Research is the first step in growth. Research paints a picture of the market. It helps you to understand your customers. Ultimately it provides the insights you need to develop your marketing strategy.
The crucial part of marketing research is figuring out the question you want to answer. Why do some customers upgrade but others stay at the free plan? How do you expand into a new market where you have no presence in?
Ultimately. there are three fundamental questions worth asking:
- Who are the customers? (demographics)
- What do they want? (attitudes)
- Why do they buy? (behaviours)
And there are two ways to answer these questions: by talking to people (qualitative) and looking at data (quantitative). The first one helps you understand and the second helps you measure. Ideally, you should be doing both.
Understand your customers
Your existing customers are the perfect source of insights, and they should be your starting point. After all, they paid for your products and services.
Pick up the phone
Make a shortlist of 20 customers who have recently bought from you. Write them a short email. Introduce yourself and explain that you are trying to understand how they make purchase decisions. Ask if they would like to share their experience over a 20 minute call.
Remember, your goal is to learn. Listen more than you talk. Don't pitch your products, don't sell your services. Instead pay attention to truly understand who they are and what makes them tick. Keep the conversation flowing and take notes. Here are a few great questions to ask:
- How did you find out about our product?
- Walk me through how you solve (problem) today.
- What would you do if our product didn't exist?
- Who do you consider to be a competitor to us?
- How would you describe our product to a friend?
- What do you think we should change about our product?
Stick to the 20 minutes you promised, but keep the conversation going if that's what your customer wants. When the call is over, thank them for their time. Follow up with a small token of appreciation, such as a gift in the mail or an extra month of your service for free.
After a handful of calls, patterns will start to emerge. You will start to see things more clearly. You will also uncover areas where you need more research.
Most founders think they can shortcut this process by looking at analytics reports or heat maps. They don't feel comfortable talking on the phone. Don't be one of them. Don't skip this step.
Bonus: make these customer interviews an integral, ongoing part of your marketing. Trigger an email after a few days of a new customer using your products, turn support tickets into discovery opportunities.
Conduct a survey
Now that you've gone through the interviews, it is time to find out about the rest of the customer base and the broader market. Surveys can help with that.
Start with insights you've gained from your interviews. Try to visualise how you are going to analyse your results. Will you need a breakdown of paying customers by company size? Are trying to find out the correlation between customers who say they value efficiency and customers who actually pay more for automation tools? Let these questions guide your survey design.
No one likes surveys, especially long ones. Keep it to a maximum of 15 questions. You can use Google Forms or Typeform to help with your survey. Great survey design is an art and science on its own, but here are a few great questions to consider:
- Who are you? Think age group, city, industry, etc.
- How important is (feature) for you? Using a likert scale helps you get a measurable score for customer attitudes.
- How many hours a week do you spend on (solving problem)? This is a great behavioural question to gauge how important the problem is to them.
- How much do you spend on (category) per month in total? The answer helps to evaluate total market $ value.
- What helped you make the decision purchase our (product)? Ask to select an option from a list, but also provide a free-text option.
- How likely are you to recommend our (product) to a friend? NPS is not particularly useful as a standalone data point, but the scores can help to spot trends or potential problems over time.
People don't always do what they say. If you ask whether they care about the environment, most people will say yes. If you look at how often they do recycling or pay extra for reusable packaging, you might get a very different picture. Avoid asking leading questions in surveys and always correlate their answers with their behaviours.
Dig into data
Website analytics data, heat maps, conversion rates, sales funnels, email open rates, campaign results and past purchases are super useful in understanding customer behaviours. Take it with a grain of salt though, digital data can be inaccurate at best and unreliable at worst. When combined with the insights from interviews and surveys, your primary data helps to paint a complete picture of your customers.
Understand your market
Your market is anyone who has the potential to become your customer. There are three questions that are important to understand with market research: the size of the population, the total $ value of the market and your % share of that value.
You can conduct this research with help from a research agency or on your own by using a platform such as YouGov. However, for most startups and small businesses, market surveys can be prohibitively costly. Here are some alternatives:
Google Search yields tremendous amount of information about your market and competitors. Google Trends gives you high level insights about what people are searching for. Google Scholar lets you search academic papers. The data may not always be recent or accurate, but it's fast, cheap and useful for approximation.
Facebook Groups, Twitter Search, LinkedIn, Quora and Reddit are full of people asking questions and offering solutions. Social media can be a gold mine of information but keep in mind: you're only reaching a subset of people who are active on social media, not your entire market.
Your customer's or competitor's websites can be super useful if you know where to look. Tools such as SimilarWeb and BuiltWith can provide detailed information about the website. Look for product descriptions, annual reports and job posts, and soon you'll get a very clear idea about where their priorities lie.
Tools such as Ahrefs and SEMRush help you identify the specific keywords that people use search for product or solutions. Together with Google Trends and Exploding Topics, they can paint a good picture on what people are searching for.
Analysis paralysis can be a problem, but underestimating the importance of research is a bigger problem. Always start with research and give it the time and attention it deserves. It will save you countless hours and frustration on your journey to growth. For more in-depth discussion, tips and techniques, check out the Customer Research Episode on Strategy & Sourdough.
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