What customer research actually provides
Before we dive into the customer research tips, it’s important to address the #1 reason entrepreneurs fail to build a product their target market will pay for.
Katelyn has heard too many founders say they don’t need to do customer research because customers don’t know what they want. It’s tempting to think that what you’re building is so innovative that you have all the answers.
“Customers don't know what they want, but that's not why you're talking to them. You're talking to customers because you want to understand their pain points with their current solutions.” - Katelyn Bourgoin, CEO of Customer Camp
Even if customers can’t strategize your whole product, it doesn’t mean that interviews aren’t valuable. When you interview customers effectively, you can find out which pain points are large enough to prompt them to make a change and purchase a new solution.
7 pro customer research tips
Try these expert customer research tips to get to know your customers on a deeper level.
1. Organize customer research around company goals
“Talk to customers based on your strategic priorities as a company. Otherwise, you're not going to know what to do with the insights that you gather. It's not going to relate to a project that's meaningful to the team.” - Katelyn Bourgoin, CEO of Customer Camp
Do you want to improve retention? Enhance your product? Figure out which audience segment is worth your time?
Every time you write a survey or reach out to people to schedule interviews, treat it like a project with clear objectives. This will ensure that you’re using your time effectively and that you’re collecting actionable insights.
2. Incentivize target customers strategically
“You have to be careful with the language you use because most of the time people are not accustomed to being reached out to, to do an interview like this. And so you want to make it very clear that this is not a sales pitch. And one of the ways that I do that is I offer them an incentive.” - Katelyn Bourgoin, CEO of Customer Camp
Katelyn recommends offering a gift card to the person’s favorite local restaurant because it makes it feel less scammy and too good to be true compared to offering a cash payment. For business leaders, decision-makers, and high-net worth individuals, you’ll have more success by offering a donation to the charity of their choice.
3. Talk with your competitors’ customers
How do you research your customers when you don’t have any? That’s easy. Talk to your competitors’ customers.
“Spy on your competitors. Go to G2 or any other type of review site and find people who are writing reviews for your competitors.” - Katelyn Bourgoin, CEO of Customer Camp
This customer research tip is also useful when you’re strategizing a new product or major feature.
4. When in doubt, get help sourcing target customers
If you’re having a hard time figuring out who to interview or how to find them, don’t give up.
Get help from a professional service. The investment will be worth it. If you go the lazy route and source feedback from people in your personal network, you run the risk of tanking your startup with bad data.
“My big message is to talk to people who are either buyers that have bought from you or from a competitor—or people who put their hands up and say they're in the buying journey. If you don't know how to find those people, there are services that exist to help you. User Interviews and Respondent.io will find very specific people for you.” - Katelyn Bourgoin, CEO of Customer Camp
5. Focus on trigger events
When speaking with customers and potential customers, ask them why they began the journey to search for a new solution? What happened that made them consider searching for something new?
“Trigger events are this huge untapped gold mine for marketers, because guess what, we spend all this time getting in front of people who might match a particular persona. But that doesn’t matter if those people don’t have an experience or event that’s pushed your solution to become a flaming hot priority.” - Katelyn Bourgoin, CEO of Customer Camp
There will be niche reasons and edge cases, but most of the time you’ll be able to find a theme in the trigger events you uncover. Those themes can work great for content marketing, outbound sales outreach, and advertising campaigns.
6. Discover your indirect competitors
In the startup world, we tend to think of our competitors as companies offering a similar solution to a similar audience. But that’s not how customers see things.
For them, your competitor might be a messy spreadsheet or a backlog of tasks that never get done.
“When you understand who customers see as your competitors, suddenly you have this huge opportunity to get in front of people way earlier—when they're starting to explore what they see as your competitors before they even know that maybe your solution or category exists.” - Katelyn Bourgoin, CEO of Customer Camp
When you ask customers what strategies and methods they’re currently using, you can better understand their real needs. This can have a positive impact on your messaging for both marketing and sales.
7. Create customer wish lists
It’s true that customers usually can’t tell you what product to build. But they can tell you what they wish they could achieve.
“What are the expectations that they have? What are the things they can't do today that they want to be able to do? Use this information to design a product that helps them get their whole job done as opposed to designing a product based on guesswork.” - Katelyn Bourgoin, CEO of Customer Camp
You can use this information to not only inform your product development strategy but your sales approach as well. If you have a great feature in your roadmap that competitors don’t offer, make sure your target accounts know it’s on the horizon.
The more you understand your customers, the better you can serve them.
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