How to Apply Audience Insights to Content Marketing With Rand Fishkin From SparkToro [AMP 178]
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How can marketers make their content go beyond Google and Facebook for audience research to be a competitive advantage? The duopoly may monopolize your attention and saturate SEO and social media channels, but it doesn’t own Web and search marketing.
Today’s guest is Rand Fishkin from SparkToro. He describes problems and solutions related to audience research. Rand’s insight continues to be inspirational and instrumental in many marketers’ careers.
Some of the highlights of the show include:
- SparkToro’s Solutions: Pay-to-play frustration? Alternative channels are available
- Broaden, Don’t Abandon Scope: Turbocharge marketing without spending much
- Find the Right People: Scrape and scroll through shares on social platforms
- Speak the Language: In-jokes and memes won’t work, don’t make assumptions
- Avoid Potential Pitfalls: Know, understand, measure, audit competitive landscape
- Event Attendance for Audience Research: Don’t limit learning and consumption
- Formalized Practice: Turn intelligence into product features, data, and positioning
- What it takes to win? Position product’s story, language, and solutions
- Product Content: Influencers earn amplification, engagement, and awareness
- Narrow Niche: From reachable audience to ideal customers
- Purchasing Decisions: What makes qualified customers buy or not buy products?
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Ben: Hi there and welcome to another episode of the Actionable Marketing Podcast. Before we get too far into the show, I want to note that between the time that this interview was originally recorded and now when I’m recording this introduction, our world changed considerably with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. I also have no idea how much things might further change between now when I’m recording this introduction and when this episode goes live in a couple of weeks.
One thing I will say is that, given our current circumstances, as much as talking about marketing feels a little bit weird at least to me personally, just considering the gravity of the situation that we are all in and just generally being in the early days of getting used to working from home, and just figuring out how we are going to make this all work while we are going through this together, I also feel very fortunate to be able to continue to do this show. I hope that in some small way, if you have made our show a part of your routine week to week, I hope that we can help you maintain maybe some sense of normalcy. Above all, I hope that you and those you care for are staying safe and that you are doing your best to take care of yourself and others around you.
With that said, our guest on this episode is someone that I was extremely excited to get to speak with. I feel like Rand Fishkin really almost needs no introduction. As I’m sure is the case for a lot of your listeners out there, Rand has been a big inspiration for me for years, his Whiteboard Fridays from back in the Moz days, the SEO software company Moz that he founded. Those videos were instrumental in my own education, in my own career development when I was starting out in this field, and just following his work and his insight over the years has really benefited me a great deal.
I am really excited to be able to bring him back to the show for the second time. He was on the show a couple of years ago in early 2018 to talk about audience research and some of the problems in that area that he is hoping to solve with his new company SparkToro.
In a time where it feels like Google and Facebook dominate so much of our attention and our marketing budgets, it’s becoming increasingly important to be able to understand where your audiences are hanging out and who they are following, not only on those platforms but well beyond it. If you are looking for insight into how to actually do that, why it matters and how it can give you a massive competitive advantage, then I highly recommend listening to what he has to say. Here’s Rand.
For listeners of the show, can you explain what you’re working on with SparkToro and the sorts of audience research problems that the product solves?
Rand: The inspiration behind this, Ben, was basically Casey, my co-founder and I, kind of looked across the landscape of web marketing and obviously search marketing because of my personal views at Moz and felt this frustration. I don’t know if you felt it, but this frustration that Google and Facebook sort of own the entire landscape. This duopoly just really monopolizes our attention as marketers and our budgets and that it is really hard to get a competitive advantage by bidding against your competitors, doing SEO, and doing Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube marketing. These channels are just so saturated and so challenging. Google and Facebook have made it such that they are really want you to pay to play in these places.
We thought there is a competitive advantage in being able to choose alternative channels. To be able to find (for example) a streaming podcast, the podcast your audience listens to, the YouTube channels that they subscribe to and watch, the websites that they go and visit, the social accounts that they listen to, the groups that they’re a part of, the events and conferences they go to, and organically or through sponsorship, advertising, going direct to those places rather than going through the duopoly of Facebook and Google.
That’s the problem we wanted to solve. We were like, “Can we help marketers do that work? Can we help them figure out what those channels and sources of influence are so that they can go do or execute all their marketing tactics, in a way that gives them a competitive advantage, and that broadens the marketing and advertising landscape?” I think more diversity is healthy for our ecosystem at the macro level, and at the micro-level, for you and me, it’s a great competitive advantage because our competitors are almost certainly just throwing dollars at Google and Facebook and letting them sort out the targeting. That’s why we want to help people with SparkToro.
Ben: Absolutely love it. I agree 100% with everything you have to say about the downsides to essentially two companies monopolizing all of our attention, and by extension of that, our marketing budgets. But I would assume what you’re advocating is that it allows you to just broaden your scope (maybe) rather than to abandon.
Rand: Yeah. I’m […] not saying if Facebook advertising is producing positive ROI for you, keep investing, but is it going to give you a competitive advantage? Is it going to let you out-market your competitors? Would you be better than them? The answer is probably no. You are going to build strengths in other places on the product, on customer service, on brand writing, and in these other ways.
To be frank, Facebook makes the ecosystem of being against your competition really easy. The same with Google. Whether that’s across display, retargeting, or search advertising. Even RCO is a tough place to play because it is so much work, which means it is so expensive to get to the top rankings. There are so many people vying for those top-rankings, so it’s hard to stand out. The best among the SEO players absolutely can and will do that. That’s true on Facebook ads or […] as well, but for most of us, it is not a competitive advantage.
A great competitive advantage is saying I found a channel. I found podcast advertising, website sponsorships, guest hostings on a couple of communities, and relationship-holding with a few influential sources on social to really turbocharge my marketing in the way that my competitors aren’t even thinking about it.
You have a superpower without spending enormous amounts of work or dollars having to do that. I think that’s what marketers are looking for. Marketers (at least the really savvy ones or the ones who are forward-thinking) are looking for those competitive advantages.
You and I […] right? Let’s say we go spin up a new yoga studio and it’s a chain of yoga studios across North Dakota. We are doing a particular kind of yoga that’s really helpful for people with back problems. So, how do we go reach a community of interested people? We want health-conscious, we want them to be in these geographical areas. Where are we going to reach them other than Facebook ads and Google searches?
Let’s imagine SparkToro doesn’t exist. I guess we go survey them and interview them. We are like, “Hey, tell me some podcast you listen to. Tell me some YouTube channels you watch and who do follow on social.” We do a little bit of cyberstalking where we go find a few of our early customers, get all their social and web accounts, go visit those, try and learn more about them.
That’s an insane amount of work. Surveys are notoriously not great and inaccurate at getting what people actually pay attention to. For example, I have degenerative disc disease which makes some forms of exercise really really helpful for me according to my doctors and it seems to be working. Maybe we could go find everyone who has talked about degenerative disc disease online on wherever, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook or whatever. We could find all those accounts in North Dakota. Maybe it’s only 1% of the actual population but it is representative.
Maybe we could find people who had talked about Vinyasa yoga. Maybe we could find people who already follow a few health-related accounts like physical health-related accounts. Go find all those people, download whatever, scrape, crawl the last 500 shares that they have made across their social platforms and whatever their websites and about pages are and then go analyze those in a big database. That is the right thing to do and that’s what SparkToro does.
SparkToro just doesn’t […] everyone, calls tens of millions of accounts, puts them all into a database and just makes it searchable so that we don’t have to custom do this. Essentially, what I found when I was talking to a lot of marketers are really, really savvy cutting-edge ones who have access to big data resources.
We are doing this already. They were essentially taking their customers or who they thought would be their customers, plugging them into the systems like this, extracting all this data and we are like, “Oh man, you should not do that.” That is manual work that is ludicrous. You should just pay a small monthly fee to have access to the database that already does this for you and focuses on just that. That’s where we came up with that.
Ben: Very cool. In addition to just finding ways to get a competitive leg-up over your competition, what would you say are maybe some other reasons that marketers should spend time understanding what their audience reads, who they follow, and where they spend their time online?
Rand: Very frankly, we’ve had a lot of conversations with folks who were not like you and I types of marketers. Sophisticated marketers who are in the weeds all the time. They are often like product managers, part designers and developers, entrepreneurs and founders who are building companies, and researchers. I think those folks and marketers get a lot of value from just being part of the conversation, the same conversation cycles, and the same outlets that their customers and audience are.
One of the great ways to have empathy for other human beings is to consume the same things they consume. It lets you speak the language. I go to a lot of conferences and events. Sometimes, I’ll sit in the audience. This happens very often at events that I do in the UK, Canada, Australia, other places.
As the presenter who gets up on stage and they make a pop culture-related joke that is known to me because I am an American (I watch the same whatever television series they are familiar with) but the rest of the audience shrug their shoulders like, “I don’t get it. I don’t know what’s going on, this person has sort of lost me,” I had that over a couple of years where it felt like everybody in digital marketing was watching Game of Thrones which I’ve never seen. There were a lot of memes, in-jokes, and “Oh this is just like the name of a person…” I’ve never heard of and it went totally over my head.
That is a great example of not paying attention to your audience. You make assumptions about what they are familiar with, what they consume, read, watch, listen to. and your in-jokes don’t work for them. It’s the same thing if I go to the UK and I make a joke about Michael Bloomberg’s democratic campaign. They’re like, “Who? What? I don’t get it.”
So, this attention that you can give to your audience, so you understand the language they use around the topics that you talk about. The news, stories, things that are top of mind that they are probably consuming and the ones that they are not. The memes that they are aware of. The individual people and the channels that they are aware of. The ways that they talk about a product or a problem, the language, the internal lingo that they use. All of that is going to make you way more successful in having empathy for them and being able to build products for them. That’s true whether we’re talking about a physical product, a B2C product, a software product that’s B2B, across the board. You just want to be in your customer’s ecosystem rather than coming from the outside.
Ben: That totally makes sense and this is a point that you touched on there a little bit that I’d like to dig deeper into. What are some of the potential pitfalls marketers might face if they overlook doing this kind of audience research? You touched on a little bit there, like maybe you will make a cultural reference that people don’t understand and things like that, but going even deeper, what are some other opportunities that people might miss and things they might end up tripping over on?
Rand: I think one of the biggest ones is not understanding your competitive landscape. I don’t just mean direct competitors, like people who offer the same products and services that you do. Very often, we as marketers get trapped into this idea of looking at our current customers and seeing what else today considered to purchase that would have solved their problem, when in fact, the way these human beings tend to think about problems is, what are the ways I can solve this problem? Those could be paid or unpaid, those could be just not dealing with the problem at all, finding an alternative.
Very often, I think about my old company, Moz. For a long time, I looked at a few competitive alternatives like SEMrush, Ahrefs, but did not think about, “Oh there’s just a ton of people who used Google Search Console plus their own spreadsheets.” Or, there’s a bunch of people who solve SEO by publishing content and never looking at or tracking them. They just don’t pay attention to it. They are not actively doing and measuring SEO and based on those things improving it. How do they do keyword research? They start typing something into Google and if it autocompletes near the top, they think it must have a good […]. Okay. I decided on a great way to go, I don’t recommend it. I know as previously professional SEO, I know that’s a bad way to think about things, but that’s not necessarily true for customers.
I think if you are not in that ecosystem and understanding those folks, you can miss alternatives, essentially competitive alternatives. Things that your potential customers or existing customers might do rather than buy your products, and because you don’t understand that. Because you are not swimming in that water, you won’t have a great grasp on how to sell to them. How to speak to them with your marketing, your sales pages, or if you have people doing sales like that, if you have a narrative that you are projecting in your content.
If you miss out on that, I think you miss out on a lot of customer opportunities as well and your positioning is just going to suffer. And someone else is going to do it right. Someone else in your space is listening to that, they are picking up that slack that you potentially dropped.
Ben: Yeah. I think that’s an interesting corollary. Do you want audience intelligence to be your own competitive advantage or potentially the competitive stick that you get beaten with?
Rand: Yeah well said. It’s one or the other.
Ben: Yeah, if you have to choose one. I know which I would prefer.
Rand: I don’t want to pretend that SparkToro is the only way to do this or that doing it with SparkToro is going to solve all these problems. We want to solve a very particular kind of search challenge. I think the bigger world of just discovering who your customers and potential customers are, learning who their sources of influence are, and swimming in that water for a while so that you speak the language the way they speak it, so you make the references that they understand, so that you understand the problems they are facing down to their core, and what the alternatives to facing those problems are, how are they solving those today, that is massively valuable for building any type of company, for releasing a product that’s going to work, for doing marketing that will speak to your audience and resonate with them.
Ben: Absolutely. That sparked an interesting thought. If you’re doing this type of research regardless of what kinds of methods or tools you might be using to gather insight into your audience or into a potential customer base, obviously, any sort of tool arising is going to be limited to the fact that you’re just looking at digital platforms and channels. Would you say that there is any value, or do you have any opinions on or insight into the value of consuming things that maybe aren’t digital? Things that are completely outside of the digital sphere and gaining more understanding of your audience, more empathy for your audience by immersing yourself in what they are consuming, when they are not on the computer or whether they are not on their phone?
Rand: I think the biggest one that I’ve seen in B2B specifically is Absolutely Events. There’s this surprising world where, “Oh, I’m a chemical engineer who works in the plastics field. Essentially, I go to these two conferences every year. That’s where I learn all the new things that are happening in my industry and figure out who I want to pay attention to. If you want to reach me, I don’t consume a lot of chemistry-related content on the web or follow a ton of people on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram that is related to my field of work. Maybe I get this journal four times a year and I go to this conference.”
This is often true in fields like medicine, dentistry, and engineering of all kinds. A lot of these legal practices, like lawyers, pay a little more attention to all my sources, but those fields make a ton of sense to find out what those are. What are those events? What are those journals? How do I participate in those ecosystems? Maybe that’s sponsoring a booth at the event. Maybe it’s just attending. Maybe it’s pitching to speak. Maybe it is doing some type of unique sponsorship with that event. Maybe it’s paid to get to listen to people who go, then going and learning more about them that way. Maybe it’s just going with a bunch of Starbucks gift cards and interviewing people, “Hey, maybe just sit down with me for 10 minutes and answer some questions, and we will give you this gift card,” that kind of thing, doing that manual research.
I find that all of these things are super valuable. One of the things that I do that is very offline for SparkToro and did in the18 months prior to our launch. I say launch. We haven’t technically launched yet, but we are about to. We’re pretty close.
One of the things I’ve been doing for the last six months is I fly to a lot of cities for conferences and events, and speak there, and I’ll try and find one, two, or three agencies, consultants, or marketers who are in those cities, who have some connection to, just reach out and say, “Hey, I’m going to be in town. It will be cool to come by and like to talk to your team about how they’re solving this problem.” We just sit in one of their conference rooms and chat about how they do audience intelligence, how they do market research today, and those learnings have been huge. They really, really help.
Casey and I craft the right product and position it correctly to hopefully resource folks. A lot of the time I walk out of those meetings, I got to call Casey, “They are really excited about this thing which we aren’t building yet. Maybe we should put it higher up on the list,” or, “They are not really excited about this feature that I thought they’re going to be excited about.” Sometimes those meetings are the greatest things. I walk out just feeling amazing like, “Oh, my God. What we are building is going to be so great for them. They are so excited,” and sometimes I will walk out, “Oh, man. That’s giving me a rough ride. They don’t seem excited at all.” I think that offline research, in-person interviews are invaluable.
Ben: What Rand has to say about finding your audience outside of Facebook and Google, and how that can actually be a competitive advantage is both extremely real and it might also be one of the strongest arguments that you have in favor of diving really deep into the audience research when trying to make a case to your boss or to other stakeholders, as to why this is worth your time. If you know or you suspect that this is something that your competitors aren’t really doing, then you’ll be digging into a vast wealth of data and information that’s not even crossing their radar. That means unique insights for your business, which equals powerful thought for the content that you are creating, and creating content that your competition can’t easily copy. Something to think about.
Let’s say I’m a marketer and listening to the show, I’m sold on the idea that gathering audience intelligence is something that I should be doing more of if I’m not doing it already. Let’s say that there’s a roadblock or there’s something that is really preventing me from diving deep into this area of marketing. In your experience what are some of the biggest challenges and the biggest source of things that tend to maybe prevent marketers from being successful in doing audience research or maybe even from getting started in the first place?
Rand: I think to be totally frank, one of the biggest ones is just time. A lot of marketers are overwhelmed with channels and opportunities. They are overwhelmed with work. They are not given a chance to step back and see the bigger picture. “Hey, let’s spend the next quarter (or not) optimizing our paid spend, our organic investments, and our content marketing, but rather take a step back and look at positioning overall.” Whether we are speaking to our customers in the way that’s going to resonate most with them and having those conversations set. To be frank there’s not a lot of companies or agencies where that’s a formalized practice.
Formalized practice is like email marketing. “Hey, I want you to optimize what we’re writing there, the website content, SEO, SEM, or display retargeting. All of those are pretty well-understood channels and practices but frankly positioning, market research, audience intelligence, no. I think there’s a vague uphill battle that we face on the education front and the prioritization front.
But I am such a believer in this because I have done it wrong, where I did not speak to my audience in a way that they understood, where I’ve seen products win the market not by doing better content SEO, paid search, marketing. Not by executing better in the channels, but by positioning themselves better. By understanding their audience, how to reach them, how to speak to them better. They essentially avoided having to get good at all these things that I thought you had to be good at to compete with us and beat us out anyway. Some of that is obviously turning that intelligence into product features and product data, but a lot of it is also just positioning.
I have really come around to this idea that the best product in the market does not win. Someone who is best at executing on these channels does not necessarily win. It is very often the case that matching your product’s story, your product’s language, how people think about your product and the problem that it solves, how people think about that problem and potential solutions are often jumping the rest of it.
Ben: I think that’s very true. If you want to get really old school, the clichéd example of that is like VHS versus Betamax.
Rand: Oh right. Like Beta had the better features and VHS won anyway.
Ben: Yeah. You see that I feel like across so many different product categories, so many different industries. I would be willing to bet that a lot of people listening to this probably are strong advocates for some product or another that’s not the market leader, but they are all strongly to tell you it’s better because of X, Y, and Z. If that’s the case what’s stopping that company from making sure that everybody knows that and feels that way?
Rand: I think this is true in the marketplace of ideas as well. There are certain things that for some reason or another become part of our cultural, political, social landscape and they get talked about. Let’s be real. Star Wars is a crappy product that we all spend hundreds of millions of dollars on. It was great when we were kids but it’s been bad for a long time and we still, “Well, yeah. All right. New Star Wars movie, new Star Wars ride, new Star Wars cartoon, Star Wars on some new Disney plus channel. I guess I’ll pay for that, too.” We all know there are better shells out there but, well, it’s Star Wars, go see it.
Ben: It’s such a cultural… I don’t even know what you would call it, but—
Rand: It’s like this […]. It has some association. You have a mental model around it, you got familiarity with it, so even if it’s crappy, you know you can go talk to your friends, co-workers, and family about how crappy it was, and everybody can commiserate, right?
Ben: For better or worse, it connects you to other people.
Rand: Yeah, for better or worse. Especially with a lot of pop culture stuff, there’s a ton of the best product rarely wins but the best-positioned product often wins.
Ben: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of truth to that. This has all been great so far just around the value of gathering audience intelligence and insights. Let’s say I’m a listener and I have done a bunch of work in this area. I feel like I’ve got a pretty good understanding of all kinds of different things about my audience that maybe I didn’t know before. Where would you recommend I begin applying those insights to my content? How do I turn that from intelligence to an actual output or informing what I am already doing in some way that’s going to resonate with people better?
Rand: There are a few ways to think about this if you are paying attention to what your audience is talking about or what’s resonating with them. I think the core of solving this problem is positioning your company and your product in such a way that it speaks to the primary reason or reasons that people experience a problem and how they choose to solve it versus alternatives. That is step one.
I really like April Dunford. Her website’s aprildunford.com. She has an outstanding book and a bunch of great talks as well. The book is called “Obviously Awesome.” I highly, highly recommend it and she […] a framework for using your understanding of your audience, your understanding of your competition and of your market in order to craft a great narrative and due positioning for your business. When you take it down another level from a company to content […], the way that I think about that is rueful.
One is there’s content that speaks to your customers or the people that you want to buy from you and that content tends to be useful on your own site for people who are trying to understand your product but not very useful for earning amplification, awareness, engagement. If you want to earn those things, like get more people knowing about your company, your product and all that kind of stuff, you need to instead speak to a different group that’s one level removed. The one level removed people are influencers of your customers. They are different from your customers.
Where I see a ton of businesses go wrong, content creators especially go wrong is they think they are making content for their customers and potential customers when in fact what they should be doing is thinking about the media, the publications people social influencers, podcasters, YouTube channel creators, writers, bloggers, and journalists. All that group who are going to be listened to by our audience and now you have to make something. You have to make a product for them.
Your content is that product and that product has to serve their needs like essentially give me new data, new narratives, new conflict. Hopefully, something that’s contentious that has multiple sides to it that speaks to the dialogue of what people find intriguing or even potentially are really surprising, angering, upsetting. You have those types of things in your content, people will pay a lot of attention.
For example, using SparkToro. I have not created a bunch of content on our blog which is, “Hey here’s how to do market research and audience intelligence.” What I have created a lot of content that is, “Hey here’s a problem in the web marketing role.” One of the biggest problems that I’ve been writing about is zero-click searches from Google and Facebook. Essentially Facebook is letting out a smaller and smaller percentage of traffic. So is Twitter, so is LinkedIn, so is YouTube, so is Google. All these big platforms that are controlling a huge amount of attention online are reducing the amount of traffic they send out. They are trying to keep it on their platform and that’s making marketers’ jobs way harder.
By talking about that issue, I am creating a product content for journalists, people who write in the news, people who cover the space, conference organizers, podcasters, video creators. All these people who influence the rest of the field. It’s really nice because it makes a lot more people aware of SparkToro and now they’ll go check it out like, “Hey, what does this SparkToro people do? What are Rand and Casey up to? What are they building? Are they trying to help solve this problem in some way or are they just whining about it?” […]. I think that is how you should think about content.
Ben: Absolutely. Something else that I think about when it comes to really doing any research or spending any amount of time with analytics is sometimes, like marketers today, have access to so much data. That it can be really difficult (in some cases) to separate the signal from the noise. When it comes to doing audience research, what would be, maybe some simple tactics or ideas or recommendations that you would have for our listeners just on how to make sure that the insights that they are extracting that they think are important are actually important?
Rand: One of the biggest challenges I see (and I’ve done this myself) is paying attention to too broad a field, essentially I go out and I talk to a ton of marketers. A lot of those people are probably not ideal customers. They don’t experience the problem or they don’t experience the problem regularly enough or painfully enough to be customers of whatever I’m building.
That can throw a lot of folks off because very often, your field is bigger than your customer set. I think it pays to do two things. To separate out our reachable audience and this other group are people who are potential customers. They look like our best customers. They are similar to them.
I love this framework from a company in the UK called Conversion Rate Experts. It’s Ben Jesson and Karl Blanks. They have a great book as well, Making Websites Win. “Most websites lose,” is what it says and they have this, “Making websites win.” It’s a terrific book. I really like it. They have this framework around it where they basically are trying to tell folks that if you want to improve your conversion rates, want to improve your understanding of your audience, the thing you wanted to do is talk to customers who purchase from you and ask them what made them buy. Ask any objections that they had with purchasing and how they overcame those objections.
Then, talk to the people who looked like your best customers but didn’t buy from you and ask them about their objections why they chose not to buy. What makes some qualified customers not purchase? Answering the objections that those qualified customers who didn’t purchase have, with the answers that came from the qualified customers who did purchase and are happy with their product. Their answers will match the challenge inside the minds of the other people who didn’t buy. I love that process.
By the way, this is very tactical, but I think it is a super pro tip for folks. One of the best things that you can do, one of the things that we are doing right now is for folks who make it to the page in SparkToro where you essentially choose a plan. There are about four or five plans. You click on one of them. If they start going through that cart creation process but don’t finish, they get a personal email. A personalized email just for me it’s like one line or something it’s like, “Hey, I noticed you started the SparkToro, started choosing a plan but didn’t end up purchasing. Is there anything I can help with or questions I can answer? Let me know. Best, Rand.”
I get a lot of replies there. “Well, we are thinking about this. I didn’t know about this. Can I run these types of queries, blah-blah-blah.” I’ll have a back-and-forth with them and then we can go to include that later in our product landing pages, plans page, to help get people to overcome those objections. That is a great way to learn from that group as well.
Going back to your broad question, when you’re inundated with a ton of data, you need to separate them into these two groups. You need to look at your best customers and who they are, find that group among your potential customers, make sure you are paying the most attention to them, and solving their objections before going out to the broader field.
Ben: I think that’s great advice. The last question I’ll throw your way. Again, this is something that I think you touched on a little bit, just in terms of trying to find the people who influence the people you want to sell to. What’s the best way to get started with that? I think if you’re going to take that holistically, that’s a huge topic that you really can’t condense down into a sound bite by any means. What would you recommend someone do just to get started? You want to go out and find influencers that your audience cares about, fantastic. What’s the first thing, like the first step down that path?
Rand: The first step absolutely is having a list of people who are willing to have conversations with you who have the problem that you are solving. If you don’t have that you cannot get started down this path. You won’t even understand that. If you are in the super early stages before you have a product, that is more difficult. You tend to need to tap your professional network, personal network, and coffee, phone call, email, and LinkedIn your way from one person to the next.
If, however, you already have paying customers, it gets way easier. Look at the email addresses of those paying customers. Email a few of them. Not bulk. Personally. One-on-one. Often, it’s best if it comes from a founder or a higher–up person at the organization, or someone with a name and face or voice that they recognize, just reach out and say, “Hey, so thankful to have you as a customer. Would you be willing to talk on the phone for five minutes sometime in the next couple of weeks just to chat about what you’re doing with it?” Five minutes turn into 15; most folks are okay with that. Then, you can start to get answers to these questions in a qualitative way.
From there, you can start to do things like build a survey for quantitative data based on the shared attributes that you’ve identified, even as a few as 10 or 20 customers. If you know the job title, type of company, size, or on the consumer side, general behavior, general demographics, general geography, general whatever, cultural elements, hobbies, interests or whatever that make them periodics awesome. You can then go do all these other things.
SparkToro makes some of that. If your audience is describable in a certain way as opposed to just demographically, SparkToro makes some of that research way, way faster and easier. I would still recommend having those in-person, phone, or email conversations that are exciting. That is invaluable.
Ben: Absolutely. Well that does it for all the questions I had for you, but this has been great. I really appreciate your taking the time to share your insight with our audience. Before I let you go, is there anything else about this topic that you would like to share, that you feel is particularly important, that you maybe did not get a chance to mention?
Rand: The one thing I’ll say is, for a lot of marketers, they are going to have a hard time selling their boss, their team, their client on it, and I feel your pain. You might be listening to a chat. It all sounds great, guess who is never going to spring for it? Let me give you one tip that might help you get those groups over that hurdle, which is to point to your competition.
It tends to be the case. Let’s say you’re a consultant, a client won’t pay for service X until you point out that one of their competitors is beating them because of it. The same thing if you are on an internal team. You point out to your manager, your executive team, “Hey, we are getting our lunch eaten by these people who are doing this.” That competitive spirit can often be the thing that pushes people over the line, makes them willing to invest. That doesn’t have to be a direct competitor, it can be someone who is in your space who is doing well in your field serving a similar customer, but that spirit of competition is my […].
Ben: Very cool. I can definitely see that being a strong motivator because if you can point to somebody else. I feel like a lot of us have that competitive spirit and where I would be like, “They are going to do that, I am going to do that better.”
Rand: “They can’t. I am not going to let them win.”
Ben: Right, yeah.
March 31, 2020