In today’s rapid-paced, highly competitive landscape, and uncertain economic conditions, dollars are tight.  When we launch an expensive marketing program we need to know it will address the customers’ real needs.  Because if the programs don’t address the real needs, we won’t achieve the kind of return on investment we’re hoping for.   Spending that kind of money without some kind of guarantee of attracting customers is a poor business decision.

So how can we be sure our programs meet the customers’ needs?  One way is by integrating customer feedback into program design.

Step 1: Start with the customer.

Find out what customers need.  How? Ask them.   There are many methods of obtaining information from the customer. Depending on your budget you may opt to implement more than one of the following methods: face to face conversations, telephone calls, email communications, surveys, focus groups, advisory councils, social networking, blogging, etc.  In fact, the more methods you deploy the greater chance for success.

Step 2: Ask the right questions.

Begin by asking for honest feedback about what they like and don’t like about doing business with you.  Customers value a company who asks for their opinion. Move to questions around what their expectations are.   Ask specifically what is it about your company or product or employees that make the customer buy your products.

Step 3: Don’t stop asking.

Every interaction with a customer should reveal a little more about what’s important to the customer.  Track your conversations by logging customer interactions in a database.  If you’re not learning more about your customer with every conversation, you’re losing valuable insight to use to strengthen your relationships.

Step 4: Anticipate the basics.

There are basic needs which are global in nature.  For example, every customer wants more for less.  Don’t wait for the customer to tell you they want better price.  That’s a given.   Think like the customer. Give them what they want, when it makes good financial sense to do so.

Step 5: Read between the lines.

Once you have gathered customer needs data, begin to analyze it.  Look for ways to improve on what they are asking for.  Customers can only envision what’s available today.  It’s our job to provide more so customers are compelled to try us over the competition.  If a customer asked for a specific color for your product, perhaps offering a variety of colors would be a delighter because a person’s tastes or style may change over time.  Having the flexibility of color might interest them in your product.  Look for ways to give the customers more than they asked for.  It shows you value the customer and want what’s best for them.

Step 6: Prioritize Program Elements

Rank the program elements to ensure program elements address as many customer needs as possible.  Elements offered as delighters will rank high too.  As you assess which elements to implement, prioritize the items directly linking back to a specific customer need and/or a delighter for the customer.  These are the items that will compel customers to buy.  Therefore, put your resources where they bring the biggest bang for the buck.  If you have a great idea for the program but it doesn’t address a current need or delighter for the customer, hold off.  Save it for another program at a later date.  In this way dollars are spent on items we are confident have a direct impact to customer.

So you want to capture customer mindshare? Build your marketing programs with customer needs in mind.  Be selective about the marketing elements you include.  Choose elements directly impact or satisfy the customer’s need.  Then build a marketing story around how you listen to your customer and designed the program specifically for them.   Nothing says you care more than following through with action based on something the customer told you previously.