Customers: The Ultimate Authentic Assessment

Years (and years) ago I met my husband when we were both marketing managers at a higher ed publisher.   We conducted focus groups, built, executed and analyzed surveys with pencil and paper, and traveled from campus to campus interviewing customers about their needs.   We reported our findings to sales managers and sales pitches were adjusted.  We logged a lot of miles during those years. 

My husband left the industry years ago, so every now and then, I like to blow his mind with the amount of customer information I can pull up as I am sitting at my kitchen island.  I can log on my Radian6 account and listen in on my customers’ social media conversations (in charts, graphs and word clouds).  I can pull up my Pardot window and watch in real time who is on my website and what they are doing.  I know who and how many followers I have on Twitter and Facebook and what content they are sharing.  I can build surveys in an instant and throw them on my website in less time than it takes to run out for a coffee.  I can run drip campaigns, assign scores to various marketing activities, flow them into my CRM, and send in sales when the score hits the “75% ready to buy” mark.  If we know so much about our customers, why do so many products still fail?

In an era of big data, it is easy (and let’s face it, a lot of fun) to get lost in a sea of percentages, infographics and word clouds.  35% of faculty use this, 58% of students say that.  We encourage teachers, administrators, and our colleagues to make data-driven decisions.  The evidence of what we need to do is right there in the numbers!   But every teacher knows something about their students that no software program can tell them.  And it is the combination of that authentic knowledge and the surrounding data that leads to increased student achievement. 

Our customers are the same way.  The only way to understand “why?” a customer chooses to engage in this product or in that activity is to ask them.  But their answer is just the start of the conversation.  “Tell me more about THIS. What happens when you don’t use THIS?  What are the consequences? Before you used THIS, how did you do this task?  What did THIS do for you that made you switch?  What else did you need to adjust to use THIS? Do you tell other colleagues about THIS?  What do you say?”  And my personal favorite “What do you want to say about your students/your class/your district a year from now that you can’t say today?”  Now you know something authentic.  Now you have some real insight.  Now the rest of the data you have has an authentic place to live.  Without this complete picture, you are not giving yourself the best chance at success.