Digital Marketing

How to Improve Your Marketing Using Customer Research

How to Do Customer Research

Tactics on how get inside the mind of your customers

Marketing is about getting inside the head of your customers. It’s not an easy task. It takes time and patience. With a little bit of diligence and resourcefulness, you can learn all you need to know about your customers from one source — your customers. They offer a wealth of information and insight into how to reach them. You just have to listen.

Why customer research is so important

Without a doubt, your best marketing ideas and messages will come straight out of your customers’ mouths. This post will dive deep into the practical ways you can understand your customers better.  

We’ll show you how to…

  • Determine your ideal customers
  • Interview your customers
  • Build customer personas
  • Use customer personas
  • Find good marketing ideas from your customers’ own words

What could be more important to your business than understanding your customers? Getting this part right will set your marketing up for success. And you know what? This is the part that most people neglect. Your marketing will continue to fall flat on its face until you do customer research. 

You shouldn’t start marketing without first understanding your customers. What do you need to understand about them? What they like, dislike, their frustrations, their goals, how they make decisions, etc. What you need is a deep understanding of their psychology. All successful marketing and advertising taps into our psychology to get us to make decisions.

Excellent marketing makes the customer feel like you understand them on a deep level. It makes them want to buy your product or service. Good customer research arms you with a deep understanding of your customers. Your pursuit of learning marketing is naturally going to become a pursuit of learning psychology. You can’t be good at marketing and not have a deep knowledge of human psychology. 

To understand your customers you start where any good psychologist would, you start by asking questions. People will give you the answers if you ask them. Have you ever asked a customer after a sale – “What made you go with us?” You’d be surprised by the amount of people willing to give that information. Maybe they just liked you or felt they could trust you. Maybe they won’t have a concrete rationale for their purchase but they’ll have some reason. 

Asking questions is going to be our tool for breaking into their minds. Ask enough people and you start to see cohesive patterns emerge. You’ll start to hear the same things over and over again, “The customer service was phenomenal. They really cared about me and my needs.” From there, we’ll pull on this thread and see where it leads. 

Your interviews will generate ideas for marketing campaigns and marketing copy you can use to reach more people. Your customers are a rich resource of untapped potential just waiting for you to start digging. Get your shovel ready because these next sections are going to show you how to dig. 

Determine your ideal customers

The first step in our deep dive is to determine your ideal customers. Every business has great customers and terrible customers. What kind of customers do you want more of? You have to get specific about what a great customer is to you. 

Is it someone who pays on time? Is it someone who’s pleasant to talk with? Someone who doesn’t care about price? Think through all of the types of customers you have. Who are the ones that if your entire customer base was full of, you would be absolutely thrilled?

Answer the following questions to the best of your ability. You know your business and your customers best. Use these questions to figure out the demographics and psychographics of your customers. Really dig deep here and get specific. 

Identify Ideal Buyer Demographics – a.k.a WHO your buyer is

    1. Write about your customers’ journey to buying your product/service
    2. Motivations:
    3. Background:
      • Family:
      • Education:
    4. Location:
    5. Gender:
    6. Income:
    7. What are the most common objections to your product or service? List the reasons you hear most often for why they don’t end up buying from you. 
    8. What are the top questions asked by customers? “What’s the price? What is your service? Where are you based?”
    9. What are the top questions asked by prospects? 
    10. What are their primary pain points? Describe the primary challenges they are trying to overcome that relate to your products and services.
    11. What do they value most and what are their goals? Explain what they value most when making a purchase decision (price, support, etc.). Explain what they are trying to accomplish in each application.
    12. Where do they go for information? Identify the primary sources they use to gather information in their research and purchase decision process.
    13. What’s important to them in selecting a vendor? List what is most important, such as being a technology leader, having proven experience, being an industry expert, etc.

If you have more than one ideal customer that’s fine. The point is to determine who your ideal customers are so you have a baseline for starting your marketing efforts. You don’t need to market to everyone, just the people you want to buy from you. 

Up to this point, you’ve used your own internal knowledge and experience to answer those questions for your customers. You have an idea of your ideal customers. But that’s all you have – an idea. 

The next step is to get something more concrete. It’s time to interview your customers and see if your idea and reality match up. This will confirm or deny your ideas about your customers.

How to interview your customers

So you’ve identified your best customers and found some common threads. It’s time to get in touch with those customers. You want to talk with 5-10 customers. If you’re wondering if you’ll be able to get enough information from 5-10 interviews, trust me, you will! The answers you get from these conversations will reveal more patterns in your customer’s motivation than you ever could imagine. 

How to setup the initial interview

You’ll need to send an email to the 5-10 customers you want to interview. Emphasize the short duration (20 minutes), how great they are as a customer, and how you’re always looking for ways to improve. Without a doubt, almost 100% will agree to do a phone call with you. Here’s an example of an email you can send to them:

EXAMPLE EMAIL (YOU’RE GOING TO WANT TO COPY THIS TEMPLATE)

Hi {Client’s Name},

Would you be willing to get on a 20 minute call with me (or our team)?

We’re always learning and trying to find better ways to communicate our value to the market, so we’re interviewing our ideal clients. And you fit that description.

We are really interested in your feedback. Your responses will be invaluable to us and continue to help us get better.

If you’re up for it, please send me some times that work best for you. I really appreciate your help with this!

Thanks,

{Your Name}

Add as much personality and flair as you’re comfortable with. After all, you know these people best.

Use Zoom or a phone call and record it

You can set up a Zoom meeting or just do a phone call but you need to RECORD the conversation. I can’t stress this enough. You need to be able to go back and listen for things they’ve said. There’s zero chance you can ask them questions and take perfect notes while you’re on the phone with them. You will miss important details if you don’t record. You need to be able to revisit the conversation to mine gold from it.  

Set back to back appointments

It’s best to set up several appointments back to back so that you can get into a flow state and make the conversations feel more natural. So block off some time, for example: 1-4pm and interview one customer at a time for 15-30 minutes each. Do the interviews back to back to back. Take notes while they’re talking but don’t get too distracted with that. You need to keep the conversation moving and take it down any interesting rabbit trails the customer brings up. 

Be flexible

Have your list of questions you’re going to ask but don’t feel locked into asking every single one of them. Most times they’ll answer your other questions during the course of the conversation unprompted by you. What’s the main goal of the conversation? You want to find out what makes them tick. Why they bought, any objections they had, and what problems they were having. Understanding all of these things will help inform your marketing messaging. You’ll know how to speak potential customers’ language. You’ll break through all of the noise with your relevant and timely messages.

Practical Tips

How to Record Conversations

A great way to record your conversations and have them instantly transcribed is Otter.ai. Otter can record and transcribe the conversation. You would put your phone on speaker phone and Otter will record the conversation and transcribe the whole thing. This is great especially if you have a team that will be reviewing your notes. They can read everything if they want or if they’re looking for something specific in the conversation, they can skip around. 

TAKE ACTION
Step by step for interviewing your idea customers:

    1. Send email to 5-10 customers asking if you can interview them
    2. Schedule phone calls (Zoom meetings, phone, whatever) back to back
    3. Record conversation (Use Otter.ai to record and transcribe conversation into text)
    4. Ask Questions
    5. Listen to conversation on Otter. Make note of anything interesting.

Questions to ask during your interviews

  • Could you tell me a little about what you do and why you would need the services/products of (insert the name of your company)?
  • Find out Demographics – Who they are
    •  Age, Gender, Ethnicity, Income, Family Size
  • Find out Psychographics – Why they buy
    • What is a typical day in your professional life? Describe what an average day is like, who you are dealing with, and what decisions you are making.
    • Goals
      • What do you value most and what are your goals? Explain what you value most in making a purchase decision (price, support, etc.), what you are trying to accomplish in each application
      • Where do you go for information? Identify the primary sources they use to gather information in their research and purchase decision process.
      • What’s important to you in selecting a vendor? List what is most important, such as being a technology leader, having proven experience, being a domain expert, etc.
      • If you were to be landing on my website and wanted to investigate further, what is the next step of action that you would like to take? (You’re trying to get some ideas for a CTA) Like, A 20-min Informational Call or A Free 20-min Consultation or Get your questions answered with a short phone call…
    • Motivations
      • What does success look like in your ideal vision? Uncover how your product/service fulfills their needs.
    • Frustrations
      • What are your primary pain points, concerns or fears? Describe the primary challenges they are trying to overcome that relate to your products and services.
      • Is there anything that almost kept you from working with my business?
    • General
      • What were/are the chief concerns or reservations prior to purchase? 
      • What are the greatest benefits of choosing [my business]?
      • What would you say to someone that was in your shoes considering using [my business] for [product/service]?
      • Who are the influences in the decision making process?
      • Why did you choose my business over others?
      • What would you google to get started? 
      • What makes [my business] stand out?
      • What is the ideal outcome after purchasing my product/service? What does a [industry-specific service] look/feel like?

Customer Personas

You’re now equipped with more information than you’ll know what to do with. You’ve interviewed your customers and recorded every conversation. You are starting to see a common thread linking them together. You have a much clearer sense of what your customers are like and who they really are. This next part of the process is distilling that massive heap of information into nice, neat profiles called customer personas. 

What is a customer persona?

A customer persona is a depiction of your ideal customer. It’s a snapshot of information about your ideal customer’s demographics and psychographics. It’s one place for you to look and say “Ok, I can envision this person.” Think of it like a LinkedIn profile except it has more personal information like their hopes, dreams, and fears.

customer persona example of a successful businessman how to do customer research

Why use customer personas?

It’s much easier to write an ad or blog post with a specific audience in mind. No more shooting in the dark. These profiles of your customers will be a guide to all of your marketing efforts. You will refer to these customer personas whenever you’re coming up with new marketing campaigns. You’re going to write, design, and promote your marketing as if you were speaking to these exact people. You can develop 2 personas or 50 personas, but it’s best to stick with just a few (2-4) so they’re easier to keep up with. 

A customer persona helps you determine things like:

      • Which marketing channels to use to reach the most people
        • e.g. Are these people searching on Google or active LinkedIn users?
      • The tone you use when writing content or communicating with customers
        • e.g. Do they want the writing to be humorous or just educational?
      • The types of content to attract the most new leads
        • e.g. Are they interested in opinions or want more research-based?
      • The calls to action to generate the best responses
        • e.g. Do they want to call someone right away or do it all over email?

These little details matter and can be the difference between marketing that takes off or flops. 

How to build customer personas

So how do you actually build a customer persona? You need to identify the trends and cross over from your interviews. Look at what’s starting to emerge: a general age range or gender is becoming identifiable. Ok, good, but we can do better. Maybe you’re starting to notice that your best customers are upper class 40-year old white males in the Northeast. How you speak to a man in that segmentation is going to be different from how you speak to a poor woman from the South. They have different cultures and they speak different languages. 

Ok, now you’re getting hotter but we need more. We need to understand what makes them tick and how they make decisions. To do this you need to go through all of your interviews several times. You need to make note of repeating patterns or when customers say similar things. Go through all of your demographic and psychographic questions and see what they said. 

customer persona template with number bubbles for sections to be filled in

You’re going to start from 1 and work your way down filling out this template. 

    1. Name
    2. Image
    3. 1 short quote that embodies them
    4. Age
    5. Work Title
    6. Family
    7. Location
    8. List of Goals (as it relates to your product/service)
    9. List of Frustrations (as it relates to your product/service)
    10.  5 Adjectives describing this persona
    11.  List of Content Ideas
    12.  List of Call to Actions
    13.  List Channels and Networks to be reached

How to Use Customer Personas

You have your customer personas built. Now what? You have the who and the what, but you still need to solidify the when, where, and why before you can determine your marketing strategy. 

WHERE

You need to figure out where the customer can be best reached. What’s the best channel to reach these people? Here’s some options: Google, industry specific websites or forums, Youtube, Reddit, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and the list goes on. You need to go where your customers are online.

WHEN

When do they get on these platforms? What time of day? Which days? When in the buying process do they use it? You may not be able to answer all of these questions yet, but these will be things you’ll want to uncover down the road.

WHY

Why should they listen to you? Why should they pay attention to you? What makes you different? Why should they buy your product/service? With absolute clearness, you must determine the why

Conclusion

Up to this point you’ve done a ton of legwork. You’re now ready to develop a marketing strategy. You have the tools and knowledge to start building a campaign. Already, you’re so much farther than many small businesses. Most small businesses just throw their marketing strategies together like kindergarteners painting at school: a little Facebook here, a little email marketing here, and a big ugly website smack dab in the middle. Not you! Everything has a calculated reason for being done. “A place for everything and everything in its place,” as they say.

BONUS SECTION

Want more ways to see what your customers are saying and using it for marketing ideas? Here are a few other places to look:

  • Reviews on Google, Amazon, Yelp, wherever
  • Forums
  • Quora
  • Personal social media

Additional Reading Materials:

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