Today is Know Your Customer Day. I asked my pal Jeanne Hurlbert, a customer research expert, to share some tips for gaining insights on your prospects, customers and decision-makers.

Making “Know Your Customer Day” Matter

Why bother with “Know Your Customer Day?” Because knowing your customer can produce magical marketing, skyrocketing sales, and let you create products or services that actually sell.

Most of my clients assume I learned this in my PhD training—but I really learned it from my father, a country banker who knew the members of our small North Carolina community.If you had heard the local farmers describe how my father gave someone a mortgage when no other bank would take the chance, or helped a growing family expand their house, you might think this was an early incarnation of too-liberal mortgage policies. But that wasn’t the case: My father’s bank boasted one of the best loan ratios around.He knew when to “take a risk” and when not to, simply because he took the trouble to know his customers.

My father had some serious “business intelligence", it just wasn’t called that back then. Knowing his customers held the secret to his success. And from watching my father, I learned something important: People will tell you who they are and what they need if you know how to ask the right questions, to really know your customer.

Here are two simple strategies for posing those questions so you can know your customers even if you can’t meet them directly:

1. Survey your customers

Done well, a customer profile survey shows you who your customers are and what “makes them tick". The secret to making it work? Begin the survey by uncovering their biggest problems. What do they want or need right away?(Notice we didn’t begin with demographics, because they’re boring, personal, and intrusive. We’ll save those for the end, after we’ve engaged our customers.)

Next, find out what they’re looking for that they aren’t getting right now.And then, to really get to know them, why not ask about their favorite books, music, or hobbies? Think of how much you can enliven your marketing and communication with this information. Conclude with up to three carefully-crafted demographic questions that will let you segment your customer list. [More tips on doing customer research]

2. “Quiz” your prospects

Knowing your prospects proves just as important as knowing your customers but it’s trickier to pull off. Hitting prospects with a survey right away can send them scurrying. That’s why quizzes prove so effective. Modeled on the magazine quizzes that tell 75-year-olds whether they’re the “new 40,” quizzes gather information while delivering your content in a fun, interactive way. [Check out some quizzes Margot wrote for]

Quizzes let you “automate a conversation” with your website visitors, to understand exactly what their core problems or needs are. And once you know that, you have gold. Now, instead of sending the same generic messages to every visitor, you can immediately show them your solution to their specific problems or pains, then skyrocket your conversions by laser-targeting your follow-up messages.

Once you unleash the power of these simple strategies, you’ll want to make every day “Know Your Customer Day!”

Jeanne Hurlbert, PhD, is an expert in survey research, social networks and social media. She has served on the faculty of Louisiana State University for more than 20 years, teaching hundreds of social science and marketing students how to read people’s minds with surveys. Jeanne has also been featured or quoted in such media as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The LA Times, USA Today, "Oprah and Friends",,, US News and World Report, Radio-TV Interview Report, Health, Smart Money, The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The History Channel, and ABC News Now.