Recently I ran a Q&A on Sharebird, a new platform that connects professionals in tech to help share knowledge. There were great questions about market research, and since this is critical to so many functions within an organization, I wanted to share my responses. These market research answers dive deep into 3 themes:
- Building competitive intelligence that sales will actually use
- Creating a culture of market research
- Making buyer personas that don’t suck!
1) How do you create market research, competitive intel specifically, that is really beneficial to sales (i.e. they actually read and use it)?
Answer: I’ve had the best success with easy to digest “competitive battlecards” for sales. The simpler, the better. They should give basic company info, pricing, and how to handle objections. These are a great reference point for sales teams to use on the phone.
The ultimate goal of the battlecards should be for any salesperson – new or experienced – do be able to quickly articulate how you are different from the competition. If it doesn’t meet that goal, you’ve missed the mark.
The design of this is really important. I’ve used a Google doc with a grid and also a vertical PPT slide – it depends on what your company is most familiar with. I would try to update these at least once a quarter.
Scrappy tip: If you’re in a pinch for time, use a service like UpWork to create this for you – you create the framework, and they fill in the rest. For 5 competitors it should be no more than $100 if you pick a good freelancer.
2) What information sources do you use to create buyer/user personas?
Answer: When creating buyer personas, you’re ideally using data from current, prospective, and churned customers to create archetypes of your buyers. The goal is to understand more about them, to design better products, create better marketing programs, and arm your sales team with the best talking points.
The problem is, most personas suck! The ones I see most often have demographic info (e.g. “Marketing Mary is 32, has a BA in Communication, and lives in a large city) or really generic info (e.g. “She’s hoping to increase her MQLs this year.”) Are these helpful? Not really.
Understanding customer motivations is the key to better personas. I recommend surveying or interviewing 25 or so people and really trying to understand their motivations for using your product, or a product like yours. This goes for both B2B and B2C. Some questions to ask to uncover motivations:
- What were the real pain points they had that led them to buy your product?
- What were the alternatives to your product?
- How did they get budget to buy this?
Talking to existing and – even better – churned customers will give you more insights. I wrote a blog post that dives deeper into this, and talks about a helpful framework to follow – the “Jobs to Be Done framework” if you’re interested.
Scrappy tip: If you can go to a conference where a lot of your clients, or prospective clients will be – bring an ipad and get a bunch of people to survey/ and talk to you.
3) Can you outline the best structure and format for user personas that are useful across the organization?
Once you’ve interviewed and/ or surveyed your customers, prospects, and churned customers – it’s time to put the personas into a digestible format. I recommend Google slides (or PPT, if that’s your jam) and hosting them on a central resource so all teams can use. For example, at a recent Product Marketing meetup, Shyna Zhang, Director of Enterprise Strategy at Marketo, talked about how they whiteboarded the personas in a common space for product and engineering to always be able to access.
The persona should include:
- A brief synopsis of who they are – (e.g. “Marketing leader of 5-10 person teams, usually in the B2B space. Checks analytics every day and is obsessed with getting the maximum ROI”
- What motivates them to buy your product or a product like yours
- What their decision making power usually is (i.e. do they have the final call? Are they part of a team that decides?)
- Quotes from actual interviews
- Their real challenges and frustrations
- Optional: What they love / hate about your product
- Important: A catchy name to define the persona segment that people will remember (i.e. “Jack of all trades” or “Silver spoon” were ones we used for a prior project)
The last bullet might seem random, but it’s critical to getting the personas used throughout your organization. If you do good work, and the personas have value, it won’t be long until you hear the CEO referring to one of the personas using your catchy name during an all hands meeting (true story)!
4) How do you drive culture change with market research?
Quick answer: Data. Bring the nonbelievers snippets of real customer conversations or data points that they don’t know from interviews, surveys, CSAT, NPS, customer service feedback – you name it. This will show the value of talking to customers, and will leave them wanting more.
To be even more influential, if your product team isn’t listening – make sure your exec team is. Get an executive sponsor who wants to champion the “voice of the customer” – and leverage their position to leverage the customer insights you’re finding.
It’s really dangerous when a product / eng team is building something “for themselves” – they will miss critical insights that could make or break the future of your product and company. It’s the PMMs job to show them the light!
5) How do you convince your company that it’s worth the time to invest in researching and making buyer personas?
Answer: I’ve worked for a company where we paid $100K to an agency to make buyer personas, and another one where I had to figure it out on a shoestring (< $1000). I honestly had so much more fun and learned a lot more doing it the scrappy way! I used budget for incentives to get clients, prospects, and churned customers to talk to me. I developed an interview script and trained others on how to interview so we quickly got 30+ interviews (recorded, too!). I used a little more budget to run a raffle for customers that would take a survey. The chance of a $250 Amazon gift card gets people to answer your questions!
But to answer your question directly, if you do not clearly know who your customers are – there is no way you’re being effective with your product development or marketing budget. One thing you might do would be to ask 5-10 people internally in different orgs who they think your customers are. Chances are – the answers will be all over the place. Package this up and send it to your boss, or your exec team, however you have the best influence – and I bet you can make the case to get the budget and time resources you need to make this your next project.
6) Can you share best practices to do impactful market research on a tight budget?
Scrappy research – my favorite! First, let me start with a quote – “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” Many a research project hasn’t gotten off of the ground for fear it won’t be statistically significant or have thousands of responses. But guess what? Some market research is much better than NO market research.
Here are some quick ideas for creating impactful market research on a tight budget:
- Email a survey to your existing customer base
- LinkedIn messaged for surveys
- Phone interviews with existing clients
- Respondent.io for quick interview recruiting of non-clients
- Bring an ipad to a conference with your customers / prospects and offer $5 or a starbucks gift card (right then!) to take your survey
- Google search trends to show the rise of certain key terms
- User testing on your website
I dive into this more in a post here.
7) What top 3 places / sources of intel should a product marketer look at when doing competitive research?
Answer: If I could only spend my time in 3 places when doing customer research, it would be Owler, G2Crowd, and Glassdoor (since I’m assuming you would already look at their website and marketing assets). Ideally you’re trying to create a SWOT – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats – and these 3 resources give you the best intel, quickly. Let me explain a little bit more about each below:
- Owler gives you the macro industry perspective of the company. Other folks within tech vote on the CEO’s reputation, and you’ll find valuable info like estimated revenue, number of employees, and even product screenshots.
- G2Crowd is a great place to see real customer reviews of how the product works for them. This is critical in understanding how the product works and is perceived by real customers. I’ll often pull quotes from G2Crowd to tell a great story.
- GlassDoor might seem a little odd here, but it gives you an idea of the inner workings of a competitior. Is the engineering team unhappy? Salespeople leaving left and right? A quick purview of the top negative comments will uncover a lot about what’s going on behind closed doors.
Bottom line, there are a lot of free resources out there with a wealth of information for all of your competitive projects.