothesize, implement, propagate. The scrutinize phase is where we dig deeper conducting qualitative research in the form of:

  1. targeted polls with questions that uncover barriers, motivators, and demographics;
  2. customer calls with disgruntled, happy, and new customers; and
  3. usability tests to understand on site struggles.

We pair that data with quantitative research which we pull from:

  1. analytics;
  2. heatmaps; and
  3. video recordings.

All of this information helps us build a robust customer journey and understand how visitors will react to various changes we will be making on the website.


Ben LandersBen Landers

@benlanders

Ben Landers is the president and CEO of Blue Corona, a digital marketing agency based on the East Coast. Ben has been a prominent figure in the digital marketing world for over 10 years now, and his agency specializes in digital competitive analysis.

“The strength of your competitive intelligence completely depends on your ability to…”

Creatively track down publicly available information and connect the dots into meaningful, actionable insights. To do this well, you shouldn’t rely on ONE single source — any business owner who thinks that is in for a rude awakening. Think about it; the best sports team coaches use every single resource available to get intel on competitors, from video footage to the players’ injury histories. If high school football coaches operate at this level, why wouldn’t you — the owner of a business — do the same?

My team and I use a wide variety of tools in order to get the best competitive intelligence for our digital competitive analyses. For the more technical information, I love URL Profiler — it lets me connect my APIs quickly and spits out a treasure trove of data about a variety of companies. For the more high-level information, I really like SimilarWeb. It’s pretty incredible at how well it can predict how much traffic you or your competitors have. If you’re looking for a breakdown of “how did they do it?” it really presents a great set of insights.

My final thought is that if you’re dabbling in digital competitive intelligence, don’t limit yourself to traditional data points and direct competitors. Expand your intelligence to manufacturers, vendors, and even other companies in different industries that just seem to be doing it right. You can never have too much intel, but you can have too little.


Alicia TrahanAlicia Trahan

Alicia Trahan is the Consumer Insights Director at DRUM Agency. Alicia is constantly weaving DRUM Agency’s thin threads of thoughts into groundbreaking consumer insights. As a professional researcher, her work discovers new insights and defines projects to improve customer acquisition and retention, establish brand identities, and enhance employee and customer relations.

“To gather the most meaningful customer intelligence, you must remember that…”

The customer is king, and to be brutally honest, the only reason any of us are employed. And if we aren’t constantly listening and heading their advice, seeking to understand and address their wants and needs, we will be looking for new employment. While the rise in online and social connectivity brought with it a paradigm shift and a move from caveat emptor to caveat venditor, with customers now holding all the cards, I would argue that the customer is, was and always will be, the single most important and effective source for gathering customer intelligence.

Finding the Bread Crumbs

What is customer intelligence? According to Robert Shaw’s Measuring and Valuing Customer Relationships, Customer intelligence (CI) is the process of gathering and analyzing information regarding customers, and their details and activities, to build deeper and more effective customer relationships and improve decision-making by vendors. And where does the information regarding customers come from? It comes directly from the customer, of course, and the trail of breadcrumbs they leave for us to discover and make sense out of.

Transforming Data to Insight

We start with the data. Data (facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis) is essentially the raw ingredients of information about customers. There is the plethora of varied and disparate 1st, 2nd and 3rd party data sources on customers. Companies already have access to their customer’s data, or what’s known as 1st-Party data, such as transactional data, usage data, call center data, warranty data, registration data, demographic data, etc. This is the “who” and the “what” organizations know about their customers.

Then there is 1st-Party Primary Research data, which is the authentic, voice of the customer (VOC) feedback gathered directly from the customer and often structured to capture the reasons “why” or “how” behind the noted behaviors found in the first-party data. This underlying consumer behavioral, attitudinal, preferences, motivations, etc. data can be matched to first-party and third-party data to provide a deeper analysis and a more holistic view of the customer; with 3rd-party data being data already collected and providing insight into “who” the ideal target audience is, and “where”, “when” and “what else” they do outside of what is known by the organization’s 1st-party data. It can also be what is working or not working for them, either related to your product or your competitors. Examples of third-party data sources can be social data, registration data, census data, financial data, etc. Sources of data, especially 3rd-party or “big data, are prolific yet not specific.

We gain our intelligence (intelligence being the holistic and flexible understanding of the customer) by gathering, analyzing and contextualizing the data to produce actionable insight. And finally, insight (or the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing) comes from synthesizing that which has been gathered, analyzed and contextualized.

In my opinion, customer-centricity is table stakes today and should be part of a company’s DNA, not a mantra that needs to be repeated frequently. To be customer-centric we need to understand where and how customers are speaking to us and use this customer intelligence to arrive at actionable business insight.


Kevin MillerKevin Miller

@Open_Listings

Kevin Miller is the Director of Growth at Open Listings.

“At Open Listings, we believe in testing early and often…”

Especially when it comes to our marketing message. And while quantitative A/B testing can be super helpful for optimization, qualitative feedback is a powerful way to understand messaging or product design pain points that may deter people from signing up or converting. We’ve been pleasantly surprised with the results we’ve gotten running tests on UserTesting.com — they’ve been able to deliver articulate but honest participants that fit our criteria within hours. Getting results so quickly lets us evolve our messaging and design faster so that we can always improve our buyers’ experience.


Chip BellChip Bell

@ChipRBell

Dr. Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker, trainer and best-selling author on innovative service and customer loyalty. His newest book being Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service that Sparkles.

“The issue is not just about the most effective, but rather many effective sources…”

Too many companies rely an annual survey for all the data. Here are 10 off-the-beaten path methods worth considering:

Scout Reports

Position all field personnel as customer scouts. Scouts see a lot, hear a lot and know a lot. Yet, they are probably the most underutilized source of brilliance about what customers really value. Create a way for the collective learning’s to get upstream to senior leaders as well as in the hands of those who can provide a timely response.

Neighborhood Watch

Employees are often customers of their own company. As such, they can be a rich source of information about service experiences. Additionally, they talk with neighbors who vocalize praise and protests about the service received. Additionally, employees with a company name tag can be a channel for customer intelligence simply by standing in the grocery store line.

Town Halls Squared

The town hall meeting concept is used by many organizations as a way for senior leaders to get “up close and personal” with customers. Many senior leaders report these gatherings are at best marginally useful. However, if the town hall concept is done locally and frequently it shifts from being a concert to being a conversation.

Dear Company

Log onto CVS/Pharmacy’s website www.forallthewaysyoucare.com and you will get a spectacular example of the power of customer input. The company created the website for customers to communicate examples of “ordinary miracles” performed by CVS/Pharmacy employees. According to CVS/Pharmacy CEO Larry Merlo the site not only has become an important array of “best practices” for all employees, it serves as a valuable source of timely information about what is important to customers.

Customer Input Contest

Most employees are subtly trained to keep bad news to themselves. Their fear is that reporting customer pot shots will ricochet turning the messenger into a casualty. Changing the frame for “blame” to “aim” requires finding ways to incent employees to get beyond their reserve and share their stories.

Customer “Weatherman”

The weatherman provides us with early warning about environmental changes. A customer “weatherman” is a person or unit charged with keeping an ear to the ground for any piece of intelligence important to the direction of the organization as it relates to customers. Communication departments routinely “Google” the company’s name to find out how the company is being perceived in news reports, articles, review sites and customer blogs.

Board Meetings with a Customer Agenda

Boards of directors are becoming more forceful in their direction to organizational leaders. Long viewed as rubber stamping “friends of the firm” they now more quickly fire CEO’s, more scrupulously examine organization’s foibles, and more aggressively constrict undisciplined expansion. In customer-centric organizations, “the customer” is on the board agenda just like this quarter’s earnings. Some boards invite key customers to periodically join their board meeting just to ensure that the company keeps a proper focus on their raison d’etre.

Establishing Boards of Customers

Some customers are more influence-shapers than others. Mayors know who among their constituents they can count on to “tell it like it is.” They also know the informal leaders whose views shape opinions in others. One major energy company borrowed from the play book of small town mayors to create a “Boards of Customers” program in the regions they serve. These “experienced” customers volunteered their time each quarter to act as sounding boards for new products and services. They also became a key neighborhood conduit for feedback and ideas on improvement.

VOC Flash Report

There is probably not an executive in the country that does not grab a quick daily glimpse at the *Wall Street Journal* or catch a few minutes of CNCB, Bloomberg TV or FBN while putting the treadmill through early morning paces. Countless leaders start their day with some sort of briefing on yesterday’s performance and today’s plans. A Voice of the Customer (VOC) flash report can remind employees of the importance of staying up-to-date on customer issues, requirements, and feedback.

Gossip Column Reporter

The gossip column reporter is a familiar figure in most small towns. This is the person who weekly calls a well-honed list of “citizens in the know” to gather gossip for the local weekly newspaper. From who had a party to who came home for a visit, to who had an operation, this forager for facts serves an important role in promoting a sense of community. This concept can perform a similar role in promoting customer awareness.


Kara CarpenterKara Carpenter

@STDcheck

Kara Carpenter is the Director of SEO at STDcheck.com.

“We use Hotjar polls to collect meaningful customer intelligence…”

We display polls on our website’s homepage. This data is more meaningful than other survey methods because we are collecting data from actual potential customers about how we can improve their experience which increases our chances of getting them to eventually convert. Hotjar polls can also be a useful way to see if your existing customers are interested in new products or offerings which helps us gauge if we should actually roll out the new offerings.

You can ask any sort of question with a Hotjar poll including:

  • Why are they abandoning the page?
  • What do they think of your products or services?


David AttardDavid Attard

@beewitsapp

David is CoFounder of BeeWits SaaS service. He also shares his thoughts on CollectiveRay.com.

“As a CoFounder of a SaaS service which deals directly with customers…”

My go-to source for customer intelligence is the phone.

Simply put, as the founder of the service responsible for calling the shots, I make it a point to call customers directly, as often as possible.

I briefly explain to them who I am and ask them two things. What’s frustrating you most right now in your business? And What could we do such that our service is better for you?

Both questions are open-ended such that the person does not feel they need to give a right or wrong answer, and they can be as detailed as possible in their insight. This gives us a lot of intelligence which won’t be biased towards our own suspicions or perceptions.

The fact that they are speaking, not to a salesperson, but to a top executive gives them a feel-good factor that their opinions won’t go to waste. They will understand that the company truly cares about what can be done to improve the service for them.

We then repay their efforts by keeping them informed of progress with the suggestions they’ve made and follow up as necessary. This creates a lot of trust between us and our customers and some even come back with additional great suggestions – some of which are invaluable.


Xiao WangXiao Wang

@xiaowa

Xiao Wang is the co-founder/CEO of Boundless, a technology startup helping families navigate their immigration process with confidence.

“Through building the company, I have found that the single most effective source for gathering meaningful customer intelligence is…”

Picking up the phone and actually talking to them. No matter what level you are in the company, you can become better at your job by truly understanding what customers are going through, what their thoughts are at every step of the process, and what their pain points are. I carve out time every day to call a couple of customers, we have regular in-depth customer feedback sessions attended by leaders of every function, and every member of my team takes turns as the front-line customer support representative. Only through these regular interactions are we sure we are building the best possible product and experience for them.


Yvette La-GardeYvette La-Garde

@VitaMedica

Yvette La-Garde is the COO at VitaMedica and a writer/speaker with over 20 years of experience in the health and wellness industry.

“The single most effective way to gather meaningful customer intelligence is to…”

Use marketing tools to your advantage.

BuzzStream is a fantastic digital PR tool that acts as both a CRM and email marketing tool. BuzzStream drastically reduces time and effort when it comes to email marketing. Whether it be scheduling emails, tracking open rates, keeping a record of Twitter conversations, or follow-up reminders, BuzzStream has all of the assets a marketing team could want in an email resource.

Marketing success is all about gathering data, analyzing the numbers, and then changing your approach accordingly. BuzzStream is extremely helpful with gathering data by providing click tracking numbers and open rate percentages, allowing a marketing team to test different subject lines, email copy, and other metrics in order to yield the best results for an email marketing campaign.

Another great tool that we use for some projects is Bronto (was acquired by NetSuite two years ago; and NetSuite was swallowed by the bigger fish Oracle a year or so ago). It’s very user friendly and hooks into our ERP system, which is NetSuite. So that way we can incorporate sales data with email marketing and fine-tune along the way. We can A/B test email subject lines, and we can use their pop-up feature to entice new visitors to sign up. As a visual person, I appreciate Bronto’s visual way of showing workflows as part of an automated email marketing campaign. With the sales data, we can also fine-tune our automated email flow depending on which product the customer purchased.


Gary NealonGary Nealon

@thegarynealon

Gary Nealon is the Founder of Nealon Solutions, offering strategic marketing consulting services designed to help you scale your eCommerce business, increase revenues, and maximize profits. Gary’s strengths in strategic planning, SEO, and social media have helped him build two multimillion-dollar businesses in two completely different niches.

“It really depends if you’re talking about potential customers for a new product or for existing customers…”

For existing customers, the most effective strategy for gathering customer intelligence is to dump your customer list into Facebook and a create a look-a-like audience. Surveys are effective. If you want more info about a mailing list, you can use a service like Tower Data.

For a new product, the single best source is to look at competitor reviews (Amazon, Google Business, etc.) and look at your competitors’ Facebook pages to see what their follower list is like. From there, you can run ads against their follower list to capture their attention.


Cristian RennellaCristian Rennella

@crisrennella

Cristian Rennella is the CEO & CoFounder of oMelhorTrato.com.

“The most important and effective source of customer intelligence for our marketing team is…”

Our online chat that is available 24 hours on our website. This communication tool, with the help of Artificial Intelligence, more precisely Deep Learning, allows us to extract fundamental pieces of information to improve our marketing campaigns in real time. That information includes the customer’s doubts, the problems they need to solve, the key points in making their buying decision, and what competitors they’re comparing us with.

Our online chat provides the most outstanding source of customer intelligence for our continuous growth in marketing, where we invest an average of $3 million a year online.


Tabitha Jean NaylorTabitha Jean Naylor

@SuccessStartup

Tabitha Jean Naylor is the Founder of Successful Startup 101.

“First and foremost, there a ton of useful sources to gain meaningful customer intelligence, so it’s definitely an all hands on deck kind of mission…”

But I always go back to the best source, which is engaging your customers directly. You may not be able to reach them all, but if you can get to some of them, it can give you a sample size from which you can make a lot of other assumptions.

So I’m probably a little more ‘old school’ than some others who answer this question, but for me, direct customer inquiry through questionnaires, customer surveys, and customer service thank you calls are the best sources for meaningful customer intelligence.


Sarah ZurellSarah Zurell

@pavemint

Sarah Zurell is the Chief Brand Officer and press spokeswoman of Pavemint, a peer-to-peer marketplace that connects people looking for parking with people who have parking to share. Before joining Pavemint, she was the Head of Content for Google Ventures’ “Strut,” where she worked with the CTO to transform 45% of downloads into daily users.

“As the Chief Brand Officer at Pavemint, a P2P app that connects people in LA looking for parking with residents and business owners who have private parking spaces to share, I oversee our Customer Support Team…”

Because Pavemint is a marketplace, and because we just officially launched on October 3rd, it makes having reliable customer support tools vitally important to the success and expansion of our brand. In our case, we’ve found Zendesk to be the best tool in order to gather and utilize customer intelligence. The layout of Zendesk creates a natural to-do list for each of our Customer Support Reps and separates each team member’s tickets by their name. It also allows our Director of Customer Support to create pre-written responses to various support-related questions, thus keeping our responses and voice consistent.

What we’ve found to be most useful, however, is the fact that Zendesk gives our team a breakdown of the percentage of issues in each category. This data has been extremely valuable, as it allows our tech team prioritize fixing more important and frequently seen errors, rather than bugs that occur less often.

On top of all this, Zendesk provides in-depth statistics on how we are doing overall, including the number of incoming tickets, average response time, which FAQs are being looked at, what channel support tickets are coming through, etc. While I do see value in having a support email that customers can reach out to as well, I don’t think we could have made the progress and had the success that we’ve had so far at Pavemint by utilizing email support alone.