The most proactive CMOs are trying to understand individuals as well as markets. From a value-driven perspective, this is particularly important because value is the net positive experience customers gain in interacting with a company and using its products and services. It has many dimensions. Sets of desirable experiences vary from individual to individual because everyone’s circumstances are different.In order to improve, you need to understand what types of experiences your intended customers are having and what types they want to have. Market research reports and sales analyses can only show customers in aggregate, offering little insight into what individual customers need or desire.

A recent Global CMO Study by IBM reinforced this point. They concluded one reason most organizations struggle to get the customer insights they need is that they still focus on understanding markets rather than individuals. New social media sources have the potential to help companies discover what individual customers want. Blogs, consumer reviews and third-part reviews disclose what discrete customers are seeking. They provide a rich source of information about customer sentiment, with context, that can help companies more accurately predict demand patterns and gain crucial insights into how customers and influencers think and behave.

Unfortunately, the study reports that relatively few CMOs are exploiting the full power of the digital grapevine. Only 26 percent are tracking blogs, only 42 percent are tracking third-party reviews and only 48 percent are tracking consumer reviews. One explanation is the tools, processes and metrics these companies use are not designed to capture and evaluate the unstructured data produced by social platforms.

I’m not arguing you drop the practice of market research and focus only on individuals. Studying the market and individuals in that market both have their place in your inbound marketing activities. After all, you must provide value to a sufficient number of individuals to survive and grow as a business.

What you can do?
- You need to enable employees to engage with customers.
- Find the wikis, forums and digital communities where your customers gather digitally.
- Use Google Alerts and similar automated tools to help identify references to your company, its products and services.
- Assign employees to monitor and interact with the relevant social media in your industry and segment.
- In assessing feedback, consider if the speaker is representative of your target market and if the feedback is indicative of a trend or if it’s an isolated case.
- Define a way to capture, store, analyze and share the descriptions of positive and negative experiences your intended customers are having so everyone can benefit from these insights.

Most likely, your customers are digitally sharing their positive and negative experiences in using your products and your services. You can ignore it or you can listen and learn how to improve those experiences in order to increase the value your offer your customers. The choice is yours.
The ancient Greeks speculated about the basic building blocks of  matter and called them atoms. We all try to reduce things down to their basic elements. In order to understand complexity, it’s helpful to break things into their fundamental pieces. Once you know what the pieces are and how they work you can assemble them into components and systems with a better understanding of how the whole thing operates.
This started me wondering about the fundamental elements of business and I quickly concluded it all depends upon your business perspective. If you take a product-oriented view, the “feature” is your atom. Products are composed of many features. Lists are made of desirable features. Some features are selected for the next product and others are deferred. You compare your features to your competitor’s features. Even in your communications, you talk about your product’s features or you talk about the benefits your product’s features provide.
If your company has a strong financial or operational perspective, your atomic view is based on “dollars”. You carefully track how many dollars you collect, how many dollars it costs to generate that revenue and your cash position is measured in dollars. Annual performance goals for employees may be based on how many dollars they are able to bring in or how few they spend.
The value-driven company has an external view. The basic element for these companies is a “user experience”. It’s the sum of these experiences that make up the value a customer gains in doing business with your company. These experiences are of many different types. The most obvious is operational. By using your company’s product, does the customer achieve an outcome they want? For example, can they now calculate the dollar value of their sales funnel with your CRM system? Experiences extend beyond the operational. They can include the ease or difficulty of getting a question answered, training
options to learn the capabilities of a new release or the challenge of migrating their old database to your new software.
Peter Drucker said the purpose of a business is to create a customer. Therefore it seems like the experience atom would be the most useful building block with which to understand and improve the relationship between your company and your intended customer.

Beyond features, dollars or experiences, are there other elements you’ve found helpful in thinking about your business?