The Complete Guide to Product Qualified Leads

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Chapter 7: Gathering data on your customers’ pains + motivations

So far, you’ve:

     - Gathered your product usage data

     - Created your segments

     - Identified the key “aha” moments and trigger actions required to convert trial users in each segment

Now that you’ve identified your trigger actions and built a segmentation plan, you need to trigger marketing messaging and sales activities.

This way, you can orchestrate a multi-channel campaign to upsell and close your trial accounts.

Remember, the customer stack:

     1. Message customers (and potential customers)

     2. Track their reactions

     3. Record to a profile

     4. Decide actions

          … to send further (relevant) messages.

Salespeople are effectively manually-delivering messages. But, you can coordinate this with messaging from other channels like email, ads, live chat and in-product cues.

Figuring out WHAT to say, and HOW to say it, to each segment

You know what trigger events a trial user in any particular segment needs to reach to increase the odds of an upgrade.

The problem is: your trial user doesn’t care about “trigger events.”

She cares about solving a problem she currently faces.

So to effectively guider her toward each trigger event, you need to get out of the office, and into her head. You’ve got to start thinking about what actually motivates her, and writing like she actually speaks.

Understanding -- and using -- your VOC

The most effective sales and marketing campaigns are those written in the “voice of the customer” (VOC) -- that is, the style and vocabulary your readers would naturally use themselves.

The more closely your messages and VOC match, the more likely your leads are to see themselves mirrored on the page, in the email, or within your app.

As a result, the more likely they are to respond positively → and take action.

VOC is built on two things:

1. Phrases and words borrowed straight from your customers’ mouths

2. Your ideal customers’ Jobs to be Done (i.e., the biggest struggles motivating them to seek something like your product, and the better life they envision for themselves once they’ve overcome those struggles)

[Sidenote: if you’re new to the concept of Jobs to be Done, it’s a theory that believes people buy and use products to make themselves better in particular ways -- not because they care about the product itself, or even the brand itself.

For more info, see Claire’s presentation on Jobs to be Done for marketers, or check out this series of articles on the topic.

For most marketers, two main challenges stand in the way of understanding and leveraging VOC:

1. VOC is inherently “squishy.” Note that all details above are qualitative, making them harder put bounds around than quantitative customer data (lifecycle stage, firmographics, event actions, etc).

2. Understanding VOC is labor-intensive. Marketers know that messages written in VOC will increase conversions...but doing the research, writing separate campaigns for each segment, and implementing + measuring campaigns against each other over time requires serious bandwidth -- as Brittani at Moz shares:

“Our biggest segment indicators are in-house versus agency, and then from there, you can divide again between small agencies, and agencies that are supporting bigger enterprise clients.

“Those segments are each going to use the tool a bit differently: we have different features that are more useful to an agency that we can highlight, and make sure they understand, and are getting full usage of during their free trial.

“But before we can segment communication to each of those groups, we still need to do more work internally. We're getting all of our ducks in a row for that this year.”  --Brittani Dinsmore, Moz

The result? Most marketing teams resort to sending the same generalized messages to their entire customer base, appealing to no one in their attempts to appeal to everyone. 

These messages, irrelevant (or simply dull) to most recipients, fail to capture readers’ attention and motivate them to continue down the path from signup → aha moment → purchase -- meaning the majority of trial accounts go stale before the user ever feels success.

Maximizing conversions from trial > paid requires gathering VOC data from users along the entire journey -- from their first visit to your landing page or website, to signup, through their trial, and ultimately to their transition from trial user to paying customer.

Let’s look at the fastest ways to start collecting VOC data:

Best ways to start collecting Voice of Customer data

Note: as you begin gathering qualitative customer data, you’ll want to ensure you’re tagging responses based on the customer’s segment, or adding responses to individual customers’ profiles. This helps you spot the patterns and differences between VOC data coming from each segment.

1 A single question on your thank-you page (post-signup or post-purchase)

Who should receive them: 

     - Customers who’ve just started their trial

     - Customers who’ve just upgraded from their trial to a paid plan

What data you’re gathering: what events occurred that finally pushed the new user to seek you out + take action.

Why here: Your thank-you page is prime real estate to connect with your users. They’ve just shown faith in you, and they’re in action mode — so the chances of them sharing their thoughts are that much higher.

For highest-possible completion rates, stick with one tiny question here: something easy enough for a new user to respond to in a sentence. Ideally, something like the above question — “What was going on in your world that led you to sign up for _____ today?”

2 Customer surveys

Who should receive them: 

     - Customers who’ve been paying for your product long-term

     - Customers who recently started their subscription

What data you’re gathering: 

     - What need has been fulfilled for long-term users of your product, that had gone unfilled previously

     - Whether newer customers have the same needs and desires today, or whether newer customers’ needs are evolving / your audience is shifting

Why here: Surveys are a quick way to gather information from dozens (or hundreds, or thousands) of the people who already love your product enough to pay for it.

But to get accurate results, you have to ask the right questions — in the right way. 

Some general guidelines, courtesy of KISSmetrics, to help you do just that (read their full post here):

KISS (Keep It Short, Stupid)

You’re asking a favor from people who are busy — make it as easy for them as possible. Keep your survey super-brief. Unless you’re sure you’re reaching out to zealous power-users, stick to 7-8 questions max (5 or fewer is ideal).

Avoid YES / NO and multiple choice questions

If your goal is to get raw data from your customers — their vocabulary, their pains, their desires — the last thing you want to do is put words in their mouths, or force them to pare down their answers into something canned.

For example, a YES / NO question forces your customer to pick one of two options. They can’t tell you what’s actually on their mind — and what’s on their mind may be an answer you haven’t thought of. By eliminating that opportunity, you miss out on the chance to interpret and analyze new ways people describe their problems (and your product).

Multiple choice questions create a similar bias — when you ask your customers a multiple choice question, you partially help them answer that question, rather than allowing them to make up their own mind and share their real thoughts.

Instead, ask open-ended questions. It’s the smart way

Two open-ended survey questions that will elicit actionable, useful information from your users:

Question 1: What was going on in your world that led you to seek out something like [product]?

This question is your time machine. It transports you back to the days when your customer was struggling — before they went looking for a solution, before they had ever heard of you. They had a problem that was so painful, they felt motivated to change their old way of life and soothe that pain.

If you can uncover what that pain was, you can speak to it across your ads on your landing pages, in your nurture campaigns, and on your website.

Speaking to your customers’ pain before focusing on your product does two things:

Proves you understand what they're going through — you get them

Agitates that pain, reminds them how awful it is — increasing their motivation to take action

Question 2: What’s your biggest challenge in [job your product does] right now?

This question shouldn’t revolve around your product’s functionality (the action it performs). Rather, it should focus on the bigger goal your users are trying to achieve with your product.

Here’s what I mean: Calendly is a scheduling tool, but people don’t schedule meetings purely for the fun of scheduling meetings. They schedule meetings to connect with other people in ways that are important to their livelihoods.

So, some examples of this question:

Bad Calendly version - What’s your biggest challenge in scheduling right now?

Good Calendly version - What’s your biggest challenge right now in trying to meet with other people?

3. One-on-one interviews with customers

Hands down, the most effective way to gather VOC data is to get on the phone with customers who’ve 1) had success with your product, 2) upgraded, and 3) are now paying you long-term. There’s simply more space on a call to dig deep, ask follow-up questions, and really get into your customers’ heads than can ever be done in a survey.

The more closely you can replicate these folks’ experience, the higher your trial > paid conversion lift.

The customer interview process should follow this format:

     1. Figure out what you want to learn

     2. Decide which customers to interview

     3. Determine how many interviews to hold

     4. Hold interviews

     5. Distill interviews into VOC analysis ← We’ll discuss this process in the next section

1 Figure out what you want to learn

For the purpose of increasing trial > paid conversions, your answers will probably be along the lines of:

     - How did the customer first hear about us?

     - What convinced them to sign up for our trial?

     - What were they trying to accomplish by using us?

     - What fears / skepticisms did they have before upgrading?

     - Now that they’re using us long term, what can they do that they couldn’t before?

2 Decide which customers to interview

If you want to know what convinced a now-customer to buy, then talking to people who didn’t pay, or people still in their trial, is a waste of time.

When I helped a recent SaaS client build out their customer research process, we knew we wanted to learn more about customers’ buying journeys: did they have to get approval from a manager before purchasing? Was it a group decision? Did they comparison-shop? Did they expense the purchase on their credit card with no effort?

With that information, we were able to work backwards to identify which users would be most useful to interview: 

     * People who are already paying (not in the trial, not on the free plan)

     * People who upgraded within the past few months, after their newest pricing had been rolled out

     * People who’d fully adopted the product, and were now getting real value from it

This helped us avoid interviewing customers at random — and potentially collecting lots of the wrong information from users who weren’t actually their ideal customer.

3 Determine how many interviews to hold

Because your product will evolve over time, user interviews should be a part of your ongoing product development and marketing strategy. You should never really stop holding customer interviews -- or you risk losing sight of your best customers’ experience.

But (again) for the purpose of increasing trial > paid conversions, ten customer interviews per customer segment is typically enough to collect the data you need. Ten interviews will reveal about 80% of a segment’s most common struggles, desires and vocabulary.

So if you only serve one very specific type of user, ten interviews is good to aim for.

If you serve two, three, or maybe six segments? Be ready for more interviews. Because the needs, the vocabulary, and the pains of one segment will vary greatly in comparison to the others. And messaging that tries to speak to every type of person...is messaging that speaks to no one. 

Plan on a 25-30% success rate when inviting users to interviews. When I’m trying to get ten people on the phone, I typically:

     * Email ten customers, and wait about 3 days for a response. At a 25-30% success rate, I can expect ~3 positive replies.

     * Based on the results, email ten more, wait another 3 days.

     * Rinse and repeat, until 10 people have shown up.

4 Hold the interviews

Some best practices that make customer interviews way easier:

➡️  Once you’re on the phone with your customer, your nerves may compel you to dive straight into the questions. Resist this impulse! Two minutes spent on friendly chatter with your customer sets the stage for a more relaxed phone call. Briefly setting expectations can also calm any nerves your customer may have. I typically start with a line like “Thanks for speaking with me today! I just have a few questions to run through with you, to understand how [PRODUCT] fits into your life. No tricks, and we should be able to keep it to [##] minutes. Does that sound okay? Do you have any questions for me before we jump in?”

➡️  Record every call. I use Zoom, and have also used Skype Call Recorder and Dialpad in the past. Do not, unless in the case of tech failure, rely solely on note-taking to capture all the data. Your goal is to get the raw, unsummarized voice of your customer. Shorthand will not capture that, and you’ll end up with watered down, less-juicy versions of the phrases and vocabulary they were using.

➡️  Once you’ve held the interview, upload the recording to Rev.com to get it transcribed. Transcripts cost $1/minute, and you can expect to have your transcript back within 7-10 hours.

➡️  After asking a question, allow time for an awkward pause. You know that urge to always fill silence with chatter? Your customer has it, too. But it’s more important that they fill the silence than you, because they’re the one whose insight matters. After each question, count to five before jumping to fill the gap.

➡️  Don’t feel obligated to follow your entire script of questions. If a customer gets carried away on a juicy tangent, let them pour their heart out — no need to rush to the next question. If they give you a vague answer, like “yeah, that feature is important,” also don’t rush to the next question. Be willing to pause and dig a little deeper with follow-ups like Why is that important? And So how does that make your life better?

➡️  Remember that some interviews will be stellar, and some will be a total flop. That’s okay. You want to influence the 80% that are somewhere in the middle, and steer them toward stellar. But sometimes, customers just get nervous. Or they’re shy. Or they’re just not talkers, and that isn’t your fault. If it’s awkward, brush it off. Move on to the next one.

Interview questions to ask your customers

Asking the right interview questions is an art form — and thus, it takes practice to build your skills.

These are the questions I use as the basis of every customer interview. They’re written for conducting research on B2B products -- but can easily be adapted to fit B2C, as well.

1. What’s your job title - and beyond that, your role at your company?

2. What are the most important success metrics you’re measured on?

3. How does [PRODUCT] fit into the work you do?

4. Walk me through your most common workflows. Where within them is [PRODUCT] used?

5. With which other products / platforms?

6. So, let’s take a step back. What tools were you using to [DO WHATEVER THE PRODUCT DOES FOR THEM] before [PRODUCT]?

7. If you weren’t using any other tools, how did you typically [GET THIS JOB DONE]?

8. Tell me about that. What worked well, and what didn’t?

9. What was going on in your world that compelled you to look for something different?

10. Once you figured out you wanted to make a change, how much research did you do to find the right solution for [COMPANY]?

11. What were some of the other tools you tried?

12. Do you recall how you found them?

13. How did [PRODUCT] come into the picture?

14. What made you interested in trying it?

15. Were you the only one on your team looking for something else at the time?

16. What happened when you tried [PRODUCT] that convinced you it was the right choice?

17. What were you skeptical of / concerned about during the trial process?

18. What would have made you say “No, this isn’t for us”?

19. Now that you’re using [PRODUCT] regularly, what are you able to do that you weren’t before?

20. What features could you not live without?

21. How do those features make your life better?

22. Tell me about a time when you got surprising results or found unexpected value.

23. As [TITLE], how has [PRODUCT] changed the way your team works?

24. How has that impacted your team’s goals or performance?

25. Can you think of any concrete examples of times this has happened?

26. What’s the big problem it solves?

Some additional resources for crafting strong customer research questions:

Takeaway Points: Gathering Data on Your Customers' Pains & JBTD

1. Identify moments along the customer journey where qualitative input could be collected (directly after signup, in an onboarding email, in-app message, chat, in a re-engagement email -- if user isn’t activating as desired -- directly after upgrade)

2. Confirm a user’s responses are being recorded to their profile, so responses can be analyzed per segment → patterns identified

3. Conduct 1:1 interviews with ~10 customers in each top-priority segment to uncover the deeper motivations shaping their buying journey

Authored By

Claire Suellentrop

Founder, LoveYourCustomers

Claire Suellentrop helps high-growth SaaS companies get inside their customers’ heads. Previously the Director of Marketing and #2 employee at Calendly, she’s seen firsthand that truly effective marketing stems from a deep understanding of existing users’ needs.   

Now, she works with companies like Wistia, FullStory, and MeetEdgar to uncover their best customers’ needs and desires, then uses those juicy details to create more relevant, high-converting marketing and onboarding campaigns. 

Ed Fry

Head of Growth, Hull.io

Ed Fry is passionate about helping marketers grow their organizations and directly contribute to revenue. He was the first employee at Inbound.org and worked with thought-leaders like Rand Fishkin, Co-Founder of Moz, and Dharmesh Shah, Co-Founder of HubSpot. During his tenure, membership grew from 5,000 to 165,000+ members between 2012 and 2016.

Ed currently oversees Growth at Hull - a customer data management platform that eliminates data problems for marketing and sales teams alike. 

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