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Knowing your audience – I mean really understanding what their life is like, what their needs are, how they search for things – will make your business more successful.

Perhaps I’m the millionth person to have said that. However, it is so fundamental and too often overlooked.

Are you skeptical that you really need to know customers on such a deep level? Here’s why: If you don’t know your audience really well, you won’t be relevant. In today’s world, if you don’t *appear* relevant then you are worse than ignored – it seems as if you don’t care.  (Click here to tweet that idea!) Customers expect you to know them and serve them with that knowledge in mind.

How do you “know” your audience deeply?

Let me start by saying this: surveys and focus groups aren’t enough. Focus groups put customers behind a glass – does that help you get to know your customers? Show your face and listen to customers. There is no more hiding today anyways – just look at social media. While surveys have their place, they often aren’t well-crafted enough to help you understand customers better.

How should you listen and get to know customers? Here’s a few ideas:

  1. Take a customer to lunch. I mean it. Pick up the phone and invite a customer to lunch or coffee. You will delight customers when you genuinely listen. You’ve likely heard stories of CEO’s and top leaders who do this. They know they need to stay “connected” to customers. But this idea works for anyone in any role. Even your accounting personnel can do this.
  2. Create a customer advisory panel. Create one or more customer groups – they can help you go deep on certain issues and also provide quick feedback. Here’s an example. I tapped into customer evangelists of a website I ran. Sure, I sent them periodic surveys, but I also got on group conference calls to really listen to their needs. I grew web traffic by huge leaps and bounds by listening to most viral customers and responding to their ideas.
  3. Do you capture and remember what you hear from customers? When a customer contacts you, do you capture what you’ve heard in a central system (central to your whole company)? Do sales people capture what they hear? This includes the little stuff. Do your customers share information about their kids? Cats? Or whatever else. Many companies miss out on this huge opportunity to capture what they learn from customers. You can create your own internal database (available to all employees) or buy an off the shelf product like Salesforce.com.

Pick one of the above ideas and consider what can be done inside your company to improve your customer know-how. It will be fun – it’s very invigorating to listen to customers.

Lastly, make sure you use what you know about customers to build a compelling online experience. Knowing more allows you to customize the language and tone you use on your site, tailor website content format, layout and even inform the clickstream path you create to effectively lead customers through your website.

See rule #2

See rule #3

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