Most say they have done customer research once they know the answers to these questions:
- Company size
- Generic pain points
Unfortunately, that isn’t really knowing your customer – and it’s actually a key reason why most content marketing fails.
Let me give you an example.
I work with a coaching platform called upcoach, and here are the answers to the four customer research questions above:
- Title – Coach
- Industry – Biz, Life, Exec coaching
- Company size – A few assistants
- Generic pain point – They want to improve the efficiency of their coaching programs
With this information, you’d probably think that these keywords would attract the right audience:
- How to start a coaching program
- Marketing tactics for coaches
- Careers in coaching
After all, anybody searching these keywords is clearly a coach that would need a coaching platform that improves efficiency.
However, after doing some customer research, we realized that none of those keywords targeted the kinds of coaches our platform solves.
Instead, here is a very brief summary of what we discovered during the customer research process:
Based on these insights, the previously mentioned keywords (“how to start a coaching program,” “Marketing tactics for coaches,” and “careers in coaching”) are clearly not a good fit because our target demographic is veteran coaches. However, these keywords are a good fit:
- Online course completion rates
- Best habit trackers
- Best coaching platforms for life coaches
Keyword research isn’t the only thing solid customer research impacts – it should also influence the copywriting itself. After all, the copywriting in the blog post is essentially the conversation a sales rep would have with your ideal customer.
For example, whenever I’m writing an upcoach post, I make sure that the key pain points I mention are those discovered in the customer research process.
Let me give you an example.
This is the introduction to a post I wrote for the keyword “Kajabi Alternatives”:
Now imagine I had done zero customer research. Even if I got lucky and picked the right keyword (Kajabi alternatives), you can see that copywriting like the introduction below would not resonate with our target audience:
So even though the keyword is the same and both personas have the same general pain point – improving coaching efficiency – customer research is also essential for great copywriting.
To give you some actionable information on how to do thorough customer research, this post explains the exact customer research framework we use with every client.
How to Conduct Customer Research
I perform customer research by interviewing someone from CS, sales, and either the founder or the marketing team.
I talk to CS and sales because they are closest to the customer. Sales can tell us what the customer’s life looks like before the product, and CS can tell us what the customer’s life looks like after the product.
As content marketers, it’s our job to bridge the gap by showing prospects (those talking to sales) what their life could look like with the product (those talking to CS).
So getting both perspectives helps us do that.
Then, I sometimes interview the founder as the founding story can sometimes give golden insights into the key reason why the product exists.
So now that I know who to interview, what should I ask?
What Questions To Ask
The questions you ask have a significant impact on the success of your customer research. To help you out, here is the list of customer research questions that I use as a guide.
However, I should mention that it’s important to ask follow-up questions when relevant.
That said, here’s an overview of how my interviews usually go.
Why Was This Product Created?
The founding story usually gives the best detail into why the product exists. Even if you can’t ask the founder, someone else on the team probably has the answer to this question.
This discussion helps me understand what the product’s unique selling point is and the main pain point that it solves.
For example, when I interviewed the founder of upcoach, he said he had created a course himself and was disappointed to see that it only had a 7% completion rate. By transforming it into a cohort-based course with Zoom calls and accountability features, completion rates soared to 94%. The problem with this was that he still had to connect multiple platforms manually, and the overall experience (for both students and himself) was cumbersome.
Therefore, he created upcoach as the first all-in-one platform that offered engagement features for coaches who wanted to make a bigger impact.
So the major pain point the product solves:
It’s an all-in-one platform that creates a better experience for students and coaches.
I often write a founding story and tie it to a keyword when I first start with a client, as it really helps me understand the key purpose of that tool’s existence.
Who Are The Best (and Worst) Customers?
The next thing I want to learn during the customer research process is what the best and worst customers look like.
It’s important to ask both the sales and customer success teams this question as sales teams will know who closes the fastest, whereas CS will know which customers tend to churn the fastest.
Obviously, even if you can close a customer easily, you don’t want to target them if they have a low LTV.
As you’re fishing for customer data, it is important to ask the basic information like:
- Company size
- General pain points
However, I also ask some other questions like “How knowledgeable are they regarding the pain point?“
For example, one of my clients offers accounting software, and it was essential for me to know things like:
- Are the accountants purchasing the software well versed in ERP systems, or are they only using SMB accounting software?
- Are they aware that a solution like yours exists (i.e., do they realize a solution exists to their pain point, or do they believe it’s something they have to live with?)
The answers to these questions will greatly impact the language I use as I don’t want to speak way over their heads, but I also don’t want to lose their attention by discussing topics that are very basic to them.
Another key question is, “Who actually makes the purchase decision? And who introduces the idea of making the purchase?“
This one is super important, especially for enterprise companies. You may say that you sell to executives, though in many cases, the executive is the one that gives the final sign-off to purchase the product – not the one that initially feels the pain point, researches it, and then brings it to the team’s attention.
For example, I worked with a mobile data platform that offers plans that cost between $1,000 to $100,000 per month. Given that the product can be so expensive, the team has to get buy-in from executives to purchase the product. Interestingly enough, the people who originally searched for a different solution were typically mobile developers.
So we had to level up the content to speak more technically to developers and then have different content that spoke from the perspective of business growth (revenue impact, employee efficiency, etc.) to get buy-in from executives.
I also like to ask what questions great customers ask and what questions not-so-great customers ask.
For example, a poor customer for upcoach would ask questions like “what sales automation do you offer?”
On the other hand, a great customer would ask something like, “Can I add subgroups to the accountability section?”
Then, answer all of the questions most great customers ask.
Now that you have a solid understanding of who you’re talking to, let’s get into the pain points they have and how you solve them.
What Does Their Life Look Like Before This Product?
It’s important to understand exactly what customers are doing before they start using your product.
So my first question is, “How are they handling the situation before coming to you, and what parts of this process are most painful?“
Many people assume that customers are using a competitor’s product before switching to yours, but the reality is that most people are doing the process manually or with an entirely different system.
For example, users purchase upcoach, most of them are using a collection of:
- Project management software
- Online course hosting software
- Habit trackers
- To do list apps
- And more…
This information is really important when you’re looking at keywords. For example, even though upcoach isn’t a direct competitor with a project management tool, you might want to target a keyword like “Trello alternatives for coaches.” This is because coaches dissatisfied with Trello might be dissatisfied because it’s not an all-in-one platform.
The accounting software I worked with is also a great example of this. In many cases, their customers are professional accountants at multi-entity companies tying multiple QuickBooks accounts together. So they aren’t quite ready to jump to an ERP system, but they have definitely grown beyond a point where QuickBooks is a sufficient solution.
Therefore, I tailor the writing to discuss how our product helps them remove the pain points created by tying together multiple QuickBooks accounts.
However, I do follow up that question with “Who are some of the top competitors mentioned on sales calls? Why do people choose your product over them?”
Even if your customers are doing the process manually before switching to your product, it’s useful to see if they are considering other competitors. This way, you’ll know which competitor comparison and competitor alternatives keywords are most relevant. In addition, ask specifically how your product is better than those competitors.
For example, with the webinar platform I work with, I discovered the product offers a unique chat feature that ensures all chat questions are answered (either on the webinar or afterward via email).
It turns out that all competing automated webinar solutions offer live chat, but if the chat is not answered while the person is attending the webinar, they never get a response.
So I highlight that feature every time I write a post for them because that is a key differentiating factor.
I’ll also ask, “What alternatives have they tried before reaching out to you?“
In some cases, the prospects are using a competitor’s solution (or a parallel solution). If this is the case, nail down the exact differentiators between your product and that competitor’s product.
The final question I ask is, “Is there ever an event that pushes the prospect to finally search for a product like yours (i.e., they’ve been living with this pain point for a long time, but they finally decided to reach out after a few years)?“
This one is really interesting as it will help you make the copy super specific (and if you read my post on quality writing, you know that high-quality writing is very specific).
For example, we found that many upcoach customers were receiving reviews from students that the course was confusing and “not what they expected from the coach.” After receiving those reviews, they finally reached out and scheduled a demo.
So including those scenarios in the copy makes it 10x more compelling.
What Does Their Life Look Like With This Product?
Now that we know what their life looks like before the product, it’s important to understand how their life is different with the product.
So the first question I ask is, “What are the biggest pain points the product solves, and what is the benefit of solving those pain points?“
You’ll find that most reps will say something generic like:
- It saves them time
- It makes it easier
- It makes it cheaper
Therefore, the key is to ask them for specifics. “How does it save them time? How does it impact them/the business by having more time?”
For example, let’s use the webinar software example again.
In this case, the webinar software saves sales reps time. So how does it save them time? Well, they don’t have to spend hours giving the same repetitive live webinars. Okay, so how does that impact them and the business?
- Sales reps save hours every week as they no longer have to run live webinars.
- Each prospect can see the product within minutes of learning about it rather than waiting to schedule a demo/onboarding call. This gets more prospects into the webinar, and you can get in front of them while the pain is still hot, which ultimately increases total sales.
- Sales reps can prioritize the most qualified prospects, which helps them close more profitable deals.
From there, I’ll ask, “What are the core features that enable these benefits (sales reps don’t have to be on every single live webinar?“
In the case of the webinar example, it is mainly:
- The chat feature
- The interactive buttons feature
- The on-demand (webinar plays within 5 minutes of registering) feature
Then I dive into each feature. “Okay, explain to me how the chat feature works and how it’s different from the traditional chat feature?”
With this question, I learned that the chat feature for most webinar software either:
- Sends messages directly to the team’s email (so live attendees never receive chat responses live, which creates a poor user experience)
- Requires the team to be on every single webinar to respond to chat messages, otherwise, they go unanswered (so the team still has to be on every webinar, which defeats the purpose of automated webinars)
See how that is really useful information that we can incorporate into our blog posts?
From there, I ask the same questions about the interactive buttons feature and the scheduling feature.
It’s also important to understand what pain points are the most important?
For example, the webinar software is easy to use, enabling people with no technical expertise to create a landing page for their webinar.
However, that’s not the main benefit/pain point it solves.
So if we only talked about how easy it is to create a webinar, that wouldn’t be a very compelling reason to purchase as there are plenty of other webinar solutions that are also easy to use.
I also ask one final recap question:
“Explain, in short, how the process used before your product and what the current process looks like.”
The answer to that question should echo everything you’ve already heard, though I find it useful to ask as it can sometimes bring up more detailed issues.
Now that I understand the most important features, I want to see exactly how they work so that I know exactly how to talk about them (and I can include screenshots where necessary).
So the next step is the demo.
During the demo, I ask them to take me through the process of how a user would use the product. Then, at every feature, I ask these three questions:
- What is the main pain point this feature solves?
- What are the main benefits of this feature?
- Do competitors have this feature, and if so, how is yours different/better?
For example, I work with an employee advocacy platform (a tool that encourages employees to share branded social content with their networks).
The feature I learned that sets them apart is that most employee advocacy tools are structured as a massive feed where employees have to choose which posts to share or engage with.
The key differentiator of my client’s tool is that it enables managers to assign posts to employees rather than making employees choose the post. This takes the burden off of employees and improves engagement rates.
So even though all employee advocacy platforms are designed to have employees share posts, the key differentiator of my client’s platform is that managers select the post for employees rather than making employees scroll through select the posts.
Small difference, but a key point we should emphasize in our content marketing.
The final element of my customer research process is asking for key case studies. This is useful because I can incorporate examples into the content.
For example, following the webinar software example, I found that one of their customers added interactive features to their webinar and saw watch times increase from 70% to 90%. So that’s a really useful piece of evidence I can use whenever I’m discussing the interactive features.
Even if you can’t reveal the customer, it’s really useful to get case studies so that you can create hypothetical scenarios in your content.
For example, the accounting software I work with had a customer that (prior to switching to my client’s accounting software) had accidentally overspent on Google ads by $50,000 in a month simply because they didn’t have access to up-to-date financial data. (The key benefit of my client’s software is that they provide real-time data, so the client would have known the day they started overspending rather than tallying it all up at the end of the month and saying Oh sh**!).
So even if you can’t use that exact case study or reveal that customer’s name, you can make up hypothetical scenarios. So in the content, I might say something like, “For example, if your Facebook ad costs suddenly skyrocket, you’ll know the day it goes over budget rather than receiving a shock at the end of the month.“
It also tends to unearth more benefits that the person forgot to mention.
How Customer Research Plays Into The Writing
I already showed briefly how customer research impacts writing, though I wanted to drive home how critical customer research is to creating content that converts.
First, almost all of my content is very product focused (bottom of the funnel). Therefore, I’m always discussing the product within the content.
So here are a few examples of how my customer research plays into the end product.
Here’s a post on upcoach targeting “Kajabi alternatives:”
Here’s a post on the webinar platform software that discusses the live chat feature I mentioned earlier:
Now remember the accounting software I mentioned? The key differentiator is that it offers real time accounting. See how I discuss it here:
Want Me To Do Content Marketing For You?
So that’s my customer research process, and as you can tell, it’s really effective at driving conversions as it thoroughly explains how the product solves the pain point.
If you want me to do content marketing for you, feel free to send me a note.