You’re new to an industry.
New job. New market. New sector.
I’m not sure what got you there but it’s a common situation in marketing.
CMOs go from one industry to the next regularly.
VPs of content go from one niche to the next often.
And if you’re working in the agency world… It’s almost monthly.
New industry. New ideal customers. New stories.
Let me paint the picture:
You spend three years running the revenue function for a waste management software company and then an offer hits your inbox to lead growth for a legal tech software that uses AI to help lawyers do more at scale. You have to take it. It’s a rocket ship.
How do you ramp up quickly so you can hit your goals and targets?
It all starts by understanding the customer.
Customer research is the answer.
What is Customer Research?
Customer research is the process of gathering and analyzing information about your target audience in order to gain a better understanding of their needs, preferences, and behaviors. It involves collecting data through various methods such as surveys, interviews, focus groups, and social media monitoring.
The goal of customer research is to help businesses make informed decisions when it comes to developing products or services, crafting marketing strategies, and improving overall customer experience. It provides valuable insights into who your customers are, what they want, and how you can effectively reach and engage them.
Why is Customer Research Important?
In today’s crowded market landscape, where consumers have access to endless options for products and services, understanding your customers has become more crucial than ever. Customer research allows you to identify key trends, preferences, and pain points among your target audience, helping you stay ahead of the game and stand out from your competitors.
One key benefit of customer research is that it helps you create products or services that meet the specific needs and wants of your customers. By gathering feedback and insights directly from your target audience, you can gain a better understanding of their pain points, challenges, and desires. This allows you to tailor your offerings to better suit their needs, ultimately leading to higher customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Additionally, customer research also enables businesses to make data-driven decisions when developing marketing strategies. By understanding the demographics, behaviors, and preferences of your customers, you can create targeted campaigns that resonate with them on a deeper level.
This is why I think it’s so important early on to focus on Customer Research. Over the years, I’ve worked with some of the fastest growing SaaS companies in the world along with some of the top Cloud companies. These organizations have fundamentally changed their industries and every time I think about the leaders at these organizations they all had one thing in common:
No doubt it’s important to understand the market, competitors and even your product.
But the most value you can provide the company will come from you immersing yourself into the worldviews of the customers so you can speak to them with confidence and influence them in a way that positively shows up in your metrics.
At Foundation, we work closely with our clients as true partners and this requires a commitment to understanding their customers up front. I’ve seen agencies (especially SEO) completely ignore the importance of audience research and instead focus all their time up front analyzing the keyword data of “competitors” to come up with a list of blog posts the clients should produce at scale.
Massive fail. It’s a massive fail because often times these brands end up creating content that generates more traffic but that traffic doesn’t convert. Why doesn’t it convert? Because the content they’re creating doesn’t align with the buyers journey at all. It’s not even keywords that are relevant to their overarching experience as a professional.
So how do you avoid this gap?
You do customer research.
Here’s six research tactics that every SaaS marketer should do in the first 2-3 weeks of taking on a new role, targeting a new audience and trying to build a plan that is rooted more in research and less in a hunch:
Get on the phone
Ring. Ring. Ring.
“Hello, it’s (First Name) from [company] would you happen to have 15 minutes? I’d love to learn how we can serve you better in [year].”
That’s a script you can use when you start calling customers.
If your palms get sweaty and knees get a little weak just thinking about a cold call then you’re in luck – you could also write an email like that and see how people respond.
You’re either going to get a yes or you’re going to realize that the customer relations at your company aren’t as strong as they should be. Most customers love to talk to companies that are a key part of their day to day. Get on the phone and ask questions like these:
- Could you walk me through a typical day in your role and how our product fits into your workflow?
- What prompts you to search for information about products or services in our industry?
- When considering a purchase, do you seek recommendations from peers, or do you prefer independent research?
- Where do you go to get this information?
- What made you interested in our product?
- Do you attend any events to stay up on trends in the industry?
- What other solutions do you use on the regular? How did you find them?
- Do you subscribe to any newsletters or podcasts about business?
- Are there specific challenges you’ve encountered that you wish our product could solve?
- What’s a common misconception about our offering that you think we could help clarify?
- Pretend you’re explaining [product] to a new colleague. How would you describe it?
- Do you read our blog posts? Or watch any of our video content? [Tailor to your situation]
- Does anything that we’ve done recently with content stand out as valuable to you?
- What’s the biggest problem that we should be helping you solve?
- Why do you stay subscribed to our solution?
Keep detailed notes.
Record them and then make them available for everyone on your team to hear, digest and consume. At the end of it all, create a presentation where you share all these findings to the organization and use these insights to guide recommendations you make for the team.
As an example, if you find that 80% of your customers all attend a certain industry event that your team hasn’t attended in 3 years. It might be time to change that.
It might be time for your team to try and not only get on the stage at the event but also host a dinner with all your top customers and give them invitations to bring a few industry friends (ie. ideal customers) to the table as well.
Subscribe to newsletters
This is a passive approach but a valuable one that can pay dividends for months to come.
Subscribe to the newsletters of all the key players in your industry and create a second inbox / split box that captures them. Why do this? These are going to help keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in your space. You’ll get a chance to see if there is a ton of commentary happening at the moment in your space around policies or the Fed Reserve.
The other benefit is that you can start to see what types of content and stories these newsletters think your audience cares about so it can inform your strategy. If you play your cards right, you can build relationships with the people behind these newsletters and eventually build partnerships.
Sponsor their newsletter. Share your own content with them to be featured. Add value to a point where you get on their radar and they start talking about your work organically.
This is a long term play but it increases your connection to the industry.
Want to find out what newsletters your audience is subscribed to?
Our team does this research regularly and the approach is built around a couple tactics and tools:
First up → Google. We let the internet guide us. We do a search for the top “industry” or “job title” newsletters and usually will come across a blog post or Reddit thread where someone has done the work to share some of the best newsletters that exist in their space.
Here’s an example of a SERP with the keywords “CFO Newsletters”:
If you work at a company trying to reach CFOs, subscribe to all of these.
Second → Tools like Sparktoro are great for this type of research. You can upload the URL for your site and in the matter of minutes get a list of media channels your audience is likely to read, subscribe to our study.
Let’s say I just started working at Stripe. I’d go to SparkToro and ask it to tell me what websites people who use SparkToro use. It would give me this list of sites:
Now… A lot of these aren’t exactly newsletters (Hackernoon kind of is) but they’re communities. And if I’m their head of marketing – I’d be curious to know what dialogs are happening in some of these communities and on these sites about our brand.
Third -> Email platforms like Substack. Go on their site and just do a search for the job title and see what comes up. You might be surprised to find some amazing newsletters with thousands of subscribers that are speaking exactly to the audience you want to reach.
Similar to Google, I would type in the job title on Substack and be met with a handful of publications that target my ideal customers:
Sign up for key industry events
Even in the days of Apple Vision and remote work → I’m still convinced there’s nothing better than in person meetings and connection.
Especially if you’re trying to build your network from scratch. You can start your hunt for events by visiting a site like Eventbrite and doing some research.
Type in keywords relevant to your audience and look for events happening nearby:
You might have to scroll through some irrelevant events but eventually you might find gold:
I’ve never been to a DigiMarCon.
But I think I’ve heard of it.
And based on their website… It’s likely an event worth attending (even for my niche).
Live in the middle of no where? That’s okay.
You’re going to have to get on a plane. Try to maximize your travel time and attend multiple events during one trip if possible.
Here’s a personal anecdote; I’m a Canadian who lives in a place called Halifax, Nova Scotia.
When I first started in the world of SaaS, I focused heavily on using the internet for building connection but one day I decided I was going to save all my nickels until I could afford a trip to California where a lot of my ideal customers (SaaS founders) lived. I took a flight and attended multiple events. I shook hands with people who I knew digitally but now had an in person connection with. From some of the top PMs in SaaS to some of the top VCs in the world → One trip.
Millions of dollars worth of connections.
Get on a plane.
Read and study every single review
Whether it’s TrustRadius, G2 or Capterra — there’s no question that in B2B review sites are important. It’s true that at the enterprise level resources like Gartner still play a huge role in decision making but in a lot of industries these sites are absolute gold for bottom of funnel decisions.
So what do you want to do as a marketing leader?
You want to influence these reviews.
So you’re going to create a spreadsheet, study the reviews on these sites and learn as much as you can about what people love about your offering and hate about your offering.
This research is invaluable.
Studying customer reviews is a pivotal piece of the marketing puzzle—almost a secret weapon in your arsenal. It’s where you’ll find the unvarnished truth, the raw sentiments of those who matter most—your customers.
But why does it hold such sway?
Recall the days before the internet; businesses thrived on word-of-mouth, the ancient precursor to today’s review platforms. Just as people once gathered around water coolers to share their latest finds, today’s B2B SaaS consumers are more empowered than ever, with their voices amplified on platforms like TrustRadius, Capterra and G2.
The contrarian might argue:
But Ross… Reviews are subjective, often biased by the extremities of delight or dismay.
Yet, this is precisely where their value lies. By dissecting the pain points and triumphs revealed in reviews, we transform subjective opinions into a goldmine of qualitative data.
Is there a better way to get a pulse on customer satisfaction, or to forecast the tweaking of a feature that could turn users from satisfied to ecstatic?
I’ve witnessed companies pivot on the axis of a single review—the “aha moment” materializing in a few lines of customer feedback.
It’s a balancing act: sift through reviews like an archeologist unearthing relics of truth, discern what speaks to systemic issues versus isolated incidents, and wield those insights to enhance customer journeys.
Set up calls with customer success team
This should be pretty self explanatory but it’s important to reiterate.
Talk to the people who talk to your customers.
Your customer success team is an invaluable resource when it comes to understanding the customer mindset. They are on the front lines, interacting with your customers day in and day out. Schedule calls or meetings with them to gather insights and feedback from their interactions with customers. Ask for their perspective on common pain points, frequently asked questions, and overall satisfaction levels of your product.
Sit on sales calls and listen to recent recordings
Listening to sales calls should be mandatory for every marketing leader.
It’s not just beneficial—it’s crucial.
Why listen to sales calls?
It’s simple: they are veritable gold mines brimming with untapped customer insights.
These dialogues are where your company’s value proposition is put to the test, where objections are voiced, and crucially, where the intimate intricacies of customer pain points are unveiled.
One might ask, “But isn’t that the sales team’s forte?”
No doubt. Yet as a marketer, listening to these recordings is like placing your finger directly on the pulse of prospective clients’ needs and concerns. It’s a great opportunity for you to get clarity on the messaging that is resonating with the market, align your stories with real-world scenarios, and ultimately, increase the effectiveness of all your marketing techniques designed to attract and convert these leads.
Does your sales team currently use an AI recording solution for training and coaching ?
That’s where you start.
Get access. Get an account. Listen. Take notes.
And then report back…
How do you report your customer research?
It’s time to take all the work you’ve done above and communicate the reasoning behind it and the lessons. You will need to get a sense of the corporate culture before making a decision on how this is done but it could take on a wide range of different approaches.
You could deliver the report async over Slack and with a Loom.
You could deliver the report as you do things in live meetings.
You could deliver the report as a memo to the team.
Or you could put together a deck and present it.
If you decided to write a report in a Memo format – Here’s an approach that I think could work quite well:
- A brief overview of the objectives, methodologies, and key findings of the research and activities conducted.
- Highlight the most impactful insights and recommendations.
- Outline the purpose of the research and the activities undertaken (e.g., calling customers, subscribing to newsletters, attending industry events, studying reviews, sitting in on sales calls, etc.).
- Explain the motivation behind each activity and its relevance to the company’s marketing strategy.
- Detail the approach taken for each activity, including tools used (like SparkToro, Substack, AI recording solutions for sales calls), the selection process for contacts (customers, customer success team members, sales calls), and the criteria for evaluating information gathered.
- Organize this section into sub-sections, each corresponding to a specific activity undertaken. For each, provide:
- A summary of insights gathered.
- Direct quotes, statistics, and notable trends observed.
- Visuals (charts, graphs) where applicable to illustrate key points.
- Summarize the feedback received from customers through calls, emails, and reviews, focusing on:
- Product fit and usage in their daily workflow.
- Information-seeking behavior and decision-making process.
- Challenges faced and desired solutions.
- Perceptions and misconceptions about the product.
- Content engagement (blog posts, videos, etc.) and its impact.
Industry Trends and Events
- Discuss the relevance of industry newsletters, trends observed, and key takeaways from events attended.
- Highlight any gaps between the company’s current focus and industry trends/events that are of significant interest to the customer base.
- Provide an analysis of the competitive landscape based on newsletter content, community dialogs, and other sources of information.
- Identify opportunities for differentiation or areas requiring improvement.
- Based on the findings, outline specific, actionable recommendations for the marketing team and other relevant departments. Suggestions could include:
- Adjustments to product development based on customer feedback.
- Opportunities for content marketing and thought leadership.
- Strategies for enhancing customer engagement and satisfaction.
- Potential partnerships or event participation to increase visibility and engagement.
- Sum up the overall insights and their implications for the company’s strategy.
- Reiterate the most critical recommendations and the expected impact on the company’s goals and customer satisfaction.
Appendices (if necessary)
- Include any additional data, full customer interview transcripts, detailed graphs, and charts that support the report but are too extensive for the main sections.
This report should be designed to be accessible to all members of the organization, providing them with a comprehensive understanding of the market landscape, customer needs, and potential areas for growth or improvement. The goal is to ensure that the insights drive strategic decisions and initiatives across the company.
Wrapping This Up
Getting closer to your customer should be a sprint.
It’s one of the most important things you can do as a marketer. Especially when you’re going into a space that feels outside of your circle of genius. In these situations, you need to be customer obsessed in the short term so you can operate with excellence in the long term.
This doesn’t mean don’t do anything in the first 3 months.
You still need to get wins on the board with your team.
But hopefully… You can get these wins even quicker simply by taking these pieces of advice and executing them in your first few weeks on the job.
Strive to get enough wins in the first few weeks to cover your annual salary.
If you can do that…
You’re going to be a valued teammate for years to come.