How much do you know about your customers, especially the very best ones? Companies that conduct ongoing customer research grow two to three times faster than those that don’t. How many? About 70% of companies are not doing 10 or more interviews with customers every month.
Today’s guest is Katelyn Bourgoin of Customer Camp. As a customer research expert and advocate, she explains how to gather customer data and extract useful insights from customer interviews to apply and achieve results.
Ben: Hello, Katelyn, welcome to the show.
Katelyn: Hi, thanks for having me.
Ben: Absolutely. I’m really excited to have you on. Would you mind taking a moment to introduce yourself and maybe tell our listeners more about your area of expertise?
Katelyn: Sure. I am a marketer by trade and a founder by choice. I started off in marketing, working in agencies, ended up starting my own agency, growing that a bit, started a second agency focused on restaurant consulting and sold that one off, then I was like, “Hmm, maybe I should get into tech.” Being naive, I didn't realize how hard that is and launched a tech company. That's probably where most people know me from.
Along that journey, I learned a lot about understanding who your customers are but then also being able to use that not just to drive marketing but also to drive product decisions. That brought me to where I am today, which is I run a training company called Customer Camp. I help people to understand who their customers are and why they actually buy their products, so that they can market to them better and make better products in the long run.
Ben: Very cool. How did you initially become passionate about helping businesses identify and learn more about their best customers?
Katelyn: As I said I started my own tech company, my background was in marketing, and we were good on the marketing side. We were able to get a lot of attention, get a lot of press. At one point, Inked Magazine was calling us the next LinkedIn for women. On the outside, everything looked great. We were having new users join the platform all the time, but internally, we hadn't built the right product.
What we had at the time was a business network for women entrepreneurs. We weren't successful in being able to get people to stay and hang around in the network, invite their friends and participate, which you need to have happened to make a network successful. After about three years of slogging along and trying different things, we ended up closing that company down.
Now, I was really fortunate that during that journey, I'd made a lot of really great connections. I knew a lot of startup founders who were trying to get more attention and trying to build demand for their products. My lead investor knew that we were good on the marketing side. They brought us in to work with a bunch of their portfolio companies, and we were working with those companies, working with other companies in the startup ecosystem, and we kept saying that they actually had the opposite problem of what we had. They were actually really great at building products and once people find out about those products—they're using those products, they often love them and were really happy—they were struggling to get people to discover them.
I would sit down with these founders in our kickoff meetings and I'd ask them, “Tell me about who your customers are,” and that's the first question as a marketer that matters. What was interesting was I started seeing this pattern. They knew who their customers were at a high level, it was often too high level. (We work with internet companies that are sized between 10 and 100 employees. That’s almost everyone. That's not really a target customer.) Or they were going after multiple customer segments at the same time.
Sometimes, you'd see that the team wasn't aligned on what the best strategy was. It was in that experience that I realized there's really this thing that's holding companies back. It's not being focused on the right customers, not really understanding how to talk about what they do and how to position their product, so people want to buy it. That led to what I do today.
Ben: Awesome. This is really, really important, too, because I saw on your website that companies who invest in customer research grow 2–3 times faster, which is a remarkable statistic.
Katelyn: That comes from ProfitWell. What's even more exciting about that is if you're an entrepreneur today or you're working inside of a company, that statistic was done by a research they did a couple of years ago, so that number may have actually gone up. We don't know. I think it was 2018 that that report came out. What’s so exciting about that was that, what that was based on was companies that did 10 or more interviews with customers every month. They were the ones that were showing that they were growing 2–3 times faster.
But 70% of companies aren't doing it. That leaves this massive opportunity for companies that really want to grow quickly to just be really customer-centric because chances are, based on those numbers, if 70% of companies aren't doing it, maybe your competitors aren't. It really can give you a chance to stand out.
Ben: Absolutely. Something I'm curious about is if that information is out there that you can expect to achieve this growth or to accelerate your growth at this rate if you do more customer research, what are some of the common challenges you see that might be preventing marketers from even getting started?
Katelyn: There's a number. At the end of the day, marketers want to be more customer-focused, and they want to make time for research. There are a couple of things that stand in their way. Sometimes, the teams that they're working with maybe don't believe in customer research, maybe they don't want to bother their customers (that's a common objection that marketers will hear when they bring this up to their team), they’ll go, “Oh, no. We don't want to bug our customers. I can tell you that.” That's one. The marketers aren't really trusted to have these conversations.
Another one is that the marketers themselves have bought into this myth of, there's that old Henry Ford saying, “If I had asked customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” There's this myth, especially in the product and innovation world, that it's our job to know what the customer wants or show them what they want. They can't tell us. I think that's just blatantly untrue and there's actually no evidence that Henry Ford said that. It's misattributed to him.
There's a couple of things going on, but one of the big ones is that maybe they've done it, they've tried different ways to do audience research. They haven't necessarily got the clarity that they were hoping to get, they invested time, didn't see the output, and they go back to their old way which is guessing or making decisions based on the data that they can gather from other sources.
I think that there's a number of things that stop marketers from doing this work consistently, but once you actually learn a system for how to have these conversations with your customers, you know what you're looking for from those conversations, and what insights you can glean, you can see right away how valuable it is and why you should make a habit of it.
Ben: That makes sense. If I am a marketer listening to this show and I'm interested in getting started with customer research, how would you recommend I get started finding who I should even talk to among my customers in order to get good data?
Katelyn: That's a great question. It will depend on the stage of where the company is at. My rule of thumb is you want to talk to people who recently bought from you. You don't want to ask them questions about your product and their experience with the product, which is the mistake that a lot of people make in these conversations. What you want to know is you want to understand the journey that led them to discovering your product in the first place.
The reason why talking to people who recently bought from you is valuable, is that those people will adequately remember the details of that journey a lot better than somebody who might have bought from you six months ago or two years ago. Those folks, everything's really hazy for them. Ideally, you want to talk to people who recently bought from you and you want to understand their buying journey.
This is where things get really exciting. There's research that shows that 95% of our decisions, when it comes to making a purchase, are happening unconsciously, meaning we're not actually putting all of the dots together and realizing why we're acting the way we're acting.
When we're actually going through a buying journey, while we might have rational reasons to justify what we did, there are tons of stuff happening under the surface that is actually driving the decisions that we make. Because people haven't actually had that detailed thought around their own buying journey, they're not necessarily just going to be able to rattle off that story and tell you in great detail. Your job in these conversations is really to pull that out of them. It's to get them to start with when did they first start realizing that they might have a problem to solve, that you could help with. And then, really just exploring everything along the way from other solutions that they might have tried, objections that they might have had to trying your product, who they were talking to, who's giving advice along the way. It's really just getting all of those details of the story.
What's neat about these interviews is that oftentimes, when you're conducting them, it's almost like the person is lying on the therapist's couch and you're pulling this out of them. They're realizing for the first time themselves why they make decisions. They hadn't thought of it this way before. It's really cool.
Ben: That's super interesting, that idea of drawing that information out of someone almost like you're not psychoanalyzing them but you are filling that psychologist role a little bit. That's very interesting.
Katelyn: Some of the language that we use going into it is we frame the conversation and say, “Think of it like we're creating a documentary, you're the star. The whole purpose of this conversation is to fill in all the pieces of that documentary.” That really gets them thinking in the right mindset about how to share their story.
Ben: That’s great. Once a marketer has gotten to that point, their customer is laying on the couch staring at the ceiling just contemplating their existence with this product. Once they've gotten to that point, what are some common questions a marketer should consider asking to help draw that narrative out of their customers?
Katelyn: This is probably the most common question I get. The question I get is like, “What questions should I be asking?” The reality is that the questions that you ask, you're not going to want to use a set script, you're not going to want to ask the same questions every time because you might miss out on some of the key details in the buying journey. What I'll do is when I teach people how to do this, I give them “your 10-questions starter pack” which is a bunch of questions they can ask at the high level of the buying journey.
But when you get to be good at this, again, going back to that example of the documentary, you'll know what the key stages of the buying journey are and you can help ask questions to draw that journey out with your customer. But really, what you're trying to know is what triggered them to realize they had a problem they need to solve. When did they first realize, “Okay, what I'm doing right now isn't working and I need something better.” That's a really important question that you want to ask.
Then you want to explore what wasn't working about the way they were doing it before, why did they have a problem with their old solution that led them to seek out a new one. Then along that buying journey, who did they talk to, what other products did they consider? Maybe they tried other products and were partially satisfied, but they didn't get everything they needed. What didn't work well about those? Once you finally get them to look at your product and assess your product, was there anything that would have stopped you from buying that made you anxious in the process? If you had to narrow it down, what was the number one reason he decided to buy? That can help you pull out the value proposition that was successful at that person.
There are all sorts of questions that you can ask, but the overall theme is you want to take them from when they first were triggered to recognize that they needed a better solution right through to now they've bought your product, they started using your product, and they've assessed, “Is it doing my job? Am I getting what I wanted to get done, done? Have I made the progress I wanted to make?” So, really it's about asking questions that pull that out of them.
There are what I like to call like the deep-dive questions because a lot of times, people will give you surface-level answers. Not everyone wants to be lying on your couch getting psychoanalyzed. When you're asking a little bit like a B2B purchase, they want to assume that it was all very rational, there weren't any emotions going into this. Everything about this was a completely rational decision.
I have these questions that I call my deep dive questions to help you to get to that next layer where they'll give a little more insight. A couple of those would be asking things like, “Interesting, can you tell me more about that?” You'd be amazed how just asking that is like pulling up a rock and underneath, you see all of the ants and the worms. There's so much under there just by asking that question.
Then another one that I love is, “What led to that decision? Can you walk with your thought process?” Then you'll get all sorts of good stuff about what was going on in the background, about maybe different things that were at play. That's a really good one, too, to get a little deeper.
Ben: Got it. Once you've gone through that process, you've gotten some data from your customers, you've got all these great insights and things that you're able to pull out of it, how would you recommend a marketer then begin analyzing all that data that they've gathered so that they can start to pull things out that are useful?
Katelyn: That's a great question. That's the process I've been honing internally over the last couple of years and now that's really what I teach in my workshops. The big thing is that I get them to create a summary of the interview right away. While it's still fresh in your mind, I want you to summarize what were the key things that you heard from that interview. Again, thinking about this from a marketer's perspective, what do we care about? We care about what their pains are. We care about what their desired outcomes are, how they see life being better with this product. We care about the channels that they use. We care about the people that influence their decisions.
Then we care about things that are going to slow them down in the buying process like, “What alternate solutions do they look at? What buying objections do they have at the time? If they looked at our product and they looked at another product, did they have to make any trade-offs between choosing our product or the other one?” I have this tiny one-page summary. I get people to do that first and that becomes a really great jumping-off point for pulling insights out of it that can lead your strategy. The neat thing about the buying journey is that your customer’s buying journey maps to your marketing funnel. You start with that stage of maybe they're aware that they have a problem, but they don't really know you yet, they don't trust you yet, they're looking at other places. How do you figure out how to get in front of them?
What I teach companies how to do is really just to map these interviews to their marketing funnels so that they can understand their buying journey and therefore, understand where there's opportunity to find new channels, new tactics, new messages that align with what's happening in the customer journey.
Ben: Got it. Finally, once you get beyond that point, once you have that data, you have your insights, and things that you're ready to actually start acting on, how can marketers effectively share that information so that the rest of their organization can put it to use as well?
Katelyn: Great question. The summaries are really a great shareable resource to share with the rest of the team. Instead of having a flat persona that is like, “Here are all these attributes of better customers, age, or income,” that sort of thing, those are helpful, too, but really the summary of the buying journey, it explains how they found us and why they chose us. That can be a great resource to share with your team.
I also do provide a persona that's based on the customer journey. I have a template for that, that I'll share with my students, and they can use that to share. But the thing that I love getting them to do is two things, taking the actual words that their customers use, the voice of the customer, and creating these little audio clips from their interviews and sharing those with their teams. There are a couple of neat tools that will allow you to make these interactive little audio clips very easily.
That's a great way. I think if you're doing these interviews, if you find something where you’re like, “Ah, I love what they said there. That's totally new and fresh, and we should be thinking that way,” you can take that little clip and create a little shareable graphic (I guess), it's a little video and I'll tell teams like, “Pop those in your Slack channel if your team uses Slack, get the rest of your team hearing the voice of the customer, too. Get them learning from these really neat insights that you're pulling out of these conversations.” Once you've gathered some interesting insights from your interviews, a great to get your team excited and on board with what we do with this information, how do we act next, is holding a brainstorming meeting and shaping around what I like to call “how might we” questions.
Let's say, for instance, in your research that you discovered that one of the triggers that first gets people thinking about using your product is maybe they are selling their home. You can lead this brainstorming conversation and say, “Okay, we know that this is a trigger. How might we get in front of people when they're selling their home?”
Then you've got your team collaborating on ideas. Even though you've done all of the research and you're like the hero in that sense, you bring your team and you let them participate, too, so that they feel like they're contributing and that they really feel ownership around the ideas that are coming out of this. That really helps, I find, with getting people aligned because we are often motivated to see things succeed that we ourselves have had our hands all over, if that makes sense.
Ben: I think that makes a ton of sense. Throughout this process, are there any common mistakes with conducting and applying customer research that you see happening, that marketers should be mindful to avoid?
Katelyn: Oftentimes, if the team says, “Okay, let's do this,” they'll want to get the most bang for their buck, for instance. They'll be like, “We'll let the marketer do their interview, but also let's let design ask their questions, too. We'll get sales to ask their questions, too.” They'll try to get too much out of these interviews and the purpose of the interviews gets lost and maybe it's not a great experience for the customer.
I'd say that one thing to be mindful of is the purpose of this interview, is to understand why the person bought your product, so you can use those insights to inform marketing. There's going to be really useful stuff that's going to come out of this for your other teams as well, but try to keep the focus of the conversation there so that you're not jumping all over the place. I'd say that's one thing.
Another common mistake is that they just don't have a process for documenting what they're learning. They're having these conversations and maybe this idea is bubbling up, but only one person got to hear it. Then, when they go to the rest of their team or three days later when they had forgotten 90% of what they heard on the call, they're not actually getting to figure out how to act to that.
I'd say going into these without a plan of how you're going to document and process what you learn will potentially mean that you spend a lot of time setting up interviews, talking to people, and you don't feel like you got a lot out of it. So, you really want to have that process in place before you start.
Ben: Got it. The last question that I'll ask you today, part of this is helping marketers identify their best customers. How can marketers identify what separates a great customer from one that's merely average?
Katelyn: That's an awesome question. I thought about that a lot and I wanted to come up with a mechanism to make this a little bit easier for companies. I created a little handy tool which gets you thinking in the right way and it's called the customer ranking calculator. Essentially, it looks at two different dimensions about a customer and then gets you to assess those customers on those dimensions.
First, it's like the problem you solve. How important is that problem to your customer? That's something that you have to consider, how tangible is the problem, meaning, can they feel it? Do they see it? Is it visible to them? Are they going to be reminded that this is real? And how unsatisfied are they with their current solutions?
You might identify an audience that their problem is important, they feel it all the time, but they're totally happy with what they're using. What they're using is helping them to get the outcome that they want, and they're unlikely to switch to you. Thinking about those things is important.
Then you want to think about it from your perspective as a business. What's the economic value of that customer? How much are they willing to pay? If you're targeting small business owners, then chances are that there's a cap to what they can afford to pay for what you do, whereas if you go after enterprise, they might have a bigger budget. Also, you have to consider, how easy is it to get those customers? Maybe it's really easy to get small business owners and really, really hard to get those enterprise customers.
The most important thing is the long-term value. How long do you think that that customer is going to stay with you? Will they buy from you once and then never again? Will they buy over and over? Looking at these different criteria can help you to look at a couple of different customer segments and assess which one is the best one for you.
If your listeners are interested, I have that as a resource on my website, they can go and download. It's a great exercise when you're earlier in the process of trying to really zero in on a niche. It's also great if you're considering moving into a different market and you have a couple of different approaches where you can go, “This can be a really good conversation, a good tool to guide the conversation with your team as you assess different potential segments or markets you can go after.”
Ben: Very cool. That's awesome stuff. Like I said, that's all I've got. Thanks again for coming on the show.
Katelyn: Thank you.
Ben: Yeah, for sure. Is there anything else you'd like to leave our listeners with before you go?
Katelyn: I think the biggest thing is just get out there and talk to customers. You can do that by conducting the one-on-one interviews, you can do that by showing up, having meetups with your customers, going to places where they are, like conferences. At the end of the day, when you're marketing based on guesswork, you're not going to get the same results that you want to get. While it takes time upfront to do this audience research, it will save you much time in the long run because you won't have to keep starting over. So, make the time for it and invest the energy into it, it'll definitely pay off.
Ben: Awesome. Thanks for sharing your insight. I'm sure that our listeners will find tons of value in everything you have to say here. I think everybody probably wants to grow their business by two or three times so this is great stuff.
Ben Sailer is the Inbound Marketing Director at Automattic. His specialties include content strategy, SEO, copywriting, and more. When he's not hard at work helping people do better marketing, he can be found cross-country skiing with his wife and their dog.