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Customer Listening Is Awesome, But Extracting Intent Is the Magic Moment

by: Dave Walters (@_DaveWalters)
14 July 2016

Some of the best behavioral-driven marketers I know are beginning to change the conversation around customer listening. Instead of giving themselves credit for deepening their customer knowledge by appending data and using landing pages smartly, they’re now becoming focused on capturing the resulting intent behind all those cumulative words and actions.

They realize adding five more fields to a prospect’s database record doesn’t necessarily drive a transaction event or move them to the next stage in the buyer’s journey. And there’s a great lesson in this process for all marketers — whether you’re just starting to experiment with progressive forms or you’re eyeing natural language processing tools to scan key communications across divisions.

The Two Core Listening Functions

While many tactics can be labelled “listening,” let’s focus on the two most common: surveys and activity tracking. Although surveys can happen almost anywhere in the customer communications process (think inside sales populating the CRM with key account details based on outbound calls, white papers gated with progressive landing forms or even a Net Promoter Score program), typically activity tracking strategies are all about digital channels. The best examples of activity tracking are opens and clicks on email creative, banner clicks, or the marketing automation-driven analysis of specific site page visits by named prospects or customers.

You can generally cleave this type of data into two categories: demographic and behavioral. As a B2B marketer, for example, you may ask specific questions before a prospect can download a white paper to understand the Standard Industry Code (SIC) associated with their company. This demographic information allows the marketer to understand how their value proposition maps to companies and individuals, but does little to indicate willingness to buy at the individual level.

That’s where the behavioral data is pure magic. If that white paper is the third piece of content that individual has consumed in the last week, then you’ve got some solid clues about how quickly a decision could be coming. At the minimum, that compounded behavior should be triggering another set of processes designed to dig deeper (often, one of the outbound sales calls mentioned above).

Yeah, It’s All About the Customer Journey

So the logical question is what do marketers DO with all this data that’s being aggregated at huge scale? The simplest answer is they use it to prove (or disprove) a set of hypotheses around the customer journey. Mapping back to the listening tactics, you should always be seeking to answer two key questions:

  • What are the demographic attributes of my best prospects, and where do I find more like them?
  • What does an ideal interaction model look like for those best prospects that results in repeatable conversion?

So even if you think this lofty customer journey concept is only for huge financial institutions or cross-category consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies, I’d contend the basics of listening and understanding feed directly into your deep knowledge of both prospects and existing customers. Understanding the unique content consumption preferences, customer support needs, or industry-specific buying triggers of your audiences is a clear way to drive even more relevance in your marketing efforts.

Putting Listening into Action

Finally, let’s take this listening topic down to the last mile of how we implement it. The most successful marketers I work with are thinking about scoring as the ultimate tactic to encompass all these disparate values. A B2B contact might get 200 points for being in financial services but only 20 if they’re in retail, while an ecommerce prospect might get 10 points for every email they open and 50 more points if they open all three messages in a product-specific nurture program. Or, the category-level data from the email clicks may be used to drive specific dynamic content rules that change the header image and featured products.

Having a cumulative (and beautifully objective) score based on both demographic and activity is the basis for both super-smart automation AND provides the ability for a sharp marketer to drill into specific contacts and segments to clearly understand what’s working well in the customer journey.

Regardless of how you decide to manifest the results of this listening, I’d encourage every marketer to put this on their 2H2016 to-do list. You may discover an all-new segment that maps to your product’s core value proposition, or worst case, you get great internal data to examine on the success of your marketing programs. Any way you slice it, more information is almost always better.

For more on the topic, check out my related video:

Get More Listening Tips:

1) Tip Sheet: “Listening, Segmentation, Automation: Tips for Building a Strong Digital Marketing Program

2) Blog: “Building a Core Competency in Customer Listening

3) Tip Sheet: “10 Common Barriers to Understanding the Customer Journey and How to Overcome Them


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