The 3-C’s of Business Research
Why understanding your customers, competitors and colleagues is critical to your success
I remember it like it was yesterday, but it was 20 years ago. I was sitting at the conference table with the company’s leadership and several representatives from the customer. We were meeting so they could share with us why we had been awarded their project. This was a first for me and I was excited to learn why we had won. I was anticipating they would say things like, you were the low price, you have the better products, your overall package fit our needs the best.
However, what they shared stopped me in my tracks, could this really be a driver in why we were successful? You see, this project started when a bid landed on my desk and as I looked through it, my initial thought was “this is impossible, we’ll never win.” But that was my job, to take the impossible and make it a reality. So I started my 6-month quest, with an amazing team working alongside me, to win this business. The first thing I did was research the customer, but not just the customer, I researched the people, the products they had been buying - all of it. Why? Because information is power and if I was going to lead our team to success, I needed to know as much as possible and I needed to be able to effectively use what I was learning at the right moment.
This project is one of the highlights of my career. Not because we won, but because of how we did it. As the customer said to us while sitting around that conference room table, “you had the unique ability to identify with our culture”. And how did we do this? We researched, we listened and we learned - and you can do the same thing throughout your business and it’s a lot easier today than it was 20 years ago.
Now, you can go down the rabbit hole of research on just about any topic and stay there for hours. But that’s not ideal for most of us, unless your role is research focused. For me, I need it to be simple and easy, so I created a quick framework that I want to share with you. I call this The Research 3-C’s: Customer, Competitive and Colleague.
1-C: Customer Research
Recently, I did a Google search on “the importance of researching customers” and I got over 10 billion results in less than a minute, 0.51 seconds to be exact. Needless to say, there is a lot of information available to you about the importance of researching your customer and the first page of Google highlights things like, “allows marketers to get to the heart of what people want”, “identify customer segments, needs and behaviors”. All of this is important and is good information, but let’s take a different approach to this and how it can help your business grow.
Think of this like a jigsaw puzzle you're trying to complete. Each piece you put in the right place is leading you to discover a clear picture of your customer. Just like a puzzle, your customer has many different pieces. The business piece - what they do, who their customers are, where they are located, the size of their organization and more. Then there is the workplace piece - this is about their workplace strategy and their approach to their employees, who is their corporate real estate partner, who is their A&D firm?
The final piece is people - who are the people in the business that are involved in the decision, what role do they play, what’s important to them and are you connected to them in any way. As you gather information on the business, the workplace and the people, you will start to get a clear picture of your customer or prospect. This will give you the insights you need to ensure you are providing the right products and services and taking the right approach to be successful.
2-C: Competitive Research
If you read my last column, you know I shared my thoughts on being a “student of the industry”, and understanding the competitive landscape is one of the many parts of that. If you really want to have long term success in the industry, you need to not only know your competition, you need to understand them, what they sell, how they go to market and more.
This is about arming yourself with information to make you better. This is not about bashing your competition or their products. In fact, I would suggest that in a sales setting, you never bring them up. However, you can talk about what makes you and your products the right solution for the customer, by drawing comparisons in your conversation, but never mentioning them.
For example, rather than tell your customer that the competitive product is not BIFMA compliant, talk about the importance of standards, why they are needed and why your organization focuses on ensuring your products meet the industry standards for quality and durability.
Mission accomplished and you never mentioned your competition or their products, but you highlighted yours. To put my spin on a somewhat famous quote, “Know thy competition like you know thy self.”
3-C: Colleague Research
Whether you’re in the office or working remotely, each of us are part of a team and have colleagues that are important to us and in a lot of cases become our extended family. But when you look to your left or right (or at the screen if you’re remote), what do you really know about the people you work with everyday?
Do you know their birthday, their kids names, their favorite Starbucks drink? If not, you should. Truly knowing the people you work with is a gift. It creates strong relationships and bonds that can last well beyond your time with any one company.
However, truly knowing your colleagues creates an environment of trust, enhanced collaboration, and better communication. It fosters the growth of the team and the organization. It helps you resolve conflicts better and without unnecessary drama. To me, it makes the workplace better, allows you to relax and be more productive and once you build a solid relationship, regardless of your differences, it makes the world a better place.
I know this sounds like a lot, and it can be overwhelming to do all of this research, but the insights you will gain will help you and your business grow. There is no way you can do all of this at once, it will take time for you and that’s ok. Use the tools that are readily available to you like LinkedIn, Google, Instagram and more to start on this quest. But there’s one thing I want you to remember as you are moving forward.
Be curious about your customers, your competition and especially your colleagues.