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 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:
- Identify your ideal customer
- Gather qualitative data from existing and potential customers
- Form a unique value proposition to begin establishing language-market fit
- Update and test your language
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:
- Inbound Customer Feedback
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Identify your ideal customer by using Lincoln Murphy’s Ideal Customer Profile Framework.
- Gather qualitative data through the use of surveys, interviews, observation, and inbound customer feedback to validate your language.
- Use this value proposition worksheet to form your value proposition.
- Update and test the language on your site.
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