Product launches are part of a broader go-to-market strategy and incorporate product, market and channel strategies.
I joined Growth Mentor to discuss this very topic on their podcast.
I joined Growth Mentor to discuss this very topic on their podcast.
Thanks so much to SEMrush for featuring me in their Top 100 Content Marketing Influencers and Experts list for 2022.
Agile product development.
Lean Startup methodology.
This is how both 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. In fact, the Lean Startup movement, along with customer development, are in many ways a reaction to the high mortality rate we’ve seen in startups, and they gain followers by presenting solutions.
At the core of these solutions is qualitative data.
When founders collect and use qualitative data correctly to inform their product design and marketing strategies, they can and will avoid most common pitfalls. Most importantly, they will produce a product that people need and want, finding problem/solution fit (and maybe even product/market fit.
In The Startup Owner’s Manual by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf, the authors sum it up like this: “Startups solve customer and market risk by reading this book.” Their book is all about gathering and using qualitative data, and their list of “9 Deadly Sins” is indicative of the problems qualitative data is uniquely able to solve, including…
Their four-step formula for business building aims to circumvent the dangerous assumptions that lead to startup failure, and their prescription begins with “Customer discovery” (read: Gathering qualitative data!).
What is qualitative research?
Qualitative research seeks to find information about the behaviors, needs, desires, routines, use cases, and other information on how a product might best fit into a user’s life or work, including details about emotion, personality, and other intangibles affecting purchasing decisions.
For Blank and Dorf, they 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.
What does this look like in practice?
It’s not hard to do.
Your goals are simple. You have to find answers to these questions:
First, you have to find the right people to ask.
You can’t gather qualitative data from just anyone. The people with the answers you need are your ideal clients – those that have a problem or need, know they have a problem or need, are actively searching for a solution, and is willing to pay you to provide that solution. Blank and Dorf even add that the most ideal prospects are so desperate for a solution to their very painful problem that they’ve cobbled together a DIY solution in the meantime.
How many people should you ask? Start with 50 potential customers who don’t know you. Persuading them to give you some of your time is the hardest part of this process! (You can do it.) Start with asking people you know directly and ask for referrals to friends, and friends of friends.
Second, you have to designate the right person to ask the questions.
Who should conduct qualitative data interviews? The answer will probably surprise you, but more than one expert says it should be none other than the founder. Who better to find out what is needed, and who needs it, than the person driving the entire operation?
Then, you have to ask the right questions, in the right way.
You can ask your questions one-on-one, collect qualitative data within a focus group setting, or through (totally not creepy) observation. You can even ask for qualitative data through email and surveys (though that becomes problematic, since only a self-selective group will respond, potentially skewing your results). The most important part of qualitative data is digging for the insights you wouldn’t be able to find any other way, and the best way to do that is through good, old-fashioned conversations.
Ask open-ended questions that lead you to these insights:
DO NOT ask them what features they want in a product. Not only is this asking them to do your work for you, the average layman is really bad at product development and will lead you into the product death cycle:
Other useful information…
The most important characteristic of your target prospect is whether they have a problem you’re uniquely able to solve, but while you’re finding out, you may want to make notes on:
Find the common threads in the answers and use them to create a user story. It might look like roughly this:
Sample Target market: Freelancers
The goal of this list is to clarify your company’s vision, distilling it down into a few bullet points, for your Customer Development, product development, and marketing teams to use as guidelines for growing from a minimum viable product to a successful, sustainable business.
A Minimum Viable Product is the smallest possible group of features that will work as a stand-alone product that solves the core problem, and demonstrates the product’s value. It requires much less investment than creating a full product, and makes it easier for product development to iterate based on customer feedback.
Qualitative data isn’t just for startups
Any time you’re making a change, starting something new, or toying with the idea of adding another feature, taking the time to gather qualitative data can help you avoid making costly mistakes – mistakes that result from assumptions.
So why do I see SaaS founders making the same two mistakes over and over again?
You know who doesn’t make these two mistakes? A fisherman. A fisherman goes out knowing exactly the type of fish he wants to catch. He comes prepared with the correct type of fishing reel to catch his fish. He chooses from among hundreds of types of fishing lures and bait, finding the exact combination most likely to appeal to his fish. According to Field and Stream, you can find a lure that catches fish, “specified right down to size and color.” Then, he finds the part of the stream, river, brook, or ocean where his prey is most likely to be, according to the time of year and weather conditions.
This leads me to the first mistake far too many SaaS founders make:
Oh, there are variations. There are a number of SaaS founders who think they’ve identified their target customer, but haven’t done enough homework to flesh out the details. It’s like saying you’re going after trout, but do you want rainbow trout? Brook trout? Brown trout? Cutthroat trout? Did you know Ireland has more types of trout than anywhere else in the world?
And each type of trout has its own lifecycle, feeding habits, and habitat.
You can’t just say you want trout and expect to catch one. You need to know the details.
You can’t just say your target audience is women, between the ages of 25 to 35. You need to know what their problems are, what frustrates them, what they love, and what outcome they would most like to the problem you’re uniquely prepared to solve.
Lincoln Murphy has a theory about why so many founders fail to ID their target – he thinks that people forget that they can choose their customers. I would add that many business owners have a “beggars can’t be choosers” mentality and fear excluding potential buyers by targeting one group too specifically.
However, unless you’re attempting to become the next Amazon or Apple, chances are your product won’t appeal to everyone equally. This isn’t a liability, it’s an opportunity. Business that are able to become leaders in their niches do very, very well.
There are many methods and theories for how to create customer profiles and buyer personas. Many require you to go into incredible depth of detail, fleshing out your target’s family role, religion, hair color, ethnic background, geographic location, house or apartment, favorite celebrity trend-setter, shoe size.
I appreciate what a well-developed buyer persona can offer businesses. Advertising Andy in his size 10 Birkenstocks can be a useful rallying point for the different teams responsible for attracting, acquiring, retaining and delighting his segment.
But I recommend starting by finding out the information that is most pertinent to what you have to offer and what business problem you’re trying to solve (Retention? Lifetime value? Creating brand advocates?).
Picture the best customer you’ve ever had:
The answers to these 10 questions are a recipe for who your customers are, where you can find them, and what is likely to appeal to them most. You won’t get this information by guessing, which leads me to the second most common mistake SaaS founders make.
There is a right way and a wrong way to talk to your customers, but many SaaS founders don’t talk at all. That’s definitely the wrong way! Here’s another wrong way:
If I asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses. – Henry Ford
While you can’t rely on your customers to come up with their own solutions, it is important to ask them questions and listen to what they are, and aren’t saying.
Focus on understanding their problems, the severity of their problems, and the contexts of those problems.
What is their workflow?
Ask questions about their desires and find out what drives them. Their goals probably have nothing to do with your product, but your product could be exactly what they need to reach their goals of saving time (to spend more time with their families), working more efficiently (to experience less frustrating and impress their bosses), or whatever it is.
Ask them where they look to find answers – do they Google problems? Do they ask their co-workers?
Ask your best customers if you can speak with them for 20 minutes to find out how you can better meet their needs – most will be more than happy to comply. Be sure to take word-for-word notes, since your copywriters may want to use the exact language of your customers in their conversion copy.
So much valuable information can only be gleaned through customer interviews. Yet most founders are reluctant to “bother” people. But here’s the thing: When the purpose of your questions is to create a better solution, improve the user experience, and essentially make your customer’s lives easier – they’ll be glad you asked (and impressed by your commitment to customer service).
The information you gain from your customers can be used to refine your marketing and sales tactics, strengthen your customer success efforts and drastically improve retention. The trick is to ask the right questions of the right people.
What’s your biggest problem as a Product Dev professional? Too many demands and not enough time? Limited resources? Oddly enough, none of those topped the list for Hiten Shah’s crowd.
Hiten Shah (of KISSmetrics, Crazy Egg, and Quick Sprout fame) once wrote that that “the problems people have on Product teams fall into two main categories: Customer Feedback and Alignment.” This conclusion came after Hiten asked his readers to share their biggest product problems, and in more than 100 replies, those two themes emerged as the leaders.
Let’s go through the problems real Product professionals sent Hiten Shah point by point.
Qualitative data – ie. freeform responses versus ratings or multiple choice answers – are notoriously difficult to sift through and analyze. It’s only recently that, with advanced technology and machine learning, it’s become much easier to tag, sort, and assign sentiment to qualitative feedback at scale.
Tagging, in particular, is a huge time-saver when you switch from just manual tagging to auto-tagging. Tagging comments with their major themes is the first step towards conducting frequency analysis to identify trending topics – or find relevant feedback with a click.
Using an NPS survey with an open-ended comments section, for example, you might find that your ‘detractors’ (low scorers) comments tend to be tagged with “slow loading time” or you may see a specific feature request recurring.
Yep, modern customer feedback software should be able to deliver every comment with a feature request, for example, tagged and prioritized by frequency, from the highest-value customers, in about a second.
You can even use tags to route specifically tagged feedback straight to the appropriate department for follow-up. No need to hunt for bugs – the bugs will come to you! (Don’t they always?)
When your customer feedback comes primarily through surveys that *don’t* include open-ended responses (to gather all of that golden qualitative data), it’s impossible to get the context you need to evaluate the issue and possibly solve it.
But understanding the why behind NPS, CES and CSAT scores (to name a few) isn’t all the context you need to decide where to allot your time and resources.
You literally have to consider the source.
Is the feedback coming from a high-value, ideal client? Is your existing survey solution capable of identifying those markers?
Did you know that it’s even possible to target specific customer segments with survey campaigns?
And for even more context – you can target customer surveys based on product milestones. For example, you can set a CES survey to deploy after new feature use to find out how easy (or difficult) new customers think it is to use.
An overwhelming number of customer comments can leave you feeling like you are trying to drink from a fire hydrant. It’s time to talk about the wonders of machine learning.
Historically, extracting insights from piles of unstructured feedback has been difficult, expensive and time-consuming. That is not the case today. When you need insight from feedback at scale, it is time to invest in text and sentiment analysis using software with natural language processing.
Machine learning has come a loooong way. Yes, algorithms must be trained to understand your company and customers, so chose a software vendor that will keep their team in the loop and ensure you’re getting good insights right off the bat. Then the software just gets better and better at telling you what is most important to your customers.
Okay, there’s no excuse – this is so easily doable. You can set any CX survey you want to deploy on a regular basis, or, deploy after customers complete specific milestones. Having to go get customer feedback shouldn’t be something you have to think about. It should be automatic! Part of your daily, weekly, or monthly routine.
But, it’s only that easy if you’ve got software that makes it that easy – let’s be honest here. Modern customer feedback software can integrate with Slack, Intercom, or whatever you use, as well as deliver surveys to customers while they’re in your app, and deliver it to you tagged, sorted, and prioritized.
You can have your finger on the pulse of customer satisfaction and will know immediately if there’s any fluctuation. As an added bonus, give a pat on the back to whoever built an update or solution for customers so they can see the results in action!
Surveys are great – we love them. But you know what? Even with a qualitative feedback field, a survey can’t take the place of a real, person-to-person conversation. And usually, the biggest barrier to having those conversations is making the time.
We can’t pick up the phone for you, but we can save you time. Enough time to schedule interviews with your customers and get even deeper insights that they may never tell you in writing.
Here’s the thing, Product friends. You aren’t the only department that has to be “customer-centric” and talk to customers all the time and review steady streams of feedback. So to make this part of your job easier, you might have to reach out to other departments and make customer-centricity a multi-team effort.
If you have a Customer Success department, start there – you might find that the Customer Success Manager is the Product Manager’s BFF. They’re also talking to customers every day, and in many ways, they’re closer to the problems customers face than you are. Most CSMs would be delighted to build better relationships with their Product Dev departments, working together to answer the question “What can we do to help our customers achieve success?”
It’s not easy – true. But it is getting easier to solve qualitative feedback issues with modern customer feedback software.
What you want to look for is a customer feedback program that can pull all of customer comment sources together, like NPS or CSAT feedback, user interviews, support tickets, app store reviews, social and analyze those comments in a way that lets you see the big picture and slice & dice by theme, sentiment, survey date, and data source.
Here’s what we know: Effective customer acquisition tactics for B2B SaaS marketing are based in understanding the customer, their jobs-to-be-done, and making your value proposition crystal clear.
That hasn’t changed.
What has changed:
Business audiences are getting harder to impress. There’s a glut in products, content, ads and emails that’s trained them to stop paying attention, unless they’re confronted with something truly unexpected.
Which means, B2B SaaS marketers like me, like you, need to find more creative ways to stand out, even when your product serves an important need.
I consulted some of the best B2B SaaS marketers in the biz, who’ve shared some of their best B2B SaaS acquisition strategies that are both timely and timeless.
These are strategies you can start implementing right now to acquire more customers.
Content and copy work hand-in-hand to lift up early-stage SaaS businesses; the first to bring target audiences in and win their trust, the second to hook them with a strong value proposition and buyer psychology. For some companies, their content strategy is their acquisition strategy.
Finding the right words, for me, is really about finding market-language fit: Identify your ideal customers, talk to them, create a value proposition based on those customer conversations, and use their exact words to inform the rest of your marketing. In fact, I’d say there’s no better ‘growth hack’ than just talking to your customers.
But what does talking to your customer really mean?
It’s not like you’re inviting them out for tea and cookies every week for a casual catch-up (that would be cool though).
When we say “talk to your customers,” we usually mean sending surveys that include long-form free-response fields, building quick in-app surveys to uncover moments of friction, and maybe (hopefully) getting some of your ideal customers on the phone or in person for more in-depth interviews. These are all valid ways of talking to your customers. But I’d like to see companies going several steps further and including genuine conversations with their customers. Getting to know your customers as human beings and building real relationships with them that power positive customer experience.
In this section, we’re talking about how B2B SaaS companies use words – their words, and their customers’ words – to make marketing more effective at kickstarting those relationships.
These experts have not only found the right words, but use the right strategies to bring in people, convert them into customers, and retain them.
“I swear we’ve tried almost everything and, the only thing that always, always, always works – in any situation – is storytelling.
Other things work well (or not) depending on the buyer, situation and cost.
And by storytelling I mean telling our story… like this:
Our mission is…
We started Vervoe because we want to…
We do this by…
Now let’s talk about you…”
Co-Founder & CEO
[bctt tweet=”I swear we’ve tried almost everything and, the only thing that always, always, always works – in any situation – is storytelling. Other things work well (or not) depending on the buyer, situation and cost.” username=”OmerMolad”]
“I find that the magic place of storytelling is where your company’s story intersects with your customer’s story. So, if you can define your story identifying your values, your passion, your history, and your greatest skills you can find where that intersects.
That particular pain you are trying to solve with your product is the same pain your customer feels. When they hear your story, they recall their own story. There is an immediate connection. It’s magic.”
|Todd E. Jones
Helping tech entrepreneurs resurrect flatlined content
[bctt tweet=”The magic place of storytelling is where your company’s story intersects with your customer’s story. Define your story identifying your values, your passion, your history, and your greatest skills.” username=”tejones”]
“Ostensibly, B2B buyers are purchasing software based on hard facts that words and numbers convey. But emotional connection plays an important role in how people make decisions–and B2B buyers are people. I have a background in B2C marketing, so I know first-hand the power of brand to elicit a positive emotional response such as trust.
So, one of the first things I did in the early days at Wootric was to establish a strong brand identity. Remember the old adage about dressing for the job you want, not the job you have? It can be tempting to choose a logo that reflects a fun startup culture. You are better off creating an identity that embodies where the company will be in three to five years. Our roadmap had Wootric quickly expanding from an NPS survey tool to a end-to-end customer experience management solution, and our brand identity needed to take us there.
Approaching brand this way gives you a competitive edge. You will enhance the credibility of the messaging and content you’ve worked so hard to create. When Wootric acquired one of its first marquee customers, the sales team shared this post-sale customer comment with me: ‘Wow, I thought Wootric was much bigger!’
That is the power of brand. “
Head of Marketing
[bctt tweet=”Ostensibly, B2B buyers are purchasing software based on hard facts that words and numbers convey. But emotional connection plays an important role in how people make decisions–and B2B buyers are people.” username=”LisaAbbott “]
“For almost five years now, I’ve been focusing on content marketing for cybersecurity and privacy companies. A big challenge is that the usual topics are stark and complex to the point of being overwhelming for the target audience.
It also doesn’t help that most content in the industry relies heavily on FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) to make a point or persuade readers to become customers.
I’ve found storytelling to be the most effective way to build an emotional connection that can nudge readers to reconsider their online security habits.
Sharing experiences that people like themselves lived through changes their opinion from “this can’t happen to me” to “I wouldn’t want to walk a mile in their shoes.”
Focusing on storytelling in building content for information security companies is an essential way of turning the reader’s attention from someone else’s problem to their potential problem.”
Cyber Empathy Podcast
[bctt tweet=”Focusing on storytelling in building content is an essential way of turning the reader’s attention from someone else’s problem to their potential problem.” username=”AndraZaharia”]
“At Skuid, we start with a strong foundation and define our message map. This document can be used across all teams at Skuid to ensure that we are fully in sync with our message to the market.
For us marketing must be omni-channel – we call our approach a flywheel. Each facet of marketing—content, product marketing, demand gen, PR and communications—plays an integral role in the overall strategy.
Once the flywheel is built out, each facet propels the other forward, creating momentum in acquiring customers.
We create content to celebrate our customers’ successes and educate prospects and customer about our product through webinars, blogs, case studies, at in person events and virtually. We also use a combination of paid advertising (Google, Facebook, LinkedIn) and organic search to promote our content to our target audience.
At Skuid, we’ve seen success in taking a land and expand approach to sales and marketing. Once a customer uses our product and understands the versatility of the platform, they want find additional uses cases across their organization. This has been the case in some of our largest customers, including BHGE, Intuit, HPE, RedHat, and others.”
[bctt tweet=”We’ve seen success in taking a land and expand approach to sales and marketing. Once a customer uses our product and understands the versatility of the platform, they want find additional uses cases across their organization.” username=”karielepito”]
“I’m with Text Request, a 4-year-old B2B SaaS startup in Chattanooga, TN. We hit $1M in revenue earlier this year, and have not taken any funding/investment. Here’s how we’ve acquired customers.
If you already know who your target customer is and how to take care of them once they’ve signed up, then all you have to do is find more of your targets. Right? But that’s easier said than done. We’ve split our approach between inbound and outbound (pretty evenly).
For inbound, we use a combination of SEO best practices for keywords related to business texting, a high quality blog, and Google Ads. The concept is to be the resource people are looking for.
They go to Google with a question. Our content, ads, and website answer that question well, so we show up at the top of search results. Once they make it to our website, we have various calls-to-action to get them to take a next step. (E.g. Let us show you how it works. Schedule a demo!) In fact, almost all of our enterprise-level customers found us via Google search.
For outbound, we take an ideal target (let’s say pest control companies). We Google search for those companies in a particular town, and then we send them an email. We’ll say “Here’s the problem other exterminators are having, and here’s how we fix it. Here’s a link to more info. Schedule a demo to see how it works.” It’s a numbers game, but that process works very well for us.
In my experience, it’s not difficult to find more customers if you know who your targets are and where they spend their time. You also don’t need fancy marketing tech. A CRM is good for keeping up with everyone, and a CMS is good for regularly updating your website, but you don’t need to spend thousands a month on software just to build an effective sales funnel.”
VP of Marketing
[bctt tweet=”It’s not difficult to find more customers if you know who your targets are and where they spend their time. A CRM is good for keeping up with everyone, and a CMS is good for regularly updating your website.” username=”BurkeWriter”]
“Email segmentation is one the best B2B SaaS marketing strategies. I can’t stress enough the importance of targeting the right people with the right message at the right time.
I helped one of my clients increase their sales from email by 10% with a solid segmentation strategy. So, experiment with segmenting subscribers by purchasing history, opt-in form submissions, contact with support team, and in-app behavior.”
[bctt tweet=”Email segmentation is one the best B2B SaaS marketing strategies. Experiment with segmenting subscribers by purchasing history, opt-in form submissions, contact with support team, and in-app behavior.” username=”ShaylaPrice”]
“At a meta level, one thing that worked for us is to keep in mind that even though we’re a B2B startup, at the end of the day we’re in business to help people achieve their goals. That means looking at our customers as people and not as businesses or users. It’s a small shift in the way we think, but goes a long way in terms of how we approach our marketing.
An example of how we approach this – Since we’re (Zepel.io) an early-stage startup, we reach out to our users as soon as they create their first project (we’re project management tool) and walk them through how they can get maximum bang for their buck quickly.
We believe this is important for any B2B SaaS company, but it’s even more important if you’re in your early days.
Earlier this year, we decided to write about a topic that people who might buy our product have problems with. Something they constantly think and worry about. And we knew one thing every product manager worried about is feature prioritization. So, we wrote about it and it was well received – generating plenty of shares (nearly 500!), eyeballs, and more importantly, conversions.
Naturally, we were excited. People were moving from our blog post to our website and converting! What marketer wouldn’t?!
But we didn’t have a good enough process to reach out to our new users and understand more about them. And that left us in the dark when it came to understanding why someone didn’t take a key action on our product. Fortunately, we were quick enough to realize and act fast. Today, we reach out to new users and guide them through our product.
Sure, everyone does that with onboarding emails.
But when we took a step back and looked at users as people, we saw them similar to tourists in a new city who knew what places to go and see (our features), but didn’t know how to get there. The more we treated them as people by having genuine conversations, the more they trusted us.
This has not only helped us improve key areas within marketing and improve our engagement in the app, but also find areas we can improve within the product itself.”
Sr. Product Marketing Manager
[bctt tweet=”When we took a step back and looked at users as people, we saw them similar to tourists in a new city who knew what places to go and see (our features), but didn’t know how to get there.” username=”svikashk”]
It’s really easy to get lost in the tactical aspects when you’re doing marketing. Writing copy, creating assets, using your creativity to come up with ideas, even being open to finding inspiration all around you.
While the tactical can be fun and fulfilling, what really matters is that your message resonates with your audience. This type of resonance doesn’t just happen by accident. It takes experimentation, practice and repetition to figure out what resonates with your audience and what doesn’t.
Experimentation is obvious. You have to be deliberate in your efforts and know what your goal is before you start. Even better is if you start with a hypothesis of what you think will happen with your experiment.
Practice is about knowing that you’ll fail and need to learn by doing. Post-mortems where you review what happened (even if things went well) are key to improving every time you practice marketing. Don’t forget the critical step of reviewing what you did, what happened, and any lessons you can take from each attempt.
Repetition is key because that’s how you’ll scale. Once you find something that works with your audience, you want to run more experiments by repeating what you did that worked and improving each time.
Finding what resonates will help you know when you hit the mark with your marketing efforts, and when you didn’t. Experimentation, practice and repetition will help you find what resonates most.
[bctt tweet=”Finding what resonates will help you know when you hit the mark with your marketing efforts, and when you didn’t. Experimentation, practice and repetition will help you find what resonates most.” username=”MarieProkopets”]
“Marketing will often struggle going from a blank page —not knowing what to say— to having so much to talk about that it’s impossible to find focus. Both problems can be solved by going to the source: your customers.
It’s your customers you’re trying to connect with. So why not spend quality time talking to them and understanding more about their businesses?
Whenever I work with a new client, I always start by doing research. That includes a handful of one-on-one calls with their best customers. After you’re done talking to them, you’ll notice important trends around how they speak, what words they use, how they refer to themselves, how they describe their pains, challenges and your product.
Once you discover the common threads and what your customers describe as their biggest pains and benefits, you’ll find focus. You’ll know exactly what needs to go on the page, and what to leave out.
Now you are ready to open a new text doc and write a quick outline of what the page should say. Then, start copy-pasting actual quotes from your interviews to fill in the gaps. Part of the creative work is editing the quotes to increase impact and adding your own flavor to it. But you’ll be amazed at how much gold you’ll find in these recordings. Use that to write headlines, tag lines, product descriptions and even testimonials. No more fear of the blank page.
Follow this process to get the most out of your customer interviews:
[bctt tweet=”Once you discover the common threads and what your customers describe as their biggest pains and benefits, you’ll find focus. You’ll know exactly what needs to go on the blank page, and what to leave out.” username=”FJCopywriter”]
“When my co-founder, Elias Torres and I started Drift, there were over 5,000 other products in the marketing technology space. So we knew that the only way we stood a chance in such a crowded market was to do things that don’t scale.
People are always looking for the quick shortcut, the growth hack that is going to make you an immediate success. But building a business is all about building relationships. So from day one, we focused on that. We replied to every email, tweet and message. And it made all the difference because people knew that real people were out there listening.”
[bctt tweet=”People are always looking for the quick shortcut, the growth hack that is going to make you an immediate success. But building a business is all about building relationships.” username=”dcancel”]
If content marketing is inbound, and cold-calling and traditional advertising is outbound, what’s in between? Is that an odd question? It’s not one very many people ask. But when I think of my favorite way of reaching out to ideal customers and getting to know them in a meaningful way, neither of those more traditional avenues fill the bill.
My ‘hack’? It’s not a hack. It’s building a community around your product.
Your ideal customers have so much in common – their challenges, their pain points, their goals. When you can bring people with so many of the same interests together, everyone benefits. And, when it’s in a more social setting, like Slack or Facebook groups, you learn a lot more about what your customers need, and what delights them.
For B2B especially, I think Slack communities are an incredible, untapped resource. Subscription-based businesses require strong customer relationships to prevent churn and increase customer lifetime value, and Slack is remarkably well-suited to creating exactly the kind of communities that sustain that high level of engagement.
Of course, nobody will join your community unless it’s A) useful, B) fun, and C) has a beneficial and enjoyable group of people. It’s your job to set the tone. Here are three steps you can take the lay the foundation of a community that gets you and your ideal clients together.
From a platform this strong, you can promote your content (within reason), get early feedback from highly-engaged customers to tailor product-market fit, collect qualitative data galore, and announce new features and opportunities to an enthusiastic audience.
That’s my preferred way to reach out to the right people. But there are so many other ways to build genuine, human-to-human relationships as a growth strategy.
Here are how these companies are doing it.
“One of the biggest hurdles to overcome as a start-up is that you don’t yet have a reputable name, or portfolio of impressive clients to show prospective customers. Word of mouth is incredible powerful in the B2B world and we knew we had to align ourselves with credible names quickly to get us off the ground. To do so, we asked ourselves a question: who is already selling to our perspective customers? Can we work with them to sell our solution? We formed partnerships with resellers and distributors who have many existing customer relationships in place already, so by working with them we were able to quickly access customers who were difficult to reach directly.
Alongside partners, we also focused on marketing and outbound sales strategies too. Digital marketing is vital for B2B success, and a tip for start-ups is to focus your SEO on your niche, rather than broad terms which will always be won over by big names. Even a couple of simple, focused pages will help you to be found by people looking for your solution.
And finally, sometimes you can’t beat some old fashioned prospecting. Whether it’s through calls, emails, letters, LinkedIn messages, make sure you use any and all means to proactively reach out to your customers! It may not be glamorous, but it works!”
[bctt tweet=”We knew we had to align ourselves with credible names quickly to get us off the ground. To do so, we asked ourselves a question: who is already selling to our perspective customers? Can we work with them to sell our solution?” username=”talkativeuk”]
As a marketer, you need to see through your customer’s eyes. To live and breathe their stories as if they were your own. To know what they care about, what their problems are, what brings them joy and what frustrates them to no end.
This should be the fuel for your creativity. The soul behind each task you do.
Every word of copy you write, every asset you create and every marketing activity you do should be centered around an empathetic understanding of the customer.
How do you develop this deep understanding and resonance with your customers? You get your hands on as much research about them as you can – either from other parts of the company (Product, Customer Success) or by doing it yourself. User testing marketing pages and launch announcements. Doing competitive analysis to understand your customer better. Interviewing your customers. Whatever you can do to get closer to the customer will pay off tenfold.
The more you hone this skill, the better you’ll see your marketing initiatives perform. You’ll see better analytics on your marketing site. More views and shares of your blog posts. Better rankings in search results. Higher engagement.
The more you hold your customer in mind through empathetic marketing, the more you’ll accomplish. And the more fun you’ll have along the way.
Marketing is about people, first.
Everything you do in marketing starts with people. The people who see your ads, ones who visit your website, those on your email list, people who sign up for your product and of course the people who buy from you.
B2B marketing is about doing everything you can across your customer journey to attract, delight and retain people. The best way to accomplish that is to think deeply about these people’s experience and the part of the journey they are in.
You’ll discover the best message for them when you take every piece of marketing you are doing, step in people’s shoes and think about the copy, layout and imagery through their eyes.
Read the words out loud and think about how your audience will react to the message. This is one of the best ways to figure out the most compelling message you can use across the entire customer journey.
[bctt tweet=”B2B marketing is about doing everything you can across your customer journey to attract, delight and retain people.” username=”hnshah”]
“One of the first things I look at when I’m auditing a business is if they have an opportunity for an expert program. Experts are those ‘power-users’ who can help setup new customers on your platform. It’s a no-brainer in B2C SaaS and yet so few companies are doing it.
The fact is your new customers LOVE your product and want to get setup as quickly as possible. They want to make the most of their monthly investment. And they’re telling your customer support team about it.
The problem is that your team can’t do that kind of deep support and keep up with the growing number of customers. You want to do real customer SUCCESS… but how do you and your teams stay focused on your core competencies while scaling customer success without bursting at the seams?
When you have an expert program in place that scales easily, supports your CS team, and benefits your customers long term, that’s where the growth happens. Customer satisfaction goes up and tickets in your queue go down.
Leads are generated on a rolling basis and they easily become paying accounts. Monthly accounts turn into totally satisfied annual accounts and retention is increased.”
[bctt tweet=”When you have an expert program in place that scales easily, supports your CS team, and benefits your customers long term, that’s where the growth happens. Customer satisfaction goes up and tickets in your queue go down.” username=”lovevalgeisler”]
“One of my favorite B2B SaaS marketing strategies is one of the most straightforward, easily implemented and overlooked.
It’s super simple: Reach out to your happiest customers (promotors) and ask them to review your product on Capterra, G2crowd or the review sites where your best-fit customers are.
The most recent “real-world” example I’ve seen of this is Appcues (full disclosure, Appcues is a client of mine). Senior Product Marketing Manager, Ali Haris, set out to get 10 reviews last quarter. Just by asking their happiest customers, found that more than expected were happy to share their experience. With little effort they received 30 reviews with just a couple of hours spent per week.
It’s easy to overlook the amount of value these reviews will yield over time. Not only with they help potential customers discover Appcues, but they’ll help those who are already well into their evaluation of the tool, tip over the fence to buy. It’s one of those marketing strategies that has the potential to positively impact customers at every phase of your customer journey; Mobilizing your engaged and loyal customers to become one of the most effective drivers of growth.”
Co-Founder & CEO
Forget The Funnel
[bctt tweet=”Reach out to your happiest customers (promotors) and ask them to review your product on Capterra, G2crowd or the review sites where your best-fit customers are.” username=”ggiiaa”]
“As marketers, we can tell people about the potential benefits of a product or service all day long—or, we can actually show them the good we helped others build by leveraging our customers and their success stories.
Customers know what the value of our product/service is better than we do, because they are the ones putting it to work. At Hotjar, we like to run informal interviews with our customers to find out as many details as we can about how our tool fits in their everyday work schedule. And each time we invariably discover at least one interesting story that would make for enjoyable and useful reading—for example, we wrote an entire guide to market research after an in-depth conversation with one of our customers who shared their step-by-step process so other people can simply follow it.
Warning: you need to practice your empathy muscles and facilitate the conversation so it’s not self-serving, and then translate it into broader terms that can inspire and help others. Our mission should be to educate, be helpful, and make sure that people leave each piece of content with the inspiration and/or ability to do something they couldn’t before.”
|Dr. Fio Dossetto
[bctt tweet=”As marketers, we can tell people about the potential benefits of a product or service all day long—or, we can actually show them the good we helped others build by leveraging our customers and their success stories.” username=”Hotjar”]
“I’ve been lucky enough to interview some of the world’s top B2B marketers for Quuu’s podcast and they all say that the best marketing strategy is to build genuine relationships.
I’ve seen this work firsthand at Quuu. When Daniel Kempe and Matthew Spurr started Quuu, they knew that one of the most effective ways to get people using it was through word of mouth. So they gave influential figures in the marketing / tech industries free access to both Quuu and Quuu Promote, in exchange for supporting and mentioning Quuu when appropriate.
Not only did this ensure us a bank of high quality content, since these influencers submitted their blog posts to Quuu Promote for our Quuu users to share, but it also meant we were able to reach the right audience for our product. We’ve kept on nurturing these relationships and I would say it’s been essential to Quuu’s growth.
What’s really important is that this publicity doesn’t feel forced – our ‘Quuurators’ actually use our product and see the value of it, so it’s natural for them to mention us if, for example, they’re writing a roundup of content marketing tools for a big publication.
In B2B, you can’t lose sight of the fact that you’re still selling to humans – people with emotions, fears, doubts, etc. You need to build trust, and having people your customers admire recommending your product is a really effective way to do this.”
[bctt tweet=”In B2B, you can’t lose sight of the fact that you’re still selling to humans – people with emotions, fears, doubts, etc. You need to build trust, and having customers recommending your product is a an effective way to do this.” username=”luciafontaina”]
“When doing your customer research, ask your customers what kinds of tools they use. What’s in their stack? What do they open everyday? What other tools do they live in?
The reason I always add this question during my customer research and development process is because integrations (along with partnerships and business development) are an incredible growth channel, and it’s one not many marketers think about.
It’s definitely a conversation for both marketing and product, but if there’s clear demand and fit for an integration between your product and another, you might find that growth improves across the entire funnel — from acquisition to activation to retention.
Plus, when building integrations or even exploring the possibility of an integration with another company, you can build and form relationships with their teams. This opens the door for co-marketing opportunities like guest blogging, featuring each other on your integrations and strategic partnership pages, hosting virtual events together, attending conferences together, and so much more.
If it fits your product’s model and makes sense for your market, I’d definitely consider it — especially if your prospects are a little harder to reach.”
CEO & Co-Founder
[bctt tweet=”If there’s clear demand and fit for an integration between your product and another, you might find that growth improves across the entire funnel — from acquisition to activation to retention.” username=”AsiaMatos”]
So much of successful B2B SaaS Marketing is the result of cultivating a culture of growth and a mindset that makes testing and optimizing integral to every process.
One roadblock to achieving a Growth Culture that I see far too often is when teams dig out their trenches and never cross over to see what the other side is doing. I’m not just talking about data silos, where information that should be shared is kept by a chosen few. I’m also talking about a sort of territorial unwillingness to collaborate freely. This is my turf, that’s your turf, stay on your side and don’t bother me!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Growth depends on a free flow of information, especially between Customer Success, Customer Service and Product Development. This is a lot harder to achieve than it sounds, because each of these departments usually has its own set of KPIs to meet. And, sometimes they conflict.
Consider the onboarding user flow.
From a Product perspective, there are milestone actions customers need to complete to finish the onboarding process.
From a Customer Success perspective, there are success milestones, like “time to first value” (when the customer sees real-world value from using the product) that are vital to retention.
From a Customer Service perspective, they’re on the line to bridge the (often unnecessary) success gaps, when the customer can’t figure out how to achieve success with the product.
When you bring these three groups of people together – the ones who build the product, the ones who ensure customers succeed with the product, and the ones who troubleshoot when the process breaks down – in one room, magic happens.
They can solve problems. They can build an onboarding flow that bridges success gaps, and gets the customer from point A to point Z.
Of course, I don’t mean that collaboration should only happen for user onboarding! Collaboration between teams should be a daily, ongoing part of the process. Everyone should have access to user stats (and know what they mean). Insights, not just ‘fix-it’ tickets, should flow from Customer Service to Product and Customer Success. And, all parties need to be aware of putting undue burden on the other teams (yes, product tends to get buried in requests – let’s lighten their load, okay?).
Team work shouldn’t just happen within teams, but between teams.
And with that, let’s look at how other companies are cultivating growth cultures.
At MobileMonkey (an official Facebook Messenger Marketing platform) our most successful “marketing strategies” have all been “product-led”.
This means that marketing and product teams collaborated on building features that were not only cool for our users, but that also through some genius hack, would also result in opening a floodgate of new users.
For example early on we changed our pricing to include a “forever free” version of our chatbot, rather than only offering a free trial.
This dramatically increased our user adoption because it let everyone have enough time to learn about the features and functions of the product and not be subjected to some arbitrary 7 or 30-day free trial period.
Another thing we did was simply to re-package some of our software as a WordPress chatbot plug-in – the modest 2-month effort generated thousands of more sign ups!
At a high level, Product-Led Growth means your marketers need to think like product people and vice versa.
“Most businesses start marketing right away, only later to begin to setup their sales and marketing dashboards, sign up for tools like Mixpanel or Amplitude and start to narrow in on what to they could be tracking better.
The idea of wanting to make smarter business decisions based on data insights is the right approach. However, without first defining the metrics that matter most, how are you going to know if your marketing activities are actually contributing to growth vs have you constantly juggle marketing activities and spinning in place?
One of the best ways to implement a more focused, and strategic, marketing approach is to know what you want to track before kicking things off.
When working with clients we [Inturact] start with a simple framework called SaaS actionable metrics, or AARRRR metrics. They consist of:
These actionable metrics help you to clearly define the most important metrics and better understand your customers, so you can market (and build) your product more effectively.
With this approach you will properly define the most important growth metrics BEFORE kicking off your next marketing campaign. Hone in on what matters most and start focusing your efforts on strategies that actually contribute to growth.”
[bctt tweet=”SaaS actionable metrics help you to clearly define the most important metrics and better understand your customers, so you can market (and build) your product more effectively.” username=”TrevorHatfield”]
“SaaS business is all about the customer experience and directly depends on information. The faster you’re able to discover what does and doesn’t work, the faster you’ll grow your business.
At SEMrush, we test everything. Headline ideas, images, advertising targeting models, pricing algorithms and more. We want to figure out which of these ideas work for us and which don’t.
For example, say we want to determine which marketing efforts are really paying off for our SaaS company. So, we experiment to determine the variables that drive more customers, to understand what content is the most relevant or how to convert visitors into buyers. We know that the real magic happens while we’re learning from each test. Such data allows us to determine the baseline, our winning ideas, and losers.
Experimentation is our engine to move forward and accelerate growth.”
[bctt tweet=”SaaS business is all about the customer experience and directly depends on information. The faster you’re able to discover what does and doesn’t work, the faster you’ll grow your business.” username=”Elena71727990″]
“I never want to lead with any specific tactics, because I think context is almost everything, and what works really well for one company is often not optimal for another (even in the same industry). In addition, we’re all at different stages of growth, so some tactics in the beginning stages may be impactful but costly in time, whereas with scale we can focus on shifting resource costs to money rather than time.
In any case, I don’t think you can go wrong if you make experimentation your operating system. If you start by asking questions rather than applying “best practices” or even well-thought-out theories, I think you’ll find the answers are more effective than the stock answers given by most blog posts and conference talks. Instead of closing ourselves off from potential ideas and trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, we can design experiments to unlock innovative solutions, and we can use data to inform our tactical endeavors.
I think this is becoming a more approach with B2B marketers today, and it’s definitely popular in the B2C startup space. But we can move beyond A/B tests and treat almost everything we do as some sort of experiment, and then the learnings and results compound over time (plus, we don’t have to constantly rely on copying competitors, chasing stale tactics, or implementing best practices as a default). “
[bctt tweet=”Make experimentation your operating system. Start by asking questions rather than applying best practices. The answers are more effective than the stock answers given by most blog posts and conference talks.” username=”iamalexbirkett”]
Several responses for this round-up were along the lines of “understand your customer really really well.” I did not include them here, because that’s not a strategy. Rather, it’s the foundation of every strategy. Everything I do begins with substantial customer research.
So I want to end with my own favorite strategy of creating accurate personas that can effectively form the backbone of every marketing strategy and tactic you employ, from your value prop to your content calendar, and everything in between.
An accurate buyer persona helps in a few ways:
Here’s the thing: you can do your research, talk to your customers, find out their goals, dreams, ideal outcomes, current challenges, and which parts of their ‘jobs to be done’ make them want to pull out their hair.
And you can compile all of that research, slap a stock photo on top, and give it a name.
What you’ll have, really, is just a description of your current customers, which is still very useful for giving your entire company a solid understanding of your customer. But it’s not an actionable persona for marketing unless you can do this:
Can you use your customer description to find 10 people, 9 of whom will absolutely buy your product?
If you can, then you have a predictive persona you can use to align your teams AND use for product dev and marketing decisions. Including content marketing and distribution.
In her article on persona creation, Laura Klein, Principal at Users Know describes it perfectly:
If you can create a predictive persona, it means you truly know not just what your users are like, but the exact factors that make it likely that a person will become and remain a happy customer.
[bctt tweet=”If you can create a predictive persona, it means you truly know not just what your users are like, but the exact factors that make it likely that a person will become and remain a happy customer.” username=”LauraKlein”]
How can you elevate your persona from a descriptor to a predictor?
Research, describe – then verify.
It’s the step most marketers miss: to go out and find people who you think fit your customer description and check your work.
Take the information you’ve already gathered about your customer and create a hypothetical persona. Then test it in real life. Here’s how:
Have we missed an acquisition strategy that’s succeeded for you?
I’d love to hear your best tips and real-world experiences! Tell me your story in the comments, especially if you’ve got a case study.
It sounds simple — but it’s not easy: talking with your customers through every stage of the customer lifecycle.
There’s been a lot said about the value of talking to your customers before you build the product to ensure market fit, but very little said about continuing the conversation past marketing and past the sale.
Why do I know talking with your customer is *the* very best predictor of, and contributor to, SaaS business growth? Because creating a constant flow of customer feedback, input, and conversation makes Customer Experience (CX) better.
Multiple studies show that CX leads to revenue growth.
CX also drives brand advocacy (aka. word of mouth), creating a virtual sales army, which leads to:
“Customers with the best past experiences spend 140% more than those with the poorest past experiences.” — Harvard Business Review
Increased customer lifetime value.
“Customers with the best past experiences have a 74% chance of remaining a member for at least another year.” — Harvard Business Review
Plus, qualitative customer research leads to making data-informed decisions that streamline product management, ensure customer success, and make marketing and sales far more efficient.
In short, as Laura Klein, author, VP of product, and co-founder of Users Know says,
“User research saves time. Period. When you actually understand what your user needs before you build things, you have a much lower chance of having to go back and rebuild everything after shipping something that nobody uses.”
It’s not like you’re inviting them over for tea and cookies every week for a casual catch-up (though that would be awesome, and you should do that and invite me).
When we say “talk to your customers,” or “listen to your customers,” I usually mean getting on the phone with them (or better, meeting up with them in person). But, it can also mean sending surveys that include long-form response fields, or building quicker in-app surveys into your roadmap to uncover moments of friction.
And, of course, if you’re earlier in your business, there’s the Lean approach of interviewing dozens of target customers in person and over the phone — groundwork that helps founders (and product developers and marketers) form better hypotheses around what will deliver the best product-market fit.
There’s also user testing.
These are all valid ways of listening to your customers. But I’d like to advocate for doing all of these things and going several steps further. I’m talking about combining all of the above and adding genuine conversations to the mix.
It’s just not input. It’s just not feedback. It’s getting to know your customers as human beings and building relationships with them that drive positive CX far more powerfully than any of these elements could do alone.
So much has been written about interviewing customers prior to developing products that I’d like to focus on how to keep communication lines open after the launch, after customer acquisition, starting with onboarding.
(This is a chart I created for: “Product Managers: Why You Should Include Customer Success Milestones in Your User Flow”)
The first key to ensuring communication stays clear and open is to observe your customers. We communicate far more by our actions than we do verbally, and tracking the actions of your customers, especially (but not limited to) during onboarding can tell you the truths you need to hear.
Tracking customer behavior during onboarding and throughout product use allows you to see:
Yes, you want to track how well your customers accomplish the required tasks outlined in your User Flow, but usually, tracking stops there. If they press the right buttons at the right times, if they input the requested information, if they log in relatively regularly, it’s easy to assume customers are happily using your product.
But that’s not always the case. There may be ‘success gaps’ you can’t see that are causing churn. FYI: A ‘success gap’ is “the gap between what you think represents the customers’ successful use of your product and what they think equates to success,” according to Lincoln Murphy.
This is where aptly timed in-app surveys come in handy, which I’ll get to in the next section.
Tools that can help:
While you’re tracking user behaviors, successes and failures, you’ll also want to check in with your users in an unobtrusive way to get their feedback at specific points in their user journeys.
For example, if you identify a page or prompt during onboarding that tends to ‘lose’ people, have a trigger-based in-app AI chatbot pop up and offer to clarify, or transfer them to an agent. (This, incidentally, would have saved my relationship with more than one app! If you hit a ‘wall’ during onboarding, the odds of completing the process and becoming a successful customer are terrible — unless you get timely help).
You can set up event trigger-based surveys to deploy when users spend too much time on a page, ‘click away’ before completing the action, or when they’ve been ‘dormant’ (not logging in) for a while.
By giving customers opportunities to tell you they’re confused, are experiencing failure, aren’t getting the results they’d hoped for, or are suffering from a lack of time/motivation/technical skills etc., you will know who is really at risk of churning in time to save them, and really impress them with your customer service skills.
Another place where checking in with your customer can really pay off is after the onboarding sequence is complete. It’s a perfect time to ask “How difficult was this?” (aka. A Customer Effort Score survey). The easier a process is, the less friction people experience, and the more likely they will be to complete your desired actions and reach their desired outcomes.
Then, after your new user has had a chance to put your product to work, you should send out a Net Promoter Score survey (NPS) to find out how they *really* feel about your product. Do they like it enough to recommend it to a friend or colleague? That’s an excellent indicator of how well they’re succeeding. And be sure to send an NPS follow-up question to understand the why behind the score.
Tools that can help:
Wootric: For these types of in-app surveys, I recommend Wootric. Their dashboard makes it very easy to understand what you’re seeing, and they do great work with extrapolating insights from qualitative data questions too.
Tracking what customers do and asking them what they think at strategic points is a very good start; the trouble is, that’s where most B2B SaaS companies begin and end. But B2B SaaS businesses are subscription-based. They’re in this for the long-haul. They depend on customers sticking around (customer lifetime value! retention!).
And that means you also have to build relationships with your customers.
This is why I so strongly advocate that B2B SaaS companies build social communities around their products. It’s an opportunity to relate to your customers as people.
The bonuses are many. B2B SaaS product communities give you:
The most important thing to remember about building a community is that it’s not a one-sided arrangement. This isn’t a place for you to ‘shout into the void’, post blog posts nobody reads, try to ‘sell’ or advertise. It’s a place where you and your customers can come together around your common interests. Human to human.
Tools that can help:
When you are tracking user behavior in your product, identifying predictive patterns of behaviors/successes/failures, locating trouble-spots and offering timely help, checking in with surveys to ask your customers what they think — in their own words and with numerical ratings, AND forging human-to-human relationships in the casual setting of social media groups, you’ll see a few things happen…
Are you ready for that?
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 is a complete customer-lifecycle process that helps customers achieve success – whatever success means for them in the real world – with your B2B 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.
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 a 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.
And we aren’t 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.
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:
Most B2B 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 based on Lincoln Murphy’s Ideal Customer Profile Framework.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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. (I highly recommend the Value Proposition Design book, I run through questions from it with all my clients.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Someone who’s done this before – a lot – and knows what it takes to bring products successfully to market?
I am Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré, an early-stage B2B SaaS consultant, go-to-market strategist, and product marketer.
I am a top hunter at Product Hunt (previous Community Manager) and Mentor at GrowthMentor.com.
Here are some of their listings on Product Hunt:
But beyond those hundreds of companies, I’ve seen far too many who didn’t have the basic ingredients in place for successful launches.
And they didn’t even know they were missing them until their launches… never took off.
Don’t be like them.
The Product Launch Mastermind is a four-week long program for startups preparing their launches who want to ensure they have everything they need to make it to the stratosphere in terms of strategy, marketing and messaging.
I’ll be your (nearly) on-demand product launch consultant during the four weeks via Slack, 1:1 meetings with your teams, and group workshops. Think of me as an extension of your team as an experienced go-to-market product marketer.
💬 Invitation to a private Slack community for up to five of your team members. I will be available for questions and feedback, Monday – Friday.
🗓 1:1 hour-long discovery call with your team. We’ll discuss your company stage, challenges, launch goals, and more.
🗓 Virtual coffee a.k.a. Zoom call with other community members to get to know everyone. ☕️
Based on your 1:1 discovery call, I’ll provide:
🗓 Group workshop on Market Strategy. 1 hr.
🗓 1:1 consulting call with your team. 45 mins.
Market Strategy Workshop
Here is the area of your plan that includes your efforts to generate awareness with your customers and employees, especially those employees who interact with customers from product instruction, interest, purchase, and then support.
In the Market Strategy Workshop, we will cover topics such as:
✔️ Related worksheets and exercises will be added to Notion beforehand.
🗓 Group workshop on Product Strategy. 1 hr.
🗓 1:1 consulting call with your team. 45 mins.
Product Strategy Workshop
Here we’ll lay out what differentiates your product offering and those of your competitors. We’ll also want to consider special pricing promotions and cross promotions at launch.
In the Product Strategy Workshop, we will cover topics such as:
✔️ Related worksheets and exercises will be added to Notion beforehand.
🗓 Group workshop on Channel Strategy. 1 hr.
🗓 1:1 consulting call with your team. 45 mins.
Channel Strategy Workshop
What channels will we utilize not only to sell your products but also to educate and support your partners and customers? Having a strong channel strategy will help you increase your channel performance.
In the Channel Strategy Workshop, we will cover topics such as:
✔️ Related worksheets and exercises will be added to Notion beforehand.
During launch week (you set the date!), I will also act as your biggest cheerleader within my social media communities, most of whom are highly interested in startups as customers and investors. I have over 100,00 connections across social media.
I will also provide feedback on everything you’ve prepared for launch week:
Your strategy, to make sure it helps you truly connect with your potential customers and users, while positioning you to create lasting relationships with them.
Your tactics, objectives and action plans to make sure they’re consistent
All of your messaging to make sure you’re telling your story in the way your customers need to hear it.
For example, I will review, analyze and provide feedback and suggestions on:
“Nichole and I worked together on Inbound.org, where she was an invaluable contributor to and moderator of the community. Thanks to her help, Inbound’s audience, participation, and quality grew dramatically.”
— Rand Fishkin, Founder, Moz & SparkToro
“Let’s put it this way…Nichole is one of a kind. She’s the #1 expert in helping SaaS companies to truly connect with their customers and grow without using shady/hack-y/aggressive marketing. She knows more about SaaS community building, customer success, and customer-obsessed growth strategies than anyone on the planet. She’s also an amazing human being who CARES about people. Hire her before it’s too late.”
— Louis Grenier, Founder, Everyone Hates Marketers
“Nichole is the most passionate, hardest working, fastest learning, fiercely loyal person I’ve ever met. Period. If you get the chance to work with her, not only will she deliver amazing results in whatever she’s doing for you, you’ll never be the same (in a great way!). When Nichole speaks (or writes, or shares curated content, etc.) you’ll listen if you know what’s good for you.”
— Lincoln Murphy, Founder, Sixteen Ventures
“Nichole is one of the most insightful and effective marketing experts that I’ve had the pleasure to work with. She is one of those rare people who I hesitate to call talented, because it would be an insult to the work and experience that she continuously puts into improving her skills. Her marketing superpower is in uncovering opportunities which not only increase visibility and brand trust, but which do so by actually improving the ability of the company to delivering value to customers over time. She also habitually passes her knowledge on to those around her, which I have been fortunate to benefit from on many occasions.”
— Jim Gray, Founder, Ioseed
“Nichole is a very special marketer, unique in fact. We’ve worked with dozens of marketers, but are yet to come across anyone with such an intimate understanding of the human psyche. Nichole’s ability to authentically connect with different audiences – across so many channels, and up and down the funnel – is what makes her stand out. I’d go as far as saying that she is a customer success-first marketer, in that her efforts start and end with “how can we help this person we’re trying to reach achieve their goal”? As opposed to “how can we get this prospect to buy our thing?”. Guess what, it works!”
— Omer Molad, Founder, Vervoe
Nichole is the realness. A woman WELL worth knowing. She is brilliant at cultivating communities and getting people engaged. Anyone who cares to look can see how amazing she is at getting people to pay attention to what she’s doing. She’s built an amazing network for herself. I’m confident she could do it for ANY business.
— Joel Klettke, Founder, Case Study Buddy
When does your relationship with a new employee begin? Much like relationships with customers, they begin long before you’re aware – from the first time the employee encounters your brand. From there, it’s a bit like a sales funnel as awareness increases, the prospective employee weighs their options, does some research, and finally decides to apply. The employee goes through the application and interview process, and – hurray! – they’re a great fit. They have a lot to offer you, you have a lot to offer them, they’re so excited to start their first day.
Fast-forward one year – that great-fit employee who was so excited to begin is gone.
The issues that lead to employee turnover may have their source in your onboarding – those first few, very important weeks of a new hire’s job. It’s why new hires are at a higher risk of leaving within their first year.
When you get onboarding right, retention rates rise, turnover falls, and you’ll see the ripple effects of higher engagement and productivity. Onboarding is an investment that pays off again and again over the course of the employee lifecycle.
“The seeds of animosity or advocacy are sown from and individual’s very first interaction with a company. The attraction, recruitment, hiring and onboarding stages – along with daily experiences that continue after onboarding – each affect how a candidate or employee feels about an organization and its promises… Gallup data reveal that companies are faltering even in the earliest stages of the employee experience.” – Gallup, State of the American Workplace 2017
Too often, companies confuse onboarding with induction – the paperwork and mandatory tasks required to start a new job. Onboarding is much more than that. It’s your opportunity to set your employee up for success with their work, and engage with your company’s mission – the big WHY behind what you do.
“12% of employees strongly agree their organization does a great job of onboarding new employees” – Gallup, State of the American Workplace 2017
This is one of the missing pieces in most onboarding practices – sharing your ‘why’ and showing your values as a company. How do you help people? What impact do you have on your customers’ lives?
Aligning employees behind a shared sense of purpose has been proven to raise engagement levels — and with them, retention rates.
Sharing your purpose and values with your new hire will lay the foundations for engagement, but that’s not all they need to be successful. To understand that, you have to understand why new hires leave.
New hires are at the highest risk of leaving within the first year and a half, with the highest turnover happening within the first 45 days. What happens during that short period of time to send them running out the door?
“22% of staff turnover occurs in the first forty-five days of employment.” – The Wynhurst Group
“46% of rookies wash out in their first 18 months” – Leadership IQ, in a study of 20,000 new hired employees over 3 years
In one survey, 26% of departing employees cited mismatched expectations between their interviews and their actual work as the primary reason for leaving – and that’s an onboarding issue.
Onboarding is a time to make sure managers and new hires establish a shared set of expectations – hopefully the same set of expectations that were set up during the recruitment and interview process. At minimum, that means:
But there’s also a crucial, and less tangible, factor during onboarding – does the company culture match the expectations set during recruitment? If the onboarding experience falls flat, it can undermine the new relationship and cast doubt as to whether the new starter made the right decision.
“When employees don’t have the experience they were promised, they will likely make their unhappiness known – in obvious and not-so-obvious ways. They may start looking for new job opportunities, or they may become actively disengaged employees, meaning they develop such a distaste for their organization that they take deliberate steps to undermine its progress.”- Gallup, State of the American Workplace 2017
When you lay the foundations for engagement, success and aligned expectations, employees have what they need to do well in their work and feel part of something bigger. And that is a recipe for retention.
“Employees who have a positive onboarding experience are 69% more likely to remain at the company for up to three years.” – SHRM, Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success
But those aren’t the only ingredients required. A positive onboarding experience gives employees a strong start, but you also need to follow through on those first impressions. Employees need to feel supported by management, able to connect their work to the company’s larger purpose, and feel like the company lives its values. It’s a relationship that requires care and feeding, like any other.
“Employees are consumers of the workplace. They are drawn to brands they can connect with. And they stick with – even advocate for – brands that honor their promises.”- Gallup, State of the American Workplace 2017
In other words, a great onboarding experience only works to increase retention when companies follow through and live up to the hopes of their new hires.
Download Enboarder’s white paper The Avoidable Problems That Cause Your Best People to Leave to unmask the primary culprit behind your turnover problem.
Microsoft, Google and Eventbrite reveal how they balance technology and the human element to keep their best people.