It’s time to get customer-obsessed. Katelyn Bourgoin, the three-times founder, turned growth geek joins the podcast to explain the importance of using customer research to figure out what triggers customers to buy.
We discuss the processes Katelyn uses to help companies understand what their customers are trying to achieve, and what barriers are stopping them from achieving it, so they can design better products market them more effectively.
listen to this episode
- Why it’s important to understand what triggers your customers
- The reasons why some marketers may be feeling overwhelmed
- Social Media’s draining effect on Katelyn
- The first question Katelyn asks her new clients when starting customer research
- How the startup world taught Katelyn the importance of customer discovery
- The steps it takes to develop your customer’s persona
- Why understanding your customer is more than gathering demographic and firmographic information
- How to disrupt the Super Mario power upmarket
- Don’t forget about the importance of the functional side of your product
- Identify your customer’s challenges with their current solution
- Katelyn’s thoughts on one-on-one customer interviews
- One of Katelyn’s favorite sayings when conducting interviews
- How to make sense of the customer information you’ve gathered
Louis: Bonjour, bonjour, and welcome to another episode of everyonehatesmarketers.com, the No-Fluff, Actionable Marketing Podcast for marketers, marketing consultants, founders and tech people who are just sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host Louis Grenier.
In today’s episode, you’ll learn how to use customer research to figure out what triggers customers to buy from you. My guest today is three-times founder, turned growth geek who help product teams figure out what triggers their right fit customers to buy. And she believes just like me and a lot of people that I’ve been interviewing so far that companies must be customer obsessed to survive. So that’s why I’m super happy to have Katelyn Bourgoin on board. Katelyn, welcome aboard.
Katelyn: Thank you. Thank you. I love the work that you’re doing and the message that you’re spreading. So I’m pumped to be here.
Louis: Just before we started this interview, I actually asked you how to pronounce your last name, and I had to pronounce it the French way, which is Bourgoin. But you also said that where you live, they pronounce it …
Katelyn: Bourgoin. But I know it’s slaughtering it!
Louis: I’m not even sure I’m ready to continue this interview, to be honest.
Why is it so important to figure out what triggers people to buy in the first place? Why is it such an important activity to undertake?
Katelyn: Well, if you don’t know what triggers people to buy, then you’re probably just guessing way too much stuff. You’re guessing about what channels to hang out in, you’re guessing about what messaging is really going to be meaningful to your audience, you’re guessing about what they want from your product so that you can actually fulfill the promise that you make in your marketing with your actual product.
So not knowing what’s actually triggering customers to buy just kind of leaves you out in the dark. Just kind of like trying to feel your way along. As marketers, we have limited budgets, we have limited time. You really want to make sure that you’re pursuing the insights that are valuable and high opportunity, not just kind of chasing stock or trying all these different tactics hoping stuff will work.
Louis: Let’s dig a bit deeper in the problems that happen if you do not know what triggers people to buy. You said, for example, you don’t know where they hang out, you don’t know what channels to focus on, you don’t know what messaging will resonate, you don’t know what type of product or what part of the product does make sense the most to them, etc., etc. What are the consequences of those issues starting with maybe the guesswork, all the not knowing what channel to focus on?
Katelyn: Well, the big consequence is that you’re going to be sad. You’re not going to get the things that you want out of your marketing and you’re going to waste enormous amount of time. I think that marketers, I think that we all feel really kind of … I can speak for myself, but I hear this echoed a lot in the marketing community. We all feel really overwhelmed because it’s just so much flying at us and there’s so much that we could be doing. So if you’re not putting any upfront work to really understanding what motivates customers, then you’re going to just try a bunch of stuff. It’s not going to work. You’re going to get deflated, you’re going to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, like a fraud, like an imposter. When you don’t do this first, even if you have really great knowledge of how to tactically do different marketing activities, you might not get the results, and that is going to suck for you. And if you work for a team, it’s going to suck for your team.
Louis: I mean obviously that’s not a good thing to talk about necessarily, but you might end up being fired, or you might end up under performing, you might end up not reaching your targets, you might end up … If you’re head of an agency or doing this work for clients, you might end up not being able to come to renew contracts with clients. I mean it’s consequences of not being able to focus on the right things, and guessing is just crazy huge.
To go back to what you said, which I completely agree with, marketers feel absolutely overwhelmed nowadays, right, more than ever. And I think it’s two reasons. Mainly number one, marketers are super good at coming up with new names on old shit, right? Coming up with new methods that are actually just rehash stuff, and they would share that like crazy, right? So they would come up with new stuff and you’ll be exposed to it a lot because marketers share like crazy compared to others.
And then the other side is as a marketer, you also consume a lot more than normal people because you’re on digital channels a lot. You’re on LinkedIn, on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram, and you just get exposed to all of this noise that just … It feels a bit like this antenna you have in your head. It’s just like fucking signals everywhere. This prevents you from seeing the true north, where the fuck you need to go first. Do you feel it’s an accurate representation of the landscape, or am I asking you a leading question?
Katelyn: No. I think you’re absolutely right. I think that one of the things that I’ve been thinking about is, I think marketers are the most over marketed to people on the planet. We are constantly selling to each other, constantly selling our ideas, constantly selling our products that we create. I mean if your audience is familiar with the martech stack, it started off, I think it was … what was it, 600 different products that marketers and sales people could use. And now it’s up to 8,000, and it’s finally peaked and it’s not growing at the same rate that it used to.
Imagine being in a profession where there are not just 8,000 people, but 8,000 companies that are paying people to go out and try to get your attention to use their product. And you’re trying to navigate that and understand which channels are important to you, what messages are important, how do these fit into your life. And because marketers are really good at hyping shit up, they make their things sound really, really awesome, and they use really persuasive testimonials and really amazing stories.
And all of that leads to you going, oh, I’m not moving fast enough. I’m doing something wrong because the results aren’t coming in hot and fast like that. And that can be really discouraging and it can force marketers to stop pursuing opportunities that they’ve been putting energy into and start chasing other things, because the things that they’re doing now they don’t think are yielding fast enough results. And the whole idea of fast enough, that’s a whole other conversation, right?
Louis: I used to feel this way for years and years and years at the start of my career, and the changing point, the trigger that flipped my focus drastically was to focus on first principles and marketing psychology and research, right? And focusing on that and choosing to remove all the shit that I was being exposed to. For example, on my phone, I don’t have any social media stuff anymore, not emails, whatever. I block all those sites when I work, so I can’t just go to LinkedIn or whatever. I’m not on Instagram. I mean that’s just to talk about myself a bit, what I’m doing to prevent my antenna to be fucked up by all the signals.
And that changed everything, because it brings clarity, doesn’t it? It brings peace of mind. It brings tranquility. It brings this feeling that you know you’re going to get somewhere. You know you need to focus on the right things and things will happen, instead of just chasing like a headless chicken every single fucking new opportunity out there. And it’s so draining, isn’t it as well? It’s so draining emotionally, just crazy.
Katelyn: Absolutely. And totally exhausting. I’m an introvert. I’m a pretty hardcore introvert. Sometimes people misunderstand what introvert means. An introvert isn’t that I don’t like people, I don’t want to be around people. It’s that being around people consumes an enormous amount of my energy. And then I have a blast when I’m with them, but then I need to take time to recover, and I need to be alone and kind of zone into my own thing. And I find that social media has the same effect on me as standing in a rock concert. Being in there and the noise and all the voices and all the interactions, it’s draining for me as an introvert.
And so I, like you, have taken a lot of steps to try to protect my mental and emotional energy. I don’t have most of the social media platforms on my phone. Like you, I have a blocker on … if I’m on Facebook, if I’m responding to things, I’m not actually seeing the newsfeed. I really am careful to try to control my consumption because I also know how addictive it is and I know that I am addicted. And so I’m always trying to curve that back, because those little dopamine hits you get as a marketer, I don’t know what other profession there is where you get such a fast feedback loop. It’s like you post something on Twitter or you post a new blog post, whatever that might be, and immediately people are interacting with it, they’re commenting on it, they’re sharing it, they’re liking it.
And those micro kind of engages with people, they’re great for stimulating your brain and you want more and more and more of them. And so as a marketer, I think we’re overly exposed to that and we need to work even harder than the average person to put restraints in place so that we don’t become addicted.
Louis: Right. Let’s go to this recipe together, right, this process on how to gain clarity, to gain your clarity back and to gain this kind of, we know what we need to do. There’s nothing that will stop us from executing it. Fuck everything else. This is what we need to do, right? So how to use customer research and figure out what triggers people to buy. Let’s say you’re working with a company that has no clue or that has been doing what you’ve described, right? They’ve been lost. They’ve been trying a few things here and there, nothing seems to be working, and you get to work with them. What is step one? What do you do with them starting on day zero or day one?
Katelyn: The first thing I do, and the reason that I’m so obsessed with the work I do today is that as a marketer, the first thing you do when you’re sitting in front of your client is you ask them, tell me about your customer. You want to understand who is their customer, what does their customer care about, why are they going after that customer segment? It all starts with the customer. I would so often be sitting in boardrooms with teams that had raised millions or tens of millions of dollars and hearing founders squabbling over who the actual customers they serve. And it really showed that this lack of focus on understanding the customer and getting really clear and succinct on that customer’s needs was causing them to not grow as quickly as they wanted to grow.
And so all marketers will say, you want to work strategically, not tactically, but a lot of these strategies are based on what happens in brainstorming sessions and whiteboards, and it’s what’s coming out of the head of the team. And while there’s probably some really good insight there, if you’re not actually doing any type of research to inform those conversations, then you’re still kind of just guessing. It feels good, the activity feels real and you can pat yourself on the back, and you’ll have ideas that seem really fucking amazing.
This is what happens in a lot of ad agencies. I started in the agency world, founded my own agency, and it wasn’t until I got into the startup world where it was drilled into my head that you need to do customer discovery, you need to go and talk to customers, that I realized how many projects we did and how much money clients paid us to form opinions about what might be good for their customers. I have a lot of shame about it now, but of course I didn’t know, and it wasn’t as big of a conversation. And that’s why even today, if you’re in the startup world, you’re hearing about this a lot, there’s a lot of traditional businesses, product-based businesses, established businesses that don’t think this way, haven’t been introduced to these ideas.
When it comes to figuring out what your customers want and getting started with that research, the first thing that I do is I get the team in a kind of rapid fire session to tell me what they think they know about the customer. And I do it in a way that it’s all anonymous so they don’t know who’s saying what. And then I put that up in front of them and I say, so here’s what you said. Let’s see how much congruency there is between what’s happening here.
Louis: How do you collect the answers anonymously?
Katelyn: Through a Google form. They just all have their … I do it live with them in the room. It’s 10 questions. A minute per question. They’re all submitting their answers and it’s all anonymous. And then I just pull up the spreadsheet and show them, okay, here’s what you guys are all saying. And sometimes there’s a lot of similarities between their answers, but more often than not there would be really big discrepancies between their answers. And when you’ve got the founding team … sorry, go ahead.
Louis: No. Let me stop you there because this is becoming interesting, but I want to make sure that we’re nailing the first step. I’m not going to ask you to come up with the 10 questions you ask in the form, but maybe the top three, the ones that are the most insightful you think all the time. So what questions do you like to ask them?
Katelyn: In this form, again, this is pulling it from the team themselves, it would be, who is your customer, why are you the best option for them? Who is your customer? Why are you the best option for them? What were some of the others? And which competitors are you the most scared of? Because it will kind of indicate where they’re at and who they see as people who could potentially come and steal their lunch. So those are some of the important ones that I would ask.
Now, I should add some kind of context around this. This work that I was doing earlier in my career. I’ve been working as a consultant for the last two years now since I closed down my own startup. This led to what I’m doing today. I haven’t actually been working one on one with clients in the past. Probably in the past year, I’ve done one project with a big client that was solving a really tough problem in a really tough industry and I wanted to help and show them the power of qualitative research. What I do most of the time these days is I do training workshops that are either live or online to help people learn how to use research to build strategies. So I’m not doing a lot of consulting these days.
Louis: Gotcha. But I guess the steps we’re going to go through together could be a good summary of the training you’re providing, right?
Katelyn: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-
Louis: In the training you’re giving, would you go through this and telling them, answer those questions and then put them together on the board and see the discrepancy or not?
Katelyn: In the training that I’m doing, it’s a group training with … sometimes there’s a few people from a team that’s a larger company. Sometimes there’s individuals that are kind of earlier in their idea. But the first exercises that we would do is I get them to do … I’ve got this little tool, and it’s something that some of your listeners might be interested in. It’s called a customer ranking calculator. And so basically you can come up with a few different segments that you think could be your ideal customers and then you score them on some different dimensions. And then you use that to kind of identify the segment that’s the highest value segment or so you think for you. We use that to put together a really actionable customer persona. It’s kind of based on the jobs to be done framework. And then from that, I help them to figure out, based on this, how do we make your value proposition better? So that’s all in one workshop.
In the beginning of the workshop, before anybody knows each other, you’ve usually got 10, 12 companies in the room, I use a five-second test to show their value propositions on the screen anonymously and they all rank each other’s and say this is what they think each other does. And then by the end of the workshop, it’s a full day workshop, they have reworked their value propositions based on what they’ve learned, and really started thinking deeply about who their customer is. We do the five-second test again, everybody gets all excited because they can see that they’ve made measurable progress in just one day. And then I drop kind of the hammer, which is like, this is great and this feels really, really good. You have made progress.
But these people, if they’re not your customers, their opinions are valuable. Now, in the next workshop I’m going to teach you how to test this stuff to make sure that you’re actually doing it based on customer research and not based on assumptions. And the reason I do the training that way is because what I learned when I would go straight to the, okay, here’s how we’re going to do the research, they wouldn’t get those kind of small winds that they need to stay motivated, and instead they’d kind of feel deflated like, oh, so much work to get anything good. And so I’ve broken it up so that I can give them some micro wins that feel really good, so then they get motivated and excited to get into the research stuff.
Louis: That’s an interesting point because customer research sounds like a lot of work, right, and it is time consuming, but the results you get out of it is just tremendous. Maybe we can go through those micro wins a bit before diving into the meaty stuff. When you ask them … If I’m understanding correctly, you basically ask them to come up with kind of a persona based on their own assumptions and opinions about their business, right? What are the key things you’re asking them to fill? You say it’s a bit like the jobs to be done. What are the criteria that you’re asking people to fill for their persona?
Katelyn: I make sure that they know it’s a proto persona, meaning that it has not been research-based. I make the distinction between the two, and I introduce them to the jobs to be done and framework and this concept that the real motivation of what makes people buy is not the demographic information like our age and our location and our marital status. And it’s not the firmographic information like the size of your company or the industry that you’re in or the amount of revenue that you do annually. Those things can be really valuable when it comes to choosing your market, but that’s not what indicates why people buy.
And so I introduce them to that concept, and then I give them the proto persona kind of template. And the proto persona template’s like, okay, I want you to really narrow in a particular person, not a particular type of company, but a particular person. And that’s why we use the customer ranking calculator at the beginning so they can kind of think about who those different people are and give some thought to who might be the most valuable one for them to create their persona on. And then it’s like, describe this person. Tell me what a day looks like in their life. What matters to them. And then it’s like, okay, what jobs are they trying to get done?
And I like the way that Strategyzer in their value proposition canvas, they talk about these kind of three ways of thinking about the dimensions of what is a job. So a job, if your listeners are kind of unfamiliar, jobs to be done is a hotly debated innovation framework. The main thing you want to understand about jobs is that people don’t buy things because of certain demographic stuff. They buy them because they have progress that they’re trying to make in their life. Basically they’re hiring a product or hiring a service in the same way you’d hire somebody to work in your business to try to help them to get to that outcome. And so when you think about it from that perspective, it really changes how you shape your marketing and it really changes how you design your products.
And so I like what Strategyzer talks about with the kind of like, there’s dimensions to a job. Let’s say for instance that the functional thing you’re trying to do is grow your email list. That’s the functional thing you’re trying to do. But there’s things involved in that that are really, really powerful from a marketing perspective such as the social dimension. It’s how are you perceived by others when you’re trying to do that thing? Because that’s something that’s going to matter a lot to you when you’re choosing a solution. And then the personal dimension is, how do you want to feel when you’re doing the thing?
One example I like to give is if you think about a high heel stiletto, high heel, there is no functional job based on high heel. Functionally, it doesn’t make any sense, but socially, it’s all about how I want to be seen. I want to look sexy, I want people to think that I’m successful. And then personally it’s like I want to feel confident. And so when you understand something like that, you could come up with an innovative solution like there are these really cool shoes where the heels can actually click on and off, and you can turn it from a super high four-inch heel down to a two-inch heel.
If you understand the whole what your customer is trying to achieve, and then what barriers are stopping them from achieving it, then you can design better products and you can market them more effectively. The persona includes kind of those three dimensions. It includes alternate solutions that they’re already using. What are their buying objections? What’s going to stop them from actually buying your thing? What’s the criteria that matters? And a few other … I have it on the wall right there actually.
Louis: Let’s go back to the … The jobs to be done, we talked about it a few times. You explained it very well as well. Again, I think it’s important that you explain it. You ask people in the room that you’re training to come up with that on their own, try to imagine it, right? So that’s one thing. Second thing you said is alternative solutions. Let’s go over that a bit, because that’s also super important. Alternative solutions are not direct competitors, right? They’re not a tool that you could use that have the exact same features on you. Those are not alternative solutions. I mean they could be, but not only. Can you talk me through a bit, what is the difference?
Katelyn: Sure. Another example that I love to give is … The alternative solutions are basically anything else that somebody could buy or use that would also help them to make the progress that they’re seeking. If you think about a lot of products, a lot of products, especially SaaS products, their largest competitor … let’s think about productivity apps, for instance, your largest competitor if you’re a Cerner might not be products like Basecamp or Wrike or other productivity tools. It could be people using spreadsheets, people emailing themselves things, people using their email inbox like a to do list. And so when you understand how people are making progress and what other tools they’re using, and why those things are working for them, what they love about them, what their satisfaction and delight is, and then also the friction that those tools are bringing, and how they’re not helping them to make progress in the way that they want to make it, that for you is really rich insight for marketing. Also relative to insight for product design.
Louis: So then you also mentioned the barriers, right? What are the things that prevent people from buying? That I think is pretty self-explanatory, unless you have something to add to this.
Katelyn: Well, playing with this new way of describing jobs to be done, which I think could be really interesting to your audience, are you familiar with Super Mario?
Louis: I am.
Katelyn: Yeah. You’ve probably seen there’s this kind of classic graphic, which is … it’s a little Mario and then there’s the magic mushroom or the fire flower that makes Mario be able to throw fire flowers. And there’s just kind of … there’s little notes and it says, people aren’t buying the fire flower. The fire flower is the thing you sell. That’s actually not what they’re buying. What they’re buying is the ability to do rad stuff like throwing fireballs. And I think that really, especially when it comes to innovation, and a lot of the teams that I’m teaching are marketers, but they’re also teams that are trying to build really innovative products, trying to disrupt markets.
Thinking about being able to throw the fireballs is one piece of it, but really when you take it a step further, why does Mario want to throw fireballs in the first place? Well, he has to make it through all of these levels, fighting all of these bad guys to try to get to Bowser’s castle to rescue Princess Peach, right? That’s his actual desired outcome, to rescue Princess Peach because he loves her and he wants to be with her. And so when you think about how to create a better solution, it could be making a better fire flower, or could be looking at things to kind of get the same job done in other ways like the mushroom or the star or throw it-
Louis: Or Yoshi.
Katelyn: Or the Yoshi. Exactly. Or, and I love to use this example, if you really want to be disruptive, it could be giving Mario warp whistle, because the warp whistle actually is a way better solution than a lot of those other things. Because imagine that he could warp through all of those levels that he has to do right now and skip those and get right to Bowser’s castle, right? Not as much fun for us playing the game, but the warp whistle is a real innovation. So that’s a good way of thinking about jobs to be done.
Louis: Yeah. I’m glad you’re talking about it, because this is why the example of you’re not buying a drill, you’re buying a hole in the wall, I don’t really connect with it because exactly the same. You’re not actually buying a hole either, you’re buying a hole to actually put a fucking painting on. But actually you’re not really buying a painting. You’re buying maybe a better room so it gives you better status, so when your friends come over, they can see all your nice paintings, right?
Louis: The issue that I have with this though is that sometimes with this type of thinking, you go too far, right?
Louis: And it’s difficult to know where to stop. So maybe you have some … Do you have any insight on that? We have to stop, because you can go so far to the point that where you’re setting is really you’re setting them better friends.
Katelyn: Yeah. Well, I think there’s two ways that they can go. That’s why I like some of the work that Strategyzer’s done, because some people don’t like their outlook on it, but I like the idea of thinking about the progress people are trying to make from a functional perspective and from the social and personal, because you can’t just ignore the functional parts. If they have decided from a marketing perspective, yeah, you might show somebody … you might have run an ad if you’re DEWALT, for instance, who sells drills, and show new homeowners, they’ve just moved in, you see all the work that they’re doing and they’re putting all this effort and trying to make their home nice.
I think the example that Allen Clement gives is the new homeowner needs to keep going and borrowing his father-in-law’s drill, and it becomes a bit of a pain because he’s waiting for his father-in-law to kind of lend him the drill and he has to return it every time. So eventually it goes out and he buys his own drill, and then you could see kind of in this ad how it would be them drilling the hole in the wall and hanging that final picture before a house warming party, right? That’s telling a story to a prospective customer from a marketing perspective. But when that customer shows up at Home Hardware or Rona or wherever they go because they’ve been inspired, they’re like, yeah, I also need a drill.
Then you have to think what the functional stuff because that stuff’s really going to matter at that stage. Like what is the price point? How does it work? All of that stuff matters too. And looking from an innovator’s perspective at how to make a better drill might be really important, or showing the person buying the little sticky hooks instead of a drill, looking at the drill and then going for the sticky hooks. So there’s lots of … From a marketer’s perspective, you can extrapolate up to far with jobs to be done thinking where it’s like everybody just wants to be liked, right? You don’t want to go that far, because then you’re up and marketing nowhere land.
Louis: All right. Okay. We went through the jobs to be done from a functional and emotional perspective. We’ve gone through alternative solutions. We’ve gone through the barriers. Is there anything important that you’d like to go through before we actually say, how the fuck do you come up with this information?
Katelyn: The other thing that’s really important to think through is what are their challenges with their current solution. So not just what are their current solutions, but what are their challenges with their current solutions? So it’s like there’s objections to them buying your thing, but you also really want to think about what are their problems with their current solutions, because that’s really rich from a marketing perspective. If something else is awesome and amazing but too expensive, then you can talk about your thing and say how it’s awesome and amazing. It does a lot of the same things, but it’s more affordable because you have a different model, whatever.
Those are kind of the things that typically I have people going through the training thinking about whether putting together the proto persona, and the purpose of doing those is really to get them thinking deeply about their customers in this way. And because a lot of the teams that come through my workshop are either technical people who are building a software product who might not be marketers, or newbie marketers that just joined a team that maybe haven’t worked in software before, or small business owners who aren’t marketers, right? They’re running their business, but they’re not marketers. They often have not ever thought this deeply about their customers. My big goal is to start off by getting them to think deeply about their customers and giving them some major, Aha, moments of thinking about why their customers actually make decisions. So that’s kind of step one.
Louis: Yeah. That makes all the sense in the world. I think if you’re listening to this right now, you’re probably wondering how the fuck do I get to the sensor then? Because that’s all well and good to understand the jobs to be done from a functional and emotional perspective, alternative solutions, but how would you actually come up with this information where you’re fairly certain that it’s right. This is true and I can use this information for messaging, for marketing strategy and whatnot. Obviously you had an entire day to come up with those. So you might have to select one or two things for people to do, that will have the highest impact, right, compared to the efforts required. If you had to pick one thing or two things to do from a research perspective, what would they be?
Katelyn: The number one thing I’d recommend doing, and it’s the thing that will take a little bit more time, but it will yield the most insight is to do one on one interviews with either your current customers or people who you think represent your ideal buyer. And when you do those, you want to talk to them ideally when they have started using either your solution or maybe a competitor’s solution in the last couple of months. And the reason why is because I like to say when people do customer interviews, depending on the way that you do the interview, the questions that you ask and how you kind of analyze what you’ve learned from it, it can very much be a garbage in garbage out problem, where people ask shitty questions, they bias their whole interview.
They’re basically just asking questions that they think they already know the answer to or they’re going to tell them what they want to hear. And so then they get a bunch of what they think is insight, but in fact it’s totally biased and it’s not helpful. The big thing that I recommend people do when they decide to do these one on one interviews is the reason you want to talk to people who have recently decided to buy a new solution or switched from their old solution to your solution is because they’re going to have a really good memory of what actually led to the buying decision, which is really important because people are not databases. You can’t just get in there and ask them a bunch of questions and think that you’re just going to pull up all the information. A lot of the things that we do in the day-to-day of how we make decisions are not that conscious to us.
And so you really want to focus on a specific event of them buying something and get them to tell you the story around what led to that purchasing decision because that’s where they’re going to start talking about the triggers. They’re going to start talking about, well, the first time I realized I had this problem was because X happened. Super, super valuable insight from a marketer’s perspective, because as you do a number of interviews, you start to see patterns. Patterns of when they noticed the problem.
And usually once somebody identifies, okay, the thing I’m doing today isn’t really working, they might not immediately go searching on Google or immediately go looking for solutions. They just are feeling the friction. They’re just feeling like, ugh, this isn’t really working. And at that point they’ll start noticing things around them. So they’ll maybe hit the blog post that somebody wrote that they’ll go and read or maybe it’s a billboard that they see when they’re driving down the street. But they’ll start to see things that before they wouldn’t have been paying attention to. Before, they could have seen them and they would have just ignored them. So that’s really great from a marketer’s perspective, because even though they might not be ready to buy right now, they’re starting to pay attention. And as a marketer, the best thing we can get from potential customers is their attention.
And so it allows you to have the opportunity to try to figure out how you can get in front of them with something compelling before maybe one of your competitors does? And then typically other triggers happen. Triggers happen that make them realize, oh shit, what I’m using right now really isn’t working. I need to start actively looking for a solution. And then they’ll start actively searching. And this is where a lot of marketers usually first get in front of somebody, because they’re doing keyword research to understand what terms that they should be going after, yada, yada.
Then it comes into the decision process where it’s like, I’ve figured out a few options that I might use. I’m trying to decide which one’s right for me and I’m using my buying criteria figuring it out. And then they make the decision. All along that buying journey, there’s so much insight that as a marketer you can use, and you can use it to figure out what type of content you should be creating, or maybe you’re using product-based marketing stuff, like HubSpot’s really good at this. They’ve created a bunch of … They talk about PQLs or product qualified leads, getting people that want to create an email signature is oftentimes the first touch that people get with HubSpot, because they have this little free email signature tool.
So figuring out these little things that your customers are doing, and using those to inform exciting, creative marketing strategies. And the way that you get that is from pulling the story out, not from asking people for their opinions, and not being like, yeah, that’s the big piece, the big takeaway.
Louis: Thanks for going through all of that. Makes total sense. Now, you mentioned at the very start of this explanation that it’s difficult not to be biased. Let’s take the situation where you have been in touch with customers that fit the criteria you mentioned and you are in front of them. It’s minute zero of the conversation. How to make sure that you’re not introducing any bias to the conversation, and what are the questions do you like to ask?
Katelyn: So the questions, I don’t usually have a script. I don’t have a set of questions I’m always going to ask. And the reason is that the richness comes from their stories, and the best way to get to those stories and to avoid bias is basically to kind of just, as they … They’ll often tell you kind of a surface level answer. She’ll ask somebody a question and … for instance, when did you first start thinking that you might need a solution like ours? And they’ll usually give you kind of like a high level surface answer, like, oh, when we knew that we needed to do more with our marketing, blah, blah, blah. If it’s Hot Jar’s product, for instance, right? And it’s like, well, take it back to what’s their specific conversation? Like, can you think of the first time that you really started thinking about that?
What you want to do is kind of get them to continue to drill in and give you more of the stories behind their buying decision. And some magic questions when trying to drill in are kind of … One of my favorite sayings is, can you tell me more about that? Because it’s usually when you ask that question that they get into the emotional or interesting stuff that can really be good to leverage, or sometimes people go on tangents and they’ll start talking about things that are kind of unrelated to what you’re interested in, and you can see that they’re kind of going down another path, so you can go back to the thing you wanted to know about and say, hey, a few minutes ago you said this, can we loop back there and kind of dig into that a little bit more?
But really what you’re trying to do is really make them feel comfortable in sharing with you, because humans aren’t databases. If they don’t feel comfortable in the conversation with you and they’re not starting to trust you and enjoy the dialogue, they’re going to give you short, uninteresting answers, and you’re going to feel like it’s a waste of time. So you really want to prepare them for what this type of interview is going to be. And it’s like, it’s not going to be like those surveys when people call you from your local cable company, and it’s like, would you have time for a survey? And they’re going to ask you the 10 questions and no variation. It’s like, no, this is a conversation between you and them and it’s a conversation of trying to understand their buying journey or trying to understand the decision process, and their challenges and problems with the current solutions they’re using.
And what’s so neat about this, and I don’t like to pitch it this way because it can lead people to kind of doing it for the wrong reasons, is so often those people that you’re talking to, let’s say that they’re not your customer, they’re somebody using somebody else’s product. You will help them to think through what actually motivated their decision in a way that they probably had thought through it before and help them to kind of connect some dots that they might not have mentally connected before, and most often then they’re like, oh crap, tell me more about your thing. And so it can sometimes become a sales opportunity, although that’s not the reason you should do it.
And if they do want to hear more about your thing, you should be like, okay, we’ll talk more about that at the end. But I really want to make sure I don’t buy a shoe right now. So hold your horses and don’t try to sell your thing too much, but know that just because of the nature of these conversations they can sometimes go there.
Louis: Let’s unbundle a little bit what you said, which is super interesting. I think in journalism they’re being taught to never trust the first answer people give to a journalist, right? This is the same principle. You ask a question first, you know it’s going to be bullshit anyway, and you reask it. Well, tell me a bit more specifically, right? And this is what I do on the podcast as well, right? You could talk about something, but I going to go back to it and ask you more specifically. You tend to be an expert in your own stuff, so you talk about it in a higher level perspective. You think everyone understand, or you think people can read your mind but they can’t. So you need to be specific, right?
Another thing that I’ve done in interviews and I have seen others do that I could feel was not the right approach was basically starting and say, okay, I’m going to interview you and here’s the first question. Let me read the first question. What is the channel where you spend the most time on? Do not treat your interview like a fucking job interview where people just read question after question. And I’m glad you said that you don’t really use a script, because I don’t use a script for what we’re talking about right now where I have one question and that’s it. And it’s the same principle.
So you need to have a conversation, you need to be genuinely interested in what they say and you don’t want to make them uncomfortable, they feel they’re being questioned by the police, right? So don’t say stuff like I’m going to ask you a series of question, or here’s the first question and here’s the second question. No. Just ask the first question, which is again, take me back to the first time you ever thought about using a solution like ours, right? And then you just ask for specifics.
Katelyn: And then you’re just trying to draw the story out of them. And when you understand that your goal is to understand the buying journey, then you can kind of continue to pull that story out of them. And so when you … as a signal of when you should go deeper, when somebody tells you something that feels like it’s an opinion, or somebody says something like, what a great way to kind of make sure that you’re getting to the truth. Because oftentimes we’ll say things that make us sound good, right? We’ll answer a question in a way that makes us sound good.
If you’re to say to me, Katelyn, what are you going to do in the next month to lose weight? If that’s a goal that I have, right? I’m going to like, well, I’m going to exercise and diet and do Keto and yada, yada. And then if you go, okay, what did you do last month to try to lose weight? I was like, oh, I ate a million hamburgers. So focusing on things that they have done is going to be way more insightful. And so when they tell you something that sounds opinion-based, a great way to kind of pull into and drill into whether that’s real is go, oh, so tell me about that. Like, say in the last month, how many times did you do that?
And oftentimes they’ll go as like, yeah. Well, in the last month I didn’t really do what I actually did more of this because of blah, blah, blah. And then it’s like, oh, so tell me about that. So you’ll get kind of neat things when you don’t accept those surface answers, but you got to be thoughtful, and it takes practice, again, because people aren’t databases. They don’t like to be … you have to know when to build things up so that they’re comfortable with you drilling a little deeper because people don’t like to be interrogated either, right? So you can’t just be like, tell me more, more, and more and more, because they’ll feel like they’re being a bit interrogated. So there is a nuance and a skill to build up in this.
Louis: I talked to [inaudible 00:41:48] recently for another project, and she’s the head of TQX for a big user experience agency in the Netherlands. She speaks at every single marketing event out there. And she was talking about her way to do usability testing in person, and she was saying that the first 10 minutes are basically bullshit stuff she doesn’t need just to ease people in. This is probably something you can do for interviews. You ask 10 easy questions. You go through the stuff in basics term, and then you come back once you feel that you’re laughing a bit, they’re laughing, they’re feeling comfortable, and then you go back to, okay, talk to me back to … you remember 10 minutes ago you said that. Now, tell me the actual truth. You don’t say it this way, but you basically dumb it down.
Katelyn: Absolutely. I did an interview with … it’s a friend of mine who’s running a startup and I wanted to understand … I eat my own dogfood. I’m doing these interviews all the time, and I wanted to understand what led him to really investing in doing more qualitative research. I knew that he’d actually taken on a larger project recently. And the first 40 minutes, he was telling me about these things and he was kind of like touching on it, but he didn’t really go deep. He didn’t give me the emotional stuff. That’s the stuff that from a marketer’s perspective is so rich. And he was kind of talking it through and talking through and finally, after about 40 minutes, he goes, you know what really happened?
And I’m like, what? And he’s like, I was sitting up awake at night, could not sleep. I knew I didn’t know who the right customers were. I knew we needed to figure this shit out. And so I slacked my team and I told them I was sick and I went to a coffee shop at 6:00 in the morning and I just started banging out how I was going to approach the research. And I was like, that story is really powerful because you can see the pain, and he’s sitting awake at night. That’s a classic founder story, right, but it’s way more interesting.
It’s like, what was the actual trigger that made him say it’s time? It was this, I know I don’t have it figured out yet and literally lying awake feeling guilt and fear and lying to his team because he wants to be a leader in their eyes. He wants them to feel like he has the answer. So lying to his team so he could make time to do this exercise. Those types of stories from a market perspective, if you get creative are really, really powerful.
Louis: You can visualize the campaigns you can do around it, right? Straight away you can visualize this founder in his bed or in her bed with a bubble that says exactly the quote that he basically told you, right? I mean you can reuse that almost verbatim, which is the power of research.
You’ve talked about something a few minutes ago. See what I’m doing there, where you talk about, okay, not being biased. We talked about that. You talked about how to run the interviews. We talked about that. The question to ask. Now, the thing we haven’t talked about is how to make sense of it.
Katelyn: That is really important, really, really important. And so the particular type of training that I do is around understanding what triggers your customers to buy. That is one particular type of interview you can do. There are various approaches to that depending on who you’re talking to. If you’re talking to people who recently bought, you can do it one way. If you’re talking to people who are getting the job done using something else because they maybe didn’t recently buy, that’s a different thing.
But what really matters, again, this whole idea of garbage in garbage out, if you end up with all this data, which is what qualitative research is going to give you, maybe you’re going to have audio recordings from your interviews, maybe you’re going to have notes, maybe you’re going to have … you’re actually going to get it all transcribed and actually go through it and code it, which in researcher world means kind of finding pieces of it and gathering kind of things that are meaningful into categories, highlighting them and categorizing them.
But if you have no idea how to actually analyze what you’re hearing or what you’re listening for, it’s really, really challenging, because this isn’t quantitative. It’s not like one and one is always two. Qualitative, it’s hard. So you really need to know what it is you’re listening for. And so I am always working on refining my analysis process. But the things that I am at this point kind of encouraging people to be listening for, and I actually did a webinar recently, which is going to be released tomorrow. But I don’t know when this will go out, but it’ll be released mid May with Forget The Funnel where I actually kind of list through these different things, because you can use these, whether you’re doing interviews or you can use them whether you’re kind of doing online observation of prospective customers.
But the things you’re listening for and the things that you’re trying to pull out and tease out of your data is the jobs. So like, what is it that they’re trying to get done? What is the progress that they’re trying to make? What are their pains currently? Pains with their current solutions, pains with trying to make … Pains of trying to make the progress they’re trying to make. What are the things that they want to gain? What is the desired outcomes? If they can actually get the thing done, what does success look like, and why does that matter? You want to be thinking about what are the alternate solutions that they’re using, right, because when you think about those, you can kind of assess your own thing.
You want to be listening for buying objections. Huge from a marketer’s perspective, also helpful from a product design perspective. You want to understand their buying criteria. They might have this criteria where it’s like, I want to use this thing and it needs to interact with this other tool that we use. You’re listening for that. You want to understand what they … If they’re using a product now, what delights them about it. What do they love about the product they’re using now? Why is it great? What friction are they having? What isn’t working about it? What else is in that list? Those are the key ones. Those are the key things.
Oh, and the other thing that I always I’m looking for is what I call swipeable copy. A lot of those things are going to be your swipeable copy. Like when somebody says the pain that they have with their current solution, that’s often like you just take those words verbatim and be like, do you struggle with bloo, bloo, bloo, bloo, bloo? And it’s exactly the thing that they going, yes, I definitely struggle with that.
But I’ll also sometimes find things that don’t fit into those other categories but just are really good and then I’ll save that in a swipe file for later. I use those categories when I’m analyzing all of my data to kind of as a high level to go through it and I find things that fit into those categories. And then I kind of sub categorize one of the trends inside of that. How many people said this particular pain? How many people said that it wasn’t fast enough was a problem, right? Because if one person said that, but 20 people said that their pain was that it was too expensive, then it’s more important for me to talk about the fact that our thing is cost-effective versus the fact that it’s fast. You know what I mean?
Louis: You would get those interviews transcribed, you would then run through them one by one and read through every line and create … I visualize like you have two screens. One screen, we have the transcript, another screen where you have an Excel spreadsheet where you’ve pre-created the categories, right, where you basically take the little snippet of texts that are either a swipeable copy or just add an X to the category such as an objection, the price, a lot of people say price is too expensive. You don’t need to rewrite that. You can just put a little box that just counts the number of people who’ve said that, right? It sounds like in terms of the spreadsheet, you would have a tag for each category. A tag for objection-
Katelyn: I don’t use a spreadsheet. I use Dovetail app, which is a … it’s specifically designed for qualitative research. But as I like to say to other marketers, that can be totally overkill for you depending on what you’re trying to do. I use it that way because I do enough of this that it saves me a lot of time to use a true qualitative research product. But if you aren’t using a true qualitative research project product, one thing that I actually like using is Airtable. And so what I’ll do is I’ll have kind of … I’ll create an Airtable base and I’ll have a form view of that base, and it will have some of my common questions, and that at the end I’ll have key takeaways thing where I can kind of put in the things that mattered from that interview. So I’m kind of collecting them as I’m on the call because not everyone is going to take the time to record it, transcribe it.
It depends on your purposes. It depends on how you plan to use the data. But a lot of people probably aren’t going to go to that effort because it takes too long. And I’d rather see people do it quick and dirty and actually do it than not do it at all because they don’t want to go through and code everything.
Louis: I like it. Especially if you’re listening to this and it’s the first time, the trigger to making you the customer research is listening to Katelyn right now and you don’t want to be overwhelmed, it sounds like Airtable, which is … basically it’s a mix between Excel and a database and a few other stuff like forms. So you have a form view where you just enter and input the answer as you go, as you’re listening to them, and then automatically Airtable will compile them once you have a few, right? And you can see at a glance what the fuck is happening.
Katelyn: Yeah. And I’ve got a neat Airtable view that can feed into the same one that I use on my … I basically have a form which is like if I see something I see in the wild, if I see somebody commenting about a competitor’s product, about one of the things they hate about it, or if I see somebody talking about what they love about our product, for instance, I’ll kind of copy and paste that. I have a little form view that I can grab from my browser. I also have a shortcut on my mobile phone and I’ll pop that in there and I’ll categorize it again using those high level categories so that I’m saving it for later, because that again, the voice of the customer, the actual words that they’re using can be really great.
And from a marketer’s perspective, when you’re trying to get team buy in on things, it can be really helpful for you to be able to go, here’s what a customer said about X, Y, and Z versus you going, in my opinion, I think that we should do this. So gathering those from the actual customer and being able to show them to your team, depending on what project it is, why you’re trying to get their buy in can be super handy.
Louis: Katelyn, thanks so much for going through this step by step with me. Yeah. You went through a lot of details. Perhaps you could send a template of your Airtable stuff and we can add you to the episode show notes. To people, it could be quite fun to see. But I have three questions to ask you before I let you go. What do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, even 50 years?
Katelyn: I think that one of the most undervalued skills, not that it’s undervalued, but I think that it’s a big one to learn and really, really powerful is copywriting. I think that marketers, being a strong copywriter is important, and the way that you become a strong copywriter is through customer empathy and understanding your customer. I would say it’s something that you need to work on. Some people innately have that skill and they’re great at it, but being better, because it’s going to allow you to make your argument internally and also make, you be more persuasive with customers.
Louis: What are the three best resources you’d recommend listeners? Could be anything, from a book, podcast, conference, anything.
Katelyn: It’s unrelated to marketing, but one of my favorite resources I think you can still apply it to marketing is the Atomic Habits book by James Clear. I think that when it comes to a lot of what we do in marketing, it’s about developing habits, because you don’t get those immediate results right away sometimes. And so you have to be able to figure out how to build recurring habits to get you to the success that you want over time, so a lot of it builds. I would say that book was a game changer for me. Another resource that I think would be really good, there are so many great ones.
I would say depending on what … If you’re trying to build a high growth company, I think that the CXL blog is really outstanding. They deliver so much, really great deep articles, and they of course have training as well, but I think that their blog is just fantastic. They really go deep. One of the biggest ones for me would be find a community of like-minded people to be hanging out with and talking to. For me, that’s really been Twitter lately. And so the resource of actually having other marketers that you can quickly engage with, kind of talk to, jam ideas off of them and just support each other and feel like you’re not alone, hugely important. So I’d say yeah, finding a community of other marketers.
Louis: Katelyn, yeah, you’ve been a pleasure to talk to. Thanks for going through all of this stuff with me in details. I know that people listening have got a lot of value out of it. I enjoyed every minute. Where can listeners connect with you and pester you and ask you questions?
Katelyn: Best place to probably find me and be able to directly ask me questions would be on Twitter. I’m @Kate, K-A-T-E, Bour, B-O-U-R, and from there you can find links to my website and my online training program and in person training programs.
Louis: Fabulous. Katelyn, once again-
Katelyn: Awesome. Well, thank you so much.
Louis: Likewise. Thank you very much.
Katelyn: All right. Have a good day everyone.