How To Gain Customer Insight?

Recently, I was working with a client when he told me that he was mandated to develop customer insight so that their products attract better adoption. Being in business for over 20 years, he had good ideas about what customers cared for. He also recognized that there was probably a lot more he could learn about his customers but he did not know where to start. So, we put our thinking hats on and started brainstorming.

First, we needed a framework to work on. Inspired by Using Customer Insight to Build Competitive Advantage (2003) by Carlson Marketing Group, we created this:

Customer insight cycle
Customer Insight Cycle

Let me explain this framework a bit: We all have assumptions and convictions about what customers value in our offerings (products/services). We have an idea about the tough problems we solve for our customers. This knowledge is customer insight. We take actions based on our insight but, most of the time, we do not fully validate our understanding of the customer. Our actions are, most of the time, not purely based on our understanding of the customer, either. Many internal (organizational) factors contribute to the decisions we make and the actions we take. These multiple factors add complexity to the next two steps, Assessment and Data, making it difficult to make a direct cause and effect relationship.

Second, we discussed applying this framework to his problem to see if it fit. The first question was where to start. It is a cycle and it is hard to identify where one steps in. We decided that Insight box was the place to start. This may come across surprising because customer insight is our end-goal. If we knew it already, why would we need all this exercise? In fact, we knew that we did not know everything but we had theories. In fact, the person I was working with and his peers all had theories (my word, not theirs) about their customers. The problem is that those theories were not always consistent with each other. But, who was right? That is why we start with the “Customer Insight Theories” and validate them by going through the above cycle a few times.

Third, we developed a plan for my client to work with his peers using the framework. He left the conversation energized and motivated to take the steps that will give him the insight he is looking for. Equally importantly, now he has a framework to institutionalize how the company gains and retains customer insight.

I welcome your comments on my blog. If you have specific questions, please feel free to contact me at

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