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Customer Development

Customer Development, Customer Success, SaaS, Startups

How to Nail the First Step to Scalable SaaS Growth: Customer Research

By Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré & Trevor Hatfield

We’re in the midst of writing our SaaS Growth Playbook – a zero bullshit, actionable guide to growing SaaS businesses that are set up to scale from the start. It’s an ambitious undertaking, because so much has been written about this. Really great books like The Startup Owner’s Manual (currently highlighted and bookmarked past recognition on our desks), The Lean Startup and Lean Analytics, Value Proposition Design, and that whole “Jobs to be Done” thing? Is that a book yet? Because it seems like every founder we’ve spoken with in the last two months can’t stop talking about it.

Yes, there are a lot of good ideas out there. Great ideas, even. But that’s the thing. There are so many ideas. What we’re doing is taking the ideas we know work – because we’ve seen them work time and again in real businesses we’ve consulted for – and explaining them clearly, quickly and actionably. With zero fluff – because ain’t nobody got time for that.

At the core of all of these methodologies (and what we’re writing) is this:

Getting to know your customer really, really well.

And that is hard. For any size business. It’s as hard as it is vitally important, because everything you do, from developing your product, to marketing your product, to creating a brand that drives customers to you – it all starts here.

So few startups get this right.

And established companies? They get this wrong all the time.

Take Campbell’s Soup, for example. Few brands are as established as Campbell’s Soup. That red and white label, immortalized by Andy Warhol no less, is iconic. And they ditched it. Recently (you may have noticed?).

They completely rebranded their labels in an effort to appeal to their new target audience: Millennial moms. So they took inspiration from Pinterest and Tumblr and made these really weird microwavable packets with faces on them.

Weird, right? But that’s what companies do when they want to be “hip” without actually asking the people they’re trying to be “hip” for what they want.

It turns out, Tumblr-like labels didn’t hit the mark. What Millennial moms really wanted was a change inside the can. Clean, whole ingredients. Once Campbell’s realized that, it changed their marketing entirely and the result was refreshingly relevant.

Now, most of us don’t have Campbell’s Soup kind of money. But we can all aspire to do customer research before investing in a re-brand – right folks?

That’s what this is about. Saving money by doing the hard thing first – talking to your customers to find out what they want.

But first, you have to define who, exactly, you need to talk to.

And that starts by developing a hypothesis.

The Hypothetical Customer

“I think my customers are ________. The problem they have that I can solve is _________.”

Go ahead, take a stab at it.

“I think my customers are SaaS founders. The problem they have that I can solve is too much conflicting information and no guarantee that the pages filling up their bookshelves actually work.”

That is our working hypothesis for our book.

If you have a few types of customers you intend to serve, come up with a hypothesis for each segment.

This is the easy part! You’ve created or at least ideated your company with a customer and solution in mind. Now comes the hard part: Validating your hypothesis, or chucking it into the bin.

Most books spend hundreds of pages circling around this topic. We know, we’ve highlighted the good stuff. But what it comes down to is this.

  • List everyone you know who falls into the category of customer you’ve just described. List everyone you don’t know personally, but seem like they would fall into the category of customer you’ve just described. See if you can come up with a list of 20 people.
  • Now, email each of those people and ask to set up a 15 minute call. Or, if they’re local, you can sit down with them in person and buy them a cup of coffee. Make it clear you’re not selling anything, and that you value their expertise and time. And, if you’re shy about asking for a favor, thank them with a Starbucks gift card or trade some of your expertise and time. Reciprocity isn’t just a marketing hack – it’s important in all stages of business.
  • Ask them these three things:
  1. What jobs do you need to do around [what your industry/product/problem is]? Have them walk you through their process and record the exact words they use. For example, if you’re selling an HR solution that helps companies hire qualified people faster online (shoutout to Vervoe!), the tasks a business owner, manager or HR person need to do is create a job posting, sort through resumes, figure out interview questions, and spend hours interviewing people.
  2. What’s hard about those jobs? Let them rant about how hard they work and what grinds their gears, how they’ve failed or got outcomes they didn’t want. Record everything.
  3. If those issues were magically solved – what do they love about their jobs? What would they love about their lives? What would solving that problem allow them to do with that time instead?

Sure, there are a million and more questions you could ask – but these three focus on what jobs these customers need to do, what their pain points are surrounding those jobs, and what their ideal outcomes are.

We’re using a little of the Startup Owner’s Manual, a little Lean, a little Jobs to be Done, a dash of Customer Success – and a lot of experience here.

The answers you gain will start to show you some truths about your hypotheses.

  • You’ll start to see that some kind of ‘ideal customers’ are more ideal than others.
  • You’ll check whether the problems they have match the problems you think they have.
  • You’ll compare the language you use to describe those jobs and problems with the language they use.
  • And you’ll uncover insights you can’t even begin to guess at right now.

You may have to go back to the drawing board and re-write your ideal customer hypothesis – and that’s okay. It’s progress.

And you’ll definitely come away with language you can use for marketing – it’s one of the most valuables takeaways of this exercise.

Don’t be Lazy

Why can’t you just send a survey? Hey, that’s the reaction of most founders, too. Really. If we all agreed to just keep things simple by communicating via text message and Slack, we’d have more time for everything else. But believe us when we say: You need to hear their words.

In person, if possible.

Yes, it takes time and it’s nerve-wracking and uncomfortable. But it’s worth it. People will not tell you on a survey what they will say to your face. They won’t even tell an employee of yours the same thing they’ll tell you, the founder. With an actual conversation, you’ll be able to ask in-the-moment follow-up questions, listen to the tone of their answers and put their words into an emotional context, and most importantly – you’ll be starting a relationship with potentially ideal customers who might become your first customers. Your best customers. Customers that will adopt early and advocate for you.

All of this comes from person-to-person communication. You can’t survey it away.

Keep it Short

A few rules for polite customer research:

  • Keep it short – stick to 15 or 20 minutes. It’s enough to get deep information without scaring people away.
  • Make sure every question you ask is actionable – as in, if you don’t plan to act on the information you get, don’t waste time asking the question.
  • Avoid yes/no questions. The goal is to get voice-of-customer data, which means you need to let them speak and not put words into their mouths.
  • Don’t take anything personally. These people want solutions to their problems, and maybe you have them, but even if you don’t, they’re giving you valuable feedback.
  • Show appreciation somehow. This doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive, but it should be personal and helpful.

Sort Your Answer Pile

In the course of customer research, you’ll speak with people who may have seemed like ideal customers at first, but then clearly were not.

And others who aren’t so clear. They could go either way.

The answers you need most are the ones from your ideal clients, and to make sure you’re sorting the Ideals from the Non-Ideals accurately, ask yourself this:

  • If I gave this person my product/service/solution, could they successfully use it to reach their ideal outcomes.

This is a Customer Success approach that I really like because it sets you up to work with people who are primed and ready to love your product (and tell their friends about it). It’s also a way to avoid The Product Death Cycle of customer churn, panic, product changes and bankruptcy.

Success Potential relies on several different types of “fit” that the customer has to have to be able to use your product/service and reach their ideal outcomes. Types of fit include:

  • Technical – They have or can get the right technology to use your product.
  • Functional – Your product offers the features the customer needs to achieve their ideal outcome.
  • Resource – They have the time, money or manpower to use your product.
  • Competence – They know or can learn what they need to know to be successful with your product.
  • Cultural – They share your core values, without which you wouldn’t work well together.
  • Experience – You are able to deliver your product in the way they need to succeed, like having a Customer Success agent assigned to them if they need a high-touch approach, or clear in-app walkthroughs if they prefer to DIY. It’s about providing an appropriate experience that gives them support, in the way they need to be supported, to succeed.

There are other types of fit too, and you should feel free to build your own list and keep adding to it as you grow. Understanding fit now will go a long way towards preventing churn, and understanding churn when it happens.

You’ll be returning to your customers for feedback again and again – and if you don’t know which customers to ask, that feedback can get you into trouble! That’s why we’re spending a lot of time on laying the foundations that are so important to building a sustainable, scalable business. At the end of the day, it’s not about what you know – it’s who you know, and how well you know them.


Take the growth out of guesswork and get our Playbook to Grow Your Saas Business With Your Customers.

Content Marketing, Customer Development, Customer Success, Diversity, Growth Hacking, Podcasts, Product Management, SaaS, Startups

#EveryoneHatesMarketers: 4 Vital Things To Do Before Marketing Your New Startup

“Today I’m joined by my guest Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré, an esteemed SaaS consultant, customer service evangelist, writer and community moderator. Her work has been featured in leading industry media such as HubSpot, Moz, Copy Hackers, Forbes, Canva and more.

Nichole is going to walk us through the four things you need to do before you can start marketing your startup or new business. Founders tend to skip the basics of marketing foundations, and this crucial step can make or break your business. Listen in for Nichole’s four most important pre-marketing initiatives that you need to know for your startup or to refresh the marketing of an existing business.”

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • The importance of marketing foundations
  • Growth hacking pitfalls
  • Customer development work
  • Resources to identify ideal customers
  • Creating your first value proposition
  • Filling success gaps
  • Recommended reading

Transcript on Everyone Hates Marketers


Take the growth out of guesswork and get our Playbook to Grow Your Saas Business With Your Customers.

Customer Development, Customer Experience, Customer Success

Customer Feedback Survey Methods are Changing Dramatically – This is How to Keep Up ft. @Wootric


Customer feedback is having a renaissance of sorts – it’s always been “important,” but never has it been so sought after or so foundational to fast-growing businesses. It’s the cornerstone of such methodologies as The Lean Startup and Jobs to be Done, and vital to finding product/market and problem/solution fit.

Established companies are also going back to their customers, because they know that with better feedback, they can improve the customer’s experience, win loyalty, and create brand advocates – even if getting that feedback requires finally transitioning out of legacy systems everyone is ‘used to.’

It’s no wonder that with the sudden attention from high-tech startup founders and CEOs – customer feedback methods are changing. Quickly. They’re becoming faster, easier, less intrusive, more intrinsic, and the ability to decipher the results of that feedback has changed too.

Read More on Wootric


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Development, Customer Success

How to Become Customer-Centric like @TrunkClub, @InVisionApp & @Atlassian

customer-centric

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

You’re all about your customer – I hear you. You make what they want, deliver what they need, and bend over backwards, forwards and sideways to help them if they should run into trouble. Maybe you’re doing everything right, but maybe your company still isn’t customer-centric.

A truly customer-centric company involves their ideal customer from the beginning, in the product development phase (aka. customer development) to accurately target problem-solution fit. From there, a Customer Success strategy takes over, building into the product, company model and marketing whatever it takes to deliver the ideal customer’s desired outcome. Then, the customer-centric company keeps tabs on their success rates through something like a regular NPS survey, and adjusts accordingly.

Read More on Segment


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Development, Customer Success

Don’t Make Your Business about You – Your New Mantra? Or the Worst Advice Ever? ft. @VioletaNedkova & @LincolnMurphy

dont-make-your-business-about-you

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

“Figure out what people want and give it to them. Excuse me? I’m supposed to be a robot? I want to see what I want, then see what they want, and then see what they want from me.”

Violeta Nedkova

To be fair, Violeta’s next words were:

“From there, you can build your groundwork and start giving value.”

But I’m a fan of the provoking, out of context soundbite. I just love how she neatly phrased the prevailing wisdom and then dashed it on the rocks.

I got into a debate with someone on Twitter recently about this – they posted an article about how your business is not about your customers, it’s about you. I posted a rant in response, essentially saying that they were clearly trying to make non-ideal customers happy instead of making ideal customers successful. My argument is: If you make your business about you instead of your customers, you’ll be your only customer – because you’re the one you’re attracting!

Think about it. If all of your copy is about you, written to appeal to you, who are you going to attract?

But, over time, cooler heads prevail. I realized that for some entrepreneurs, like Violeta for example, their ideal client really is them. Or people very much like them. People who hold the same values, want the same things, have the same aesthetic tastes. For business coaches and life coaches, there is a tremendous amount of mirroring that happens in marketing.

But then a friend told me about one of her clients, a middle-aged British guy who was VP of marketing for a major budget bridal-wear chain, who preferred high-end, luxury brands to the budget-friendly one he worked for. If he created marketing that appealed to himself, he couldn’t be further from his target market than if he built a billboard on Mars. His target market was the budget bride, and the things that are important to her weren’t even on his personal radar.

“Don’t make your business about you” should absolutely be that man’s mantra.

It absolutely should not be Violeta’s.

But what about you – the SaaS founder or marketer? Where does SaaS fit into this theory?

For the vast majority of products, unless yours is particularly personality-driven, I would recommend the “Don’t make your business about you” approach. Identify your ideal customers – the ones who have a severe problem you are uniquely able to solve (and who are willing to pay for it) – and get to know them.

In depth.

Understand what their day-to-day life looks like. Learn what they do all day at work. Find out what frustrates them, what wastes their time, what drives them crazy, and what inspires them. Discover what they wish for themselves as people and as employees. Then, make your product and your marketing all.about.them.

But if you skip this crucial step, well, I’ll let Lincoln Murphy tell it.

You see, either way, whether you are making your business about “you” or not – you’re still defining your ideal customer. Maybe that ideal customer is you (well, people similar to you). Maybe your ideal customer couldn’t possibly be more different.

I guess, in the end, it really is always about the customer.


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Content Marketing, Customer Development, Customer Success, Product Management, SaaS

Free E-Book by @NikkiElizDeMere: How to Align SaaS Content Marketing and Product Management

success

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

You’ve seen the studies – companies that retain customers grow bigger and faster than companies focused solely on customer acquisition. You can fill your funnel to the brim, but if your onboarding process acts like a leaky sieve, you’ll never have enough revenue to build and grow sustainably.

The good news? You have everything you need, right now, to create a sustainable system for acquiring and retaining your ideal customers.

It’s not a magic formula. It’s just two people: Your content marketer and your product manager. Working together.

We hear you. We understand every objection rattling off in your head about the crazy – COMPLETELY CRACKERS! – notion that content marketers could actually help your product development department:

  • Do better work, more efficiently
  • Be less distracted by support tickets
  • Align behind a single, shining vision of your ideal customer
  • Produce products, features, and updates that result in retention and growth
  • And have more fun

These are wild claims to be sure, so allow us to present you with a 3-part paper that will show you how your content creators and product developers can join forces to build the kind of business you’ve envisioned all along: A business with the right products, successful customers, and zero limits.

Read More on Inturact


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Development, SaaS

Who Owns SaaS Customer Development? ft. @sgblank & @CindyAlvarez

who-owns-saas-customer-dev

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

“I have seen startups fail because founders were either too prideful or just plain shy (find a +1 to help!) to connect in meaningful ways with customers – potential or actual.”

– Amazon Customer review of Lean Customer Development by Cindy Alvarez

Don’t you love Amazon user reviews? They tell the unvarnished truth (unless, of course, the reviewer you’re reading happens to be the author’s BFF). This one, in particular, nails one truth that every founder interested in Lean methodology and customer development must face: You’ve got to be willing to put yourself out there.

Not in a metaphorical sense. I mean this quite literally.

Yourself. Out. There.

You, the founder, are the key ingredient. Your vision is more important than any other part of your nascent company, which is why you – not an intern, not your product developer, not your assistant, not your head of marketing – have to be the one listening to your customers.

I know. I know. You are so busy. You’re trying to run a company, after all! And I’m here saying you have to be the one on the phone, on the street, or in the Skype session, gathering qualitative data.

What am I, nuts?

Well, if I am, I’m no crazier than Steve Blank and Bob Dorf, co-authors of The Startup Owner’s Manual. According to them, this is precisely how new companies, and established companies creating new products, are growing intelligently and sustainably, while avoiding the pitfalls that have spelled disaster for the thousands of companies that fail each year.

If the definition of customer development is asking your customers for input that helps you develop the solution they’ve been hoping for – who better than the founder to lead the charge? By learning from your customers, on the ground, what they need most, your vision can and will change – for the better.

Why should I conduct customer development interviews when I know what my customer wants already?

In The Startup Owner’s Manual, the authors make a list of “9 Deadly Sins” that qualitative data is uniquely able to absolve, including…

  • Assuming “I know What the Customer Wants”
  • The “I Know What Features to Build” Flaw
  • Emphasis on Execution Instead of Hypotheses, Testing, Learning, and Iteration

Blank and Dorf recommend founders create a set of business model hypotheses for how they envision their businesses working, and physically go out and ask people in their target market for insights:

Of all the lessons of Customer Development, the importance of getting out of the building and into conversations with your customers is the most critical. Only by moving away from the comforts of your conference room to truly engage with and listen to your customers can you learn in depth about their problems, product features they believe will solve those problems, and the process in their company for recommending, approving and purchasing products.

The road to bankruptcy is littered with founders who thought they knew what people wanted, but never bothered to test their hypotheses. It’s a completely unnecessary risk, especially when avoiding these pitfalls is as simple as finding the answers to three questions:

  1. Do you really understand the customer’s problem, in its entirety, within their everyday context?
  2. Is the problem severe enough that people are highly motivated to solve it?
  3. Will they care enough about the problem to tell their friends?

To find the answers to this list, you’ll need to do a few things:

First, identify your ideal customer – the customer who has a severe pain they’d do anything to solve, and who is willing to pay you real money to solve it. Bonus points if this customer has been so desperate that they’ve hacked together a stop-gap solution on their own already.

Then, ask your ideal customers open-ended questions that lead you to these insights:

When you collect and use qualitative data correctly to inform their product designs and marketing strategies, you’ll have the information you need to produce a product that people need and want, finding problem/solution fit (and product/market fit too).


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Development, Customer Success, SaaS

5 Steps To Rock Your Value Prop for SaaS Customer Success ft. @MorganB

5-steps-to-rock-your-value

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

Special thanks to Morgan Brown for contributing insights. ❤️

Use qualitative data to uncover language-market fit

When the right words appear in front of the right people, it’s like the copy from your page joins a conversation already happening in the minds of your prospects. It becomes a dialogue of “I wish I had this” and “Do you wish you had this? Let me show you how you can get it.” The conversation continues from there, sometimes with other people, like user reviewers, chiming in just at the right moment. Sometimes with your marketer sending an email that is so perfectly timed your prospects wonder if you’re reading their minds.

In this conversation, your job is to convey a simple message of the value you have to offer. But, crafting that message is anything but simple. It all starts with…

Customer Success

Customer Success is a complete customer-lifecycle process that helps customers achieve success – whatever success means for them in the real world – with your SaaS so that you can decrease churn, increase revenue, and create an exponentially increasing mountain of new sales. 

I’m not over-promising. When you nail Customer Success, those are the results.

This process begins with qualitative data research: Real feedback from real users. This research can help you form a unique value proposition to attract your ideal customers from the very beginning so that you (and they) can start achieving Customer Success, and all of the results that come with it.

Qualitative Data Research

At best, analytics can tell you what is happening, but they can never tell you exactly why. They can tell you a channel is underperforming or a page has a high bounce rate but those are symptoms, and you can either guess at the root causes or you can conduct qualitative research to get meaningful answers. When you’re investing time and money into growing a business, guessing becomes expensive. Running A/B tests or trying new things based on your own intuition or your team’s brainstorming without getting outside of the building is an easy way to waste time and money. 

In fact, this is how many startups fail – or make fools of themselves. Remember the fiasco when iTunes gave everyone the latest U2 album?

When you try to guess what to improve upon or how to fix what’s wrong, it’s not just that you might waste time getting to what ultimately works, it’s that you might not ever make the change that really matters. As people, we’re great at coming up with options and ideas based on the combination of things we “see” or understand, but we’re not good at identifying the factors that may be completely off our radar. 

As Donald Rumsfeld famously said, we’re not good at dealing with the “unknown unknowns.” Unfortunately, it can often be those unknown unknowns that are holding back Customer Success. And we’d never get to the answers ourselves. Unlike Sherlock Holmes, we usually can’t identify the dog that’s not barking. So research isn’t just about speeding up the process of finding wins—it’s essential to finding them in the first place.

Qualitative research breaks down into a few key buckets: surveying, interviewing and observing, and inbound analysis. 

Let’s Get Started

Here’s five steps you can use to gather, analyze and utilize qualitative research to continually improve your language —and ultimately rock your value prop:

5 Steps

  1. Identify your ideal customer
  2. Gather qualitative data from existing and potential customers
  3. Form a unique value proposition to begin establishing language-market fit
  4. Update and test your language
  5. Monitor

1. Identify your ideal customer

Most SaaS companies don’t want to narrow their focus to an ideal customer, but this is critical. After all, how do you know what kind of language to use if you don’t have a clear picture of who you’re talking to? 

Think you can write a sales page that appeals to everyone? Think again. Copywriters know that effective copy, the copy that converts into action, must be highly targeted on just one persona (or, at most, two – but they don’t recommend it!).

You can start identifying your ideal customer by using Lincoln Murphy’s Ideal Customer Profile Framework.

We’ll wait here while you do that.

2. Gather qualitative data from current and potential customers.

Once you’ve identified your ideal customer, you need to determine how the market perceives their problems and your product through the language that you’re currently using on your website and marketing materials. 

After all, language is the foundation of growth.

Here are four methods you can use to accomplish this:

  1. Surveys
  2. Interviews
  3. Observation
  4. Inbound Customer Feedback

Surveys

 This is pretty straightforward. Implement regular surveying of both website visitors and customer segments via onsite and email-based surveys. These include product/market fit, customer satisfaction, net promoter scores, demographic/psychographic profiles, product features and more. 

Why you should talk with “qualified noes”

Onsite surveying is great, but you can also end up getting feedback from people who aren’t your customers – ie. unqualified leads. This is not the feedback you want. Instead, focus on surveying the “qualified noes” (the people who are qualified but decided against buying anyway.) These are the people that can unlock real insights to improve your customer acquisition efforts.

There are two parts to talking to qualified noes: part one is asking your questions within the context of the right parts of the user experience to talk to qualified visitors; part two is asking the right questions. 

The right questions at the right time

You want to ask people who just bought what convinced them to buy, and people who abandoned at the last minute why they changed their mind. All of this is detailed well in this article about “golden questions” with Conversion Rate Experts and Sean Ellis.

Custom surveys via email are another important part of qualitative feedback. Ideally you have a regular survey that goes out to your user base on an interval—say every quarter—that asks the same set of questions about overall satisfaction, demographic data and more. This helps you understand if your product is improving or not, and how your user base is evolving. 

Pre-launch Surveys

In addition to regular surveys, you should survey your customers occasionally about new features or initiatives you’re thinking of launching. These can be stand alone, one-off surveys sent from time to time.

Targeting these to the right people is essential to get meaningful feedback.

For instance you don’t want to send new product feature surveys to users who haven’t logged in recently – if they don’t care about your old features, they aren’t likely to invest interest in the new ones. 

You can get a lot more detail about how to survey users in Qualaroo’s Marketer’s Guide to Surveying Users.

Surveys are great for aggregate qualitative data, but they often only collect data around the issues you think are important—after all your team is writing the questions. So they are not always the best at getting to unknown unknowns. Free-form fields can help here, but they’re not as good as interviews and observing users. 

Interviews

Interviews, such as those done in usability studies, ethnographic research and customer development provide a much richer profile of users. They also help uncover unknown opportunities and issues. The key to interviews is to ensure you’re not leading the interviewee, and are able to elicit the insights and information you’re looking for. Interviewing is a skill, and whether it’s for usability research or customer development, knowing the right questions to ask and being able to put subjects at ease are critical to making the sessions valuable. 

Ash Mayura does a great job of outlining the specifics to customer development issues in Running Lean and includes a specific format and question recommendations to help you get the most out of the interviews. Of course it’s critical that you’re interviewing the right types of people—people who are like the customers you are trying to attract or retain.

Observation

Beyond interviews, observation can be really valuable as well. Especially when it comes to usability it studies and ethnographic research, simply watching people interact with your product or service is highly instructive. You can do this remotely, with tools like UserTesting.com and Inspectlet, or you can do it in-person with some of the user testing studies outlined in Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. 

Ethnographic research has you observing users in their actual environment with your product. Watching someone work all day and then pick up their phone to use your app, or login to your service while trying to manage their leads, etc. is an incredibly illuminating experience that not only provides great context to understand how your users think about and use your product in relation to the rest of their lives, but it also creates a great deal of user empathy which is essential in creating new features, campaigns, etc. 

Inbound Customer Feedback

Combining these individual deep dives with other qualitative feedback can help provide context to results and analytics data. All of this is proactive research led by the organization, but you also have a great deal of qualitative inbound data that you can take advantage of.

Complaints, support tickets, phone calls, posts on social media, reviews and chat logs are all founts of qualitative data that can be mined for insights. They can be structured, through tools like UserVoice, or they can be mined from unstructured data like support logs or Twitter mentions. 

While most inbound customer feedback is simply used to manage complaints and triage issues, the growth team can use this feedback to find new opportunities for features and campaigns that can lead to growth. One of my favorite examples of this is from Bryan Eisenberg, who likes to show how different the language is in e-commerce product descriptions and the consumer reviews of the same product. By mining these reviews, e-commerce companies can find inspiration for everything from ad and landing page copy to new marketing channels to pursue.

User research is an important and rich area of opportunity for businesses. Most of the opportunity is squandered by a lack of action. As usability expert Jakob Nielsen said, even talking to just five users can lead to big insights and wins. By combining surveys, interviews, observations, and analysis of inbound customer feedback, growth teams can find brand new opportunities that can lead to big wins for their business.

3. Form a unique value proposition to begin establishing language-market fit.

As pointed out by Peep Laja on ConversionXL, your value proposition is the number-one thing you need to get right — and to test. It is a promise of the value to be delivered to the customer. It should be in the language of the customer and should join the conversation that’s already taking place.

To do this, you first have to understand what your customer needs (and what they’d like to gain), what their jobs are, and what their biggest pain points are. Don’t try to guess – use qualitative data gained from interviews and surveys of your ideal customers.

Then, look at what your product does, what benefits/gains it offers, and what pain points it relieves.

Where the two lists intersect is where you have problem/solution fit. And each “fit” becomes an ingredient of your value proposition.

Use this value proposition worksheet or Strategyzer’s value proposition canvas to get started.

value-prop-canvas

Of course, when filling out the value proposition canvas, you’ll have to condense your users’ answers in order to make a list to compare and contrast with what your product offers. But don’t throw away the complete responses from your interviewees. This chart will help you find problem/solution fit (aka. product/market fit) and let you know exactly which benefits to highlight for your audience, but it won’t tell you which words to use that fit your audience.

Your audience already has.

Within the responses your interviewees give you are perfect little sound bites, snippets of sentences, or possible full paragraphs, that precisely express – in the raw language of your users – what your customers need, want and fear. Use these sound bites as they are (correcting only grammar and punctuation if necessary) in your copy.

When your copy – even your value proposition – captures the diction, tone, and feel of your target audience, they’ll recognize it as quickly as you recognize your own signature on a check. And it will speak to them.

4. Update and test your language.

Now that you’ve collected your qualitative data and put it to use in a working value proposition, it’s time to update the language on your landing pages. 

You’ll need to continue to test your value proposition, so form a hypothesis for an A/B test and start testing to determine which variation has a greater positive impact on Customer Success metrics.

A/B testing may be simple, but it’s powerful. Much like the observation technique of gathering qualitative data, a good A/B test measures the real-world behavior of your customers.

Which metrics to look at depends on your goal. Is it lowering Cost to Acquire a new customer (CAC)? Is it monthly recurring revenue, or annual recurring revenue? Is it retaining customers after a typical “drop-off” point in your onboarding process?

Once you’ve chosen a metric and have a hypothesis – which can be as simple as “I think the new language will increase conversions on this page by 25%” – set up an A/B test to find out if you’re meeting your goal. If not, make one change and try again.

You may find that the issue isn’t your language but its presentation, so if you are confident in your value proposition and your on-page copy, you might try having your web design team change the placement of the text, the font, the color, etc. Don’t make lots of changes all at once, unless the page is brand new or severely underperforming. You need a benchmark to compare the new with the old.

5. Monitor 

The problem with A/B testing is that it doesn’t tell you why you’re getting the results you are, which is where qualitative data comes into play yet again. Once you’ve noticed that version B actually performs worse than version A, you can use on-page open-ended survey questions, or interviews, or any of the other qualitative data gathering methods to ask your customers “Hey, what about this page isn’t working for you?”

Then, iterate based on their responses and repeat the A/B testing cycle until you’ve optimized your value prop, or page, or onboarding process for customer success.

Conclusion

Qualitative data is at the heart of Customer Success initiatives – after all, how can you help customers achieve their successes unless you’ve first asked them what they are. With the foundation of insights ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’ you can build an empire.

  1. Identify your ideal customer by using Lincoln Murphy’s Ideal Customer Profile Framework.
  2. Gather qualitative data through the use of surveys, interviews, observation, and inbound customer feedback to validate your language.
  3. Use this value proposition worksheet to form your value proposition.
  4. Update and test the language on your site. 
  5. Monitor.

Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Development

When you do everything right, and still lose traffic: A scary story with a twist. ft. @Buffer

When-you-do-everything-right,-and-still-lose-traffic-A-scary-story-with-a-twist

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

“We’ve lost nearly half our social referral traffic in the last 12 months” is the title of a Buffer case study by Kevan Lee that fascinates me. It’s a perfect example of best practices gone wrong. I’ve got to tell you this story:

It was a dark and stormy night when Kevan Lee, of Buffer’s marketing team, admitted his even darker secret:

“We as a Buffer marketing team – working on a product that helps people succeed on social media – have yet to figure out how to get things working on Facebook (especially), Twitter, Pinterest, and more.”

Cue the crickets.

They had a ton of theories about their social slump.

We’ve Been Failing on Social Media for 2 Years. Here’s What We Think It Means. from Buffer

Most of their theories were really good.But still their social referral traffic went down. They lost nearly half in a year.

“I don’t have the answer for what’s gone wrong. I wish I did!”

Kevan found himself spiraling into self-doubt, resulting in some not-so-good theories and some major impostor syndrome (you can do it Kevan! I believe in you!).

Maybe we’ve reached peak content saturation, he wonders. Maybe there’s just too much competition (he cites this 2-year-old stat: “Every time someone visits the Facebook News Feed there are on average 1,500 potential stories  . . .  for them to see.”) Still, there are brands and people out there that continue to rock the social media space (shout-out to Gary Vaynerchuk), which dashes the peak content saturation theory.

One thing he does note is a recent change in the type of content Buffer posts. They moved away from productivity and lifehacking content (which got great numbers) and now share mostly social media tips and strategies.

What I love about this post is that he doesn’t deliver the answer, because he doesn’t know it yet. Instead, Kevan, being the rock star that he is (and I mean that sincerely), ends the post with a few things he’s going to try, and then opens up the conversation to comments and suggestions.

This is where it gets really interesting.

Scott Paley:

Maybe you’re measuring the wrong thing? Is ‘reach’ really what you want? Better to find 10,000 potential customers of Buffer than reach 100,000 people who won’t ever buy…Look at it this way… are sales down as a result of the reduced reach?

Scott Paley:

Another way to look at this… when you create more generally helpful stuff, maybe it goes viral and you get more traffic. But it’s not deep content (so it’s not super useful to your actual customer base.) Or you create content that IS super helpful to your actual customer base, making your product more valuable to those who actually pay for it (or would pay for it.) But that content isn’t super interesting to the general (non-paying) public. Those who are, or could be, customers are happier with the newer stuff. But it doesn’t get nearly the same reach. If this is your situation, you’re doing it right, even if you’re referral traffic is cut in half.

Kevan Lee:

Great one, Scott! Yep, I’d say we’ve leaned more toward the deep content with the hope that it would be more useful for social media marketers (a core demographic for us). One risk of that was reduced reach, which it appears has arrived! (We made the switch about 18 months ago)

And then Rachel and Melissa chime in with completely different perspectives.

Rachel Speal:

Kevan, I know this article is bit old; I actually use Buffer but almost never go to the blog. I found this article through Buzzsumo. Anyway, what Scott is 100% right. Nothing matters except ROI. While you’ve changed the angle of your blog, I think you’ve failed to tie your content to your users/prospects specific social marketing problems. And possibly your headlines aren’t strong enough. I think you need to go back to the blackboard and check who your real customers are, vs who you think they are. Perhaps the demographics have changed since you began. Once you know that, you can get a better handle on what problems they have, and connect your connect to that. Anyway, hope that doesn’t sound harsh. I am a customer of Buffer, and have been for many years. So I am happy with you guys…I just don’t see how the blog adds any value to what I – as a copywriter and marketer- need.

Melissa:

As a paying buffer customer, can’t say i agree with this theory. I used to enjoy the old topics more than the new, more specific ones. I commented in more detail above but essentially — i use buffer because it helps me manage social because social is not my entire job… i want to be efficient and quick with my social updates and buffer helps me do that. While im very into marketing and productivity, im not a social media geek. 🙂

All of a sudden, the conversation takes a turn onto the road of sheer genius, because it’s here that they begin talking about the importance of gathering qualitative data: Talking with your customers about what they want, why they want it, what their goals are, and how your product fits into the larger contexts of their jobs and lives.

Melissa asks Kevan if he’s done (or is doing) one-on-one customer interviews – and he hasn’t been. Though, he says, “I’ve thought a lot about taking a customer development approach to the blog.”

And then Melissa brings it home with this gem (I love Melissa. I haven’t met her, but I love her).

Melissa:

I can’t emphasize enough how valuable it was to do even a small handful of one-on-one interviews in addition to wider surveys. You’d be amazed at what you learn in a conversation that might never come up otherwise. I’ve led this kind of project at several companies now, and am always pleasantly surprised by how much you learn actually talking to customers 🙂

It’s one crazy blog post, and well worth a thorough read as the conversation changes from “why is this happening?” to a conversation about customer development.

I love a good twist at the end of a scary story, don’t you?

Takeaways

In the hundreds of comments this post generated, a few key ideas emerge:

  • Highly targeted content aimed at fewer, but ideal, customers is valuable. A high number of readers in general is really just a vanity metric.
  • If you want to know why your readers gravitate to one kind of content versus another, ask them. Their answers may surprise you.
  • Why don’t they like your new, more targeted content? Maybe they like your product, but don’t want to live your product (in which case: general, fun articles might actually be the right bait for this target audience).
  • Maybe just as many readers are finding you, but through different channels than they used to. Several commenters noted that they switched from following Buffer on social media to getting notifications of new posts via email.
  • Finding out what content appeals to your audience is not something that should be left up to guessing. Otherwise you end up with a really long post of “maybe it’s this, maybe it’s that” – which is interesting, but not nearly as helpful as a good comments section.

The end.


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Development, Product Management

5 Worksheets You Need to Build Out Your Customer Development Strategy ft. @sgblank

customer-development

If you’ve read about the Product Death Cycle – a dire consequence of letting user feedback run you ragged – you may feel that asking prospective customers to guide your product development and marketing efforts is like waltzing on a pirate ship’s plank: One wrong step and you’re sunk. Yet, even though there are a myriad of missteps possible, customer development can save you from even more by giving you the precise information you need to find product/market fit.

In The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step by Step Guide for Building a Great Company by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf, their introduction to customer discovery begins with a list of things NOT to do – which also neatly describes five common pitfalls to which founders attempting customer development often fall victim:

“It’s instructive to enumerate all things you are not going to do:

  • Understand the needs and wants of all customers
  • Make a list of all the features customers want before they buy your product
  • Hand Product Development a features list of the sum of all customer requests
  • Hand Product Development a detailed marketing-requirements document
  • Run focus groups and test customers’ reactions to your product to see if they will buy”

The “Product Death Cycle” begins with just such a recipe. This is when well-intentioned entrepreneurs gather as much qualitative data as they can from all potential customers and act on all the feedback.

All is where the danger happens. And it’s all too easy to fall into it – which is why these 5 worksheets from The Startup Owner’s Manual* come in so very handy.

*Note: We have no affiliation with this book – we just think it’s incredibly informative and hope you do too!

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Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.