6 mins • Research

Marketing Research

Analysis paralysis can be a problem, but underestimating research is a bigger problem.

 Illustration of an old school telephone handle with cable

Research is the first step in growth. It 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 most important part of marketing research is figuring out questions. Ultimately. there are three fundamental questions worth asking:

  1. Who are our customers? (demographics)
  2. What do they want? (attitudes)
  3. Why do they buy? (behaviours)

And there are two ways to answer these questions: by talking to people (qualitative) and looking at data (quantitative). Ideally, you should be doing both.

Understand your customers

Your existing customers are the perfect starting point. They paid for your products and services after all.

Pick up the phone

Start by making a short list of 20 customers who have recently bought from you. Write them a short email, introducing 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?
  • Can you walk me through how you use our product today?
  • What would you do if our product didn’t exist?
  • What other products have you tried??
  • 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, unless your customer wants to continue. Thank them for their time and follow up with a small token of appreciation.

After a handful of calls, patterns will start to emerge. You will start to see where your product shines and falls short more clearly. You will 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. For example, 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 environmentally friendly products, 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, primary data sources help 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, conducting a market survey can be prohibitively costly. Here are some substitutes:

Industry Reports

Gartner, Forrester, Econsultancy, IDC and similar companies regularly conduct and publish research reports. Buying recent industry reports can be a great way to get market insights quickly.

Google Tools

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.

Social Media

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 people who are active on social media, not your entire market.

Company Websites

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.

Keyword Research

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 of growth.