Transform Your Website Into a Customer Intelligence Tool

Understanding customer behavior - truly understanding it - has never been more important for businesses and their marketing teams than it is today.

The economic downturn has forced companies to use their resources more efficiently and become much more targeted and timely with their efforts to connect with customers. Adding to the challenge, customers have become even more discerning about how and where they spend their time and money.

To create positive and meaningful connections with customers and earn their repeat business, today's businesses need deep insight into customer attitudes. To gain this knowledge, leading organizations are harnessing the power of the Web and turning their websites into customer intelligence tools. This critical transformation involves the following phased approach:

Creating different types of Web experiences: This means keeping your website fresh and engaging at all times, by experimenting with Web page designs, product offers and descriptions, dynamic features, and content order and flow. In short, give people a reason to visit your site, stay and explore, act on something (make a purchase, register for your site, or engage in your community) and then come back again later to see what's new.

Leveraging information about different target customer groups: Doing business successfully on the Web requires an increasingly personal website experience for your customers. That is, when they are engaging with your site, they should feel like it's all about them, not about you or what your business can sell them. Customer groups are defined by profiles, geographic location or other target segments.

Tracking and measuring impact: Constantly track what happens with your website and the content you deliver, then compare the results against alternative options. Your website is a critical tool that can help connect the underlying dots with customer behavior; how a visitor first arrived at your site, what content he or she browsed (and in which order), and what difference a new or changed piece of content made.

By transforming your website into a customer intelligence tool, you can tap into your customers' attitudes and gain a 360-degree view of who they are, what they like, what they need and why they came to you. This knowledge is what will truly allow you to deliver a meaningful online experience to your customers and earn their loyalty.

The following are four essential tips for learning more about your customers' behavior to fulfill the previously described phases of customer intelligence:

1.Identify customer pain points
The way people behave in the Web world generally mirrors how they behave in the physical world. When shopping online for clothes, for example, they stop to browse items just as they would in a traditional retail store. As they browse, a great deal can be learned about their interests and preferences - from the colors they like to the styles that grab their attention.

When visitors come to your website, you need to be able to respond to their individual "pain points." These are the problems they must solve or the need they must fill, and to do so with the same degree of sensitivity and accuracy as you would in the physical world.

2. Understand when a prospect is ready to engage
It is likely that visitors to your website are already very knowledgeable about your business and brand, as well as the available alternatives, because they took time to carry out initial research on the Internet and maybe offline, too. They're smart, which means you need to be smarter - as well as relevant - and quickly establish yourself as an authority in their area of interest.

The website has become the first step in the customer engagement process. It can tell you what your customers want, and it also serves as a platform for you to interact with them intelligently. If a customer looks at the price of an item, for instance, this may be a buying signal and it shows that the individual is trying to qualify you in or out of their selection process.

3. Weigh and score your leads
Every piece of content on your website can reveal something about your customer; from what they care

about to where they are in the buying process. To gain this level of insight, all of your content needs to be allocated a score or weight. This enables "lead scoring" - the process of calculating a visitor's propensity and readiness to buy based on the total score produced by his or her behavior while spending time on your website.

Each time a customer reads a piece of content, or views a particular image, you are able to build a more complete picture of that individual's attitudes and interests. By tracking the user back to a Web forum, or using their Internet address to determine their location or their organization, you may be able to work out even more detail. And by tying all of this information together, you get a lead score that measures the level of the user's intent to purchase.

Another key benefit to tracking lead scores: It increases the possibility of creating agreement between marketing and sales teams about what constitutes a qualified lead. Not only will this help to smooth - and hopefully, strengthen - the relationship between marketing and sales, it will make a big impression on your customers. You can also provide your sales team with reams of valuable and timely data about customer interests and concerns.

4. Harness attitudinal data and track success
How visitors interact with your website - especially if they begin making repeat visits or take time to complete a profile form - can provide a wealth of knowledge about attitudes and behavior that must be shared with other databases, including customer relationship management (CRM) systems. Associating real-time customer interactions with other management data, such as call center data and other offline interactions typically held in your customer relationship databases, is also vital. By connecting Web insights with your other customer management systems, you can track lead-to-win-ratios, analyze interactions with successful outcomes and replicate that success.

Harvesting attitudinal data also allows you to start personalizing interactive experiences that build on the insights gained from customers' responses to Web content to deliver optimal business results. You should be able to fine-tune messages and content on your website for different customer groups, so you continually improve their online experience. And once you are armed with the information provided by what may evolve into your most important customer intelligence tool - your website - your organization can build more effective marketing campaigns and stronger customer relationships.

About the Author: Darren Guarnaccia is the vice president of marketing for Sitecore. Sitecore provides Web content management software (CMS) and portal software for organizations to create compelling website experiences.