What’s the difference between the pitcher on a triple A baseball club and a pitcher in the major leagues?
Both throw in the high nineties. Both know how to throw a knuckle curve. Both know the game inside and out.
But why does one carry his own luggage on the road to pitch in front of small audiences in towns like Binghampton and Norfolk, while the other makes millions of dollars to take the mound in front of a nationally televised broadcast?
It can be frustrating when you seem to be doing everything “right”, but you’re still not connecting with your market.
You know the ins and outs of how marketing is done. You’ve read about all the tactics. You know how to blog. You know how to setup a newsletter. You even know your way around a PPC campaign.
But for some reason, it’s not connecting. People aren’t clicking on your posts. They’re not leaving comments. They’re not subscribing. They’re not buying.
I’ve been there.
For years, I struggled to get more than 20 daily readers to this blog. No matter how much time and thought I put into my posts, my traffic remained flat.
I thought, “What is it about those who are successful online? What are they doing that I’m not? What have they learned that I don’t know yet? Is online marketing more complicated than I think it is?”
You’ll hear me use that term, “The key”, in a lot of my writing and teaching. I use it to identify that “ah ha” concept, that one simple idea, that unlocks a seemingly complicated question.
There is a key to marketing. There is one thing that uncomplicates and de-mystifies it. And the people who get it, win.
That’s it. Knowing your customer is the key to uncomplicating your marketing. If it sounds simple, that’s because it is.
The reason marketing seemed so complicated up until now is because you’re spending too much time inside your own head. At least that was the case for me when I spent years struggling to connect with readers and make a sale.
When you’re operating only in terms of what you think is interesting, relevant, or valuable, then you’re leaving everything up to chance. And those odds aren’t in your favor.
How to write this headline? Which feature or service should I focus on? Which pain point am I solving? Is my messaging right? How should I price this product?
Every one of us needs to figure these things out. Some of us base our answers on our own gut intuition. Others base it on what their customers have told them. Can you guess who will be more successful?
Look, you might be a super-talented designer or developer, and you might truly have a solid idea that’s worth pursuing. But you won’t know for sure until you step outside your own head, and step into the head of your customer.
I said the solution is simple, because that’s how it will feel once you start to commit to researching your customers. Does it take time and work to get to know your customer? It sure does. But once you start, everything gets easier.
When you know who your customer is, then you know exactly who you’re working for. Did you think you’re working for yourself? Nope. You’re working for your customer. Your job is to make their life better in some way. If you don’t know everything you can possibly know about that person, then you’re not going be very good at this job.
Did you notice that I’m saying you should get to know your customer, not your customers (plural)? If you try to research any and every type of person who might ever come in contact with your business, you won’t get very far. You’ll dilute your focus and your message will fall flat. Stick with your single most-ideal customer. That’s the person who stands to receive far and way more benefit from what you’re selling than anyone else.
When you know what that person’s most burning pain point is, then you know what to lead with. Your headline writes itself.
When you know which questions they’re asking, then you know what to write about in your blog. Suddenly, your posts get more traction in search engines and social media.
When you know where they need to go, then you know how to deliver the exact solution to get them there.
Here are three ways I go about doing customer research. I used these methods in my research for the launch of my course, Productize. I’ve also refined and used these methods in different ways over the years in my other businesses.
The days of building new products in secret are over. You should be getting your concept in front of the ideal audience early and often. That typically means driving traffic to an initial landing page, collecting email addresses, and building your pre-launch list.
There is a common misconception about pre-launch lists. Most use them to grow a mass of people to send your big launch announcement to when that day comes. Sure, it can be used for that. But your pre-launch list is actually much more valuable than that and most founders don’t ever tap into it’s true power.
If you’re committing to researching your customer, here’s what you will do: Personally reach out to the people who’ve entered their email to hear about your new thing. The sooner you can do this, the better, so that you and your thing are still fresh in their minds. Ask them to get on a Skype call.
Interview them all about what they do, where they come from, where they want to go, what’s standing in their way, and what they find most challenging right now. You’ll want to get more specific as it relates to your product or service. Ask lots of followup questions, like “Why do you think that is?”, “Can you tell me more about that?”, “Can you give me an example?”, etc.
Then listen like its your job (because it is). Take notes. I find it’s easier to record my conversations using Skype Call Recorder, then listen back later and jot down notes.
But what if your business has already launched or it’s well established? Customer research should be done continuously.
Pre-sales conversations with prospects can be a great form of customer research. The dynamic is a bit different than when you’re interviewing people who’ve joined your pre-launch list, because there’s a potential sale to be made.
The prospect likely has lots of questions of their own. These are really great data points for you to take note of. What are the most common questions, and which ones seem to be most pressing (deal makers/breakers)? Why do you think so? (ask them!)
Customers who’ve bought from you are probably the best people to research because your goal is to find more people just like them.
One way to do that is to send them a questionnaire just a few days after they purchased. This is a great time to catch them because they’re still highly engaged with you at this point.
Another way to stay in close contact with your customers is through your customer support channels. Take note of the types of questions they’re asking and why they’re asking them. Don’t look at a customer support conversation as simply a resolution to an issue. Use issues as conversation starters with customers. You’ll be amazed at some of the things you might learn.
If you’re blogging and building an audience who you plan to sell some kind of product to in the future, then it’s never a bad idea to survey them.
I conducted my first-ever survey of my audience of this blog a few months ago and wrote in detail about the process and the results. I plan to run a new survey on an annual basis to track how my audience changes over time.
What I find a survey is good for is to get a general sense of the make up of your audience, and to figure out who’s in the majority. You can confirm or uncover challenges or aspirations that members of your audience share.
From there, you might use these as the basis for a new idea for a product, service, or productized service. Then you can dig in further with customer research interviews.
This is one of my favorite forms of customer research. You can implement this even if you don’t have a large email list and you can let it run indefinitely.
Set up an autoresponder to send new subscribers a welcome email the day (or next day) after they subscribe. The goal of this email is to get them to reply and talk about themselves (who doesn’t like talking about themselves?). Here’s what mine currently looks like (I recently expanded it a bit):
The responses I get are amazing. It’s not only the most enjoyable part of what I do here (hearing from you!) , but it’s filled with lots of great insights.
After just a few of these responses, you start to notice trends and commonalities. After reading them for a full year, its like I know what they’re going to say before I even read them (but that doesn’t mean I stop reading them!)
I’m no expert baseball scout. But I’m pretty sure the key difference between a major league pitcher and a minor leaguer is their mental game.
Both are physically capable to play at the highest level. But the ones who make it to “the show” operate at a higher level, mentally. Major league pitchers are better at knowing the unique weaknesses of each hitter, then using that knowledge to locate their pitches with pinpoint accuracy. And they have the mental composure to do it consistently in high-pressure situations.
When it comes to marketing, the mental game makes all the difference. When you put in the work to get inside your customer’s head, it’s much easier to make it connect when it counts.
Marketing isn’t so complicated afterall.