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Customer Development

Customer Development, Customer Success, Language-Market Fit, 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!

Read More on Inturact


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

Customer Development, Tools

Most Useful Tools, Tips & Checklists for Collecting Qualitative Data ft. @sgblank

qualitative-data

Qualitative data – information gathered from ideal customers by open-ended questions – is the foundation of success for startups, SaaS companies, and anyone else who thinks they have a solution to a problem that could potentially make money. Asking real people pertinent questions allows entrepreneurs to avoid making costly assumptions, and most importantly, lays the groundwork for the kind of customer success that leads to retention and the potential for wild, insane, Google-level growth.

Steve Blank and Bob Dorf, authors of The Startup Owner’s Manual, recommend that founders interview 50 potential customers – in 10 to 15 in-person visits per week – which could require contacting 200 customers or more. While we’re sure the data collected from such interactions is worth the time and effort, we also realize that some of your ideal customers are located around the globe, which makes face-to-face time difficult (and expensive).

Here are the most useful tools, tips and checklists we’ve come across for collecting qualitative data without using up all of your frequent flyer miles.

Read More on Inturact


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

Customer Development, Customer Success, Product Management

Why the Customer Success Manager is the Product Manager’s New BFF by @NikkiElizDeMere

bff

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

In 1853, U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry (no, not the Friends actor) sailed to the shores of Japan to strongly suggest (with several gun-laden vessels) that the ruling shogunate open Japan’s ports to outside trade. For 200 years, Japan had embraced a policy of near total isolation from the West, but with the Industrial Revolution fresh out of the oven, even isolationist Japan couldn’t ignore the benefits of trade. What does this history lesson have to do with Product Managers and Customer Success?

In most companies, each department is like its own, relatively isolated shogunate. Each manager has his or her patch of office space to rule, and each kingdom is somewhat suspicious of its neighbors. Take Sales and Marketing for example – a Corporate Executive Board Survey cited in Hubspot’s “The Power of Smarketing” revealed that 87% of the terms Sales and Marketing use to describe each other are negative. I would venture to say that the feelings of Product Managers towards Customer Success Managers are neither warmer, or fuzzier.

After all, as Product Manager, you’ve developed a product that works – why should it be your problem if buyers can’t figure out how to use it?

Nobody is going to hold a 19th century Paixhan shell gun to your head (they’re far too heavy), but opening your borders to Customer Success is the only way you’ll survive and thrive. Here’s why you, as Product Manager, should embrace Success. All across the SaaS B2B industry, this new and vital discipline is being developed. CSMs are charged with optimizing customer relationships, increasing product adoption and reducing churn.

Read More on Wootric


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

Customer Development

Collecting Qualitative Data for Customer Development isn’t as Hard as You Think ft. @Inturact

qualitative-data

Qualitative data in the marketing world comes down to the kind of information you can only get from interacting with real people in the real world. Yes, it’s a little difficult to quantify responses to open-ended questions, especially when they’re told to you over a cup of tea, but the value of this information to startups and growing businesses should not be underestimated.

Why Qualitative?

  • Agile product development.
  • Customer development.
  • Lean Startup methodology.

Read More on Inturact


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

Customer Development, SaaS, Startups

Should you use growth tactics that don’t scale? by @NikkiElizDeMere

growth-tactics-that-dont-scale

Last week, my friend received a charming hand-written note from a monthly wine club she recently joined. It was addressed by hand, the welcome note was written by her personal “wine concierge,” and it contained four $30 Off coupons to give to friends.

But what impressed me (and my friend, since she’s a copywriter) is the words in that handwritten note.

“We are a new company and growing fast.”

“Please help us continue to grow by sharing these referral cards with friends – you’ll earn free vino if they join.”

With that simple call-to-action asking the recipient to share the referral cards with friends (for free wine – who doesn’t love that?), Bright Cellars delivered a customer development tactic that may not scale, but will definitely help them grow.

Read More on SEMrush


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

Customer Development, Customer Success, SaaS

Two Mistakes I See SaaS Founders Make All The Time by @NikkiElizDeMere

mistakes-saas-founders-make

Software as a Service, and any subscription-based business model for that matter, relies on customers who stick with them. Attracting the “sticky” kind of customer is a science, some might even say an art. And the stakes for perfecting the acquisition of long-term, high-yield customers are high – they’ll make or break your business.

So why do I see SaaS founders making the same two mistakes over and over again?

Hook, line and sinker

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:

1. You don’t identify your ideal customer

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.

Meet your ideal customer

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:

      1. What was that customer’s industry?
      2. What problem did that customer need to solve?
      3. What was at stake for that customer if they didn’t solve their problem?
      4. What did that customer appreciate about your solution?
      5. How long did that customer stay with you (and if they left, why?).
      6. What other solutions did that customer try before coming to you? How did they find you?
      7. What was the thing that tipped them over the edge into conversion?
      8. Do they ask your customer service team a lot of questions – or rarely make contact?
      9. Have they referred more business your way, or agreed to upsells and cross-sells?
      10. How exactly have they experienced success/value from your product?

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.

2. You don’t talk to your ideal customer

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.


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

Customer Development, Customer Success

Close the Loop, Boost Your Business: Customer Development to Customer Success and Back Again by @NikkiElizDeMere

close-the-loop

Customer Development and Customer Success are like a stream that feeds into a river that creates an ocean. It’s all water going on one direction, and when they’re connected, they ensure a healthy, fast-growing, sustainable business. While the two terms aren’t interchangeable, they work best when intertwined. Before we get into how they flow together, let’s define both terms separately.

  • Customer Development means talking to people to find the motivations behind their actions. Gathering qualitative data from real people through interviews and surveys reveals the “Why?” behind the “What,” which you can use to validate your product and value propositions and inform every customer-facing decision. That’s my working definition, though you could also say that it’s a framework developed by Steve Blank for discovering and validating the right market for your idea and testing the best way to acquire and convert customers.
  • Customer Success, on the other hand, is more about determining when and why a customer might churn, and reaching out to them in ways that get them to stay. It’s about defining churn indicators, putting a system in place to prevent churn, and most importantly, designing those systems to support customers in achieving their desired outcomes in a way that scales.

TODAY on Will it Blend? Customer Development and Customer Success

At their cores, Dev and Success are both about achieving a thorough and meaningful understanding of your customer. And, both are dependent on qualitative research. Qualitative research is conducted through observation and inquiry instead of number-crunching. Using qualitative research, you can find answers to:

  • Who is my audience?
  • Why are they here?
  • What are they trying to accomplish?
  • When are they thinking of leaving?

So yes, not only do they blend, but you should combine them so your Customer Development data feeds into and informs your Customer Success data, and vice-versa. Here’s what that looks like:

The Intersection Between Customer Development and Customer Success

Step 1. Create well-rounded, accurate buyer personas by asking, not by guessing.

There are a lot of ways to go about building a buyer persona – some stress quantitative data, others sing the praises of qualitative data. I like both. Use quantitative data to build the demographic framework of your buyer persona (products like Cubeyou make this really easy). You can find the age, gender, income, geographic location, relationship status, interests and brand preferences, by using tools that leverage social media data.

That data is helpful, but it won’t answer questions like:

  • What motivates customers to find you?
  • What is your buyer’s desired outcome, or end goal, they hope your product/service will help them achieve?
  • What do they expect to be different once they switch to your service?
  • What is important to the buyer about how your company/product/service looks?
  • What has your buyer disliked about providers he’s used in the past?
  • How does your buyer currently solve his or her problem?

This is the gap only qualitative data can fill.

You’ll want to conduct a few persona interviews of recent customers, repeat buyers and long-time customers to find the answers to these questions, and you should also implement exit surveys just a people are leaving a conversion page to discover what stopped them from purchasing.

All of this falls under Customer Development, but are also key actions towards finding problem/solution fit, product/market fit, and finding out what success means to your prospects.

Step 2. Focus on what they want to achieve.

Once you have your well-rounded buyer persona sketched out, you’ll want to focus on what goals they want to achieve using your product. Nobody buys a hammer because they want a hammer. They buy a hammer because they want a hole in the wall.

In order to create value propositions, benefits, Calls-to-Action, and content that grabs your audience by leveraging what they desire, you have to find out what they want most. And, the only way to do that is by gathering qualitative data from interviews and surveys (not interviews OR surveys – if you only use surveys, your data may be distorted for any number of reasons, including biased question phrasing and self-selecting groups of respondents).

Remember: Success exists outside of your platform, not inside of it. Bring the outside success together with your products/services offered, and you’ve got the makings of a great customer success strategy that reduces churn and maximizes the potential for upsells and cross-sells.

Step 3. Incorporate this information into everything you do and make.

Buyer persona information from qualitative and quantitative data should inform everything the buyer sees or buys – products, content, messaging, CTAs, images, the tone of your copy, the offers and freebies you create, your methods of reaching out, where you place your online ads, and when you make contact for sales, customer success check-ins, and upsells. How you do this depends on what your data tells you, and will also depend on sequences of testing and iterating based on results.

Step 4. Make data-driven UX decisions.

The need for qualitative data doesn’t end when you’ve constructed a buyer persona. You can and should use surveys and interviews to improve the UX of your site, implement meaningful updates and create new features.

To double-check your UX and find out how people really experience and engage with your site, you’ll want to perform usability tests early-on and often. Tools like UserTesting.com and TryMyUI let you take actual videos of people navigating your website.

You can also use a live chat program like Wordle that lets you keep transcripts, so you can see what visitors ask about most, and whether something is unclear, vague, or missing from your site.

When Customer Development and Success Align

Customer Development is all about optimizing acquisition and conversion. Customer Success then picks up the relay baton and runs with it, retaining customers, reducing churn, and leading to up-sell and cross-sell opportunities you can only tap into when you know what your customers’ goals are and whether or not they’re achieving them.

The fastest-growing new companies are those that master acquisition and retention both, which means that to grow – you need to close the Development-Success loop.


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

Churn, Conversion Rate Optimization, Customer Development, Customer Success, SaaS

Customer Development: 4 Steps for Decreasing Churn by @NikkiElizDeMere

4StepsForDecreasingChurn

If you had to sum up conversion, customer success and retention into one phrase, that phrase might be “customer development.” Customer development doesn’t have a succinct and pithy definition – it’s just too complex of a concept to smush into a neat sentence. The best definition I’ve come across is from Patrick Vlaskovitz in The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development:

“Customer Development is a four-step framework to discover and validate that you have identified the market for your product, built the right product features that solve customers’ needs, tested the correct methods for acquiring and converting customers, and deployed the right resources to scale the business.”

Clear as mud, easy as an appendectomy.

Which is to say, it’s not easy at all. So let’s break it down in terms that lend themselves more to concision: Conversion, customer success and retention.

It’s like the circle of life. They’re all connected and flow into each other. To eliminate churn and increase customer success, you should constantly optimize your conversion process (hello retention!).

Read More on Conversioner


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