Think of the last product you bought. Maybe it was some fancy Bluetooth headphones. Or a spatula.
Was it as amazing as you hoped for? I don’t mean kinda-sorta amazing, I mean riding in on a unicorn with rainbows shooting out of its eyes amazing. Probably not. And if it did, the product you bought before that certainly didn’t.
Finding products that give us exactly what we’re looking for is no easy task. Even in the best of circumstances, there are a few things that are just a little “off.”
Most of your customers probably feel the exact same way about your product or service.
Look, I love marketing. But no amount of conversion optimization, long-form copy, analytics, or social media virality will overcome a product that’s just average.
The product (or service) comes first. The successful marketing comes second. Every bit of product improvement makes marketing easier. Word of mouth spreads more quickly, customers come back, support requests go down. Basically, the ROI on everything improves. If you want to maintain ridiculous growth rates month in and month out, you need to create an amazing product.
So how do we pull this off?
Deeply Caring About Your Customers Is the Most Reliable Path to Success
To have any chance at building an amazing product or service, we have to DEEPLY care about our customers. You have to treat them as family, feel their pain and frustration, and delight in their success.
You don’t have to be one of your customers but you certainly have to like them and care about them.
This is how we understand them: first we make an emotional commitment to helping them succeed, then we gain a detailed understanding of what they’re looking for. And when you have that understanding, you’ll know exactly how to improve your product. That elusive “amazing” product becomes a possibility.
Once you have a firm grasp of who your customers are and what they’re looking for, product development and marketing get a lot simpler. You’ll know which features matter and which don’t. You’ll know right where to find more customers to grow your business. You’ll know which benefits matter the most to your target market so that you can get their attention. These are questions that many businesses struggle with for years. By making that commitment to caring about your customers and deeply understanding them, you’ll know right where to focus your energy.
Is this the easiest path to take? Absolutely not. It means responding to customer calls at 3 in the morning, genuinely apologizing when you make a mistake, and never being satisfied with the status quo. This is an emotional commitment that will drain you. But the benefits your business will enjoy and the value your customers receive will far outweigh these challenges. It’s exhausting but totally worth it.
Before we jump into a process to start understanding your customers, let’s debunk some common customer myths.
Your Customers Are Not Who You Think They Are
When you start building something like a new website, app, feature, or business, you have a number of different assumptions. You’re guessing that your customers will actually want to buy your product. And you’re also making a leap of faith on how they’ll use it.
Most of your assumptions will be completely wrong.
We need to find out who our customers really are.
You happen to be at your favorite gas station. And you’re picking up an energy drink. There’s the usual options like Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar. But you notice that there aren’t any healthy energy drinks. And you say to yourself “that’s a brilliant idea! I’ll start a healthy energy drink company. I could even make it organic!”
On the way back home, you start daydreaming how you’ll sell it to upwardly mobile yuppies that lead high-action professional lives but also worry about their health. They have cash to spend and a clear need for your product. This is where the first-time entrepreneur spends the next 6 months in product development, blows his or her entire savings to put together the first production run, and ends up in the Shark Tank desperate for cash.
There’s just one little problem…
What if upwardly mobile yuppies that lead high-action professional lives don’t want a healthy energy drink? Maybe they don’t use energy drinks at all. Or maybe they’re coffee acolytes. They might also love Red Bull too much to care about health.
There is a serious possibility that your first target market won’t want anything to do with your product. You’ll either need to understand their needs and create a better product or pick a different target market that does need your product.
Either way, you’re about to waste a ton of time if you don’t understand your customer. And this is just as likely to happen with a new feature as it is with a new product.
And You Are Not Your Customer
If you spend any time in the startup community, you’ll hear some version of this story from a successful entrepreneur:
“So I had this problem and couldn’t find a way to fix it. Then I built a product which worked, released it, and the market loved it.”
There’s just one problem with stories like these. You see, these are the exceptions, not the rule. Usually, successful products take months and years of tweaking until the startup builds something that elegantly solves a wide-spread problem.
If you’re building a product for yourself, make sure that you’re a perfect representative of your target market. In most cases, you’re not.
This is why it’s so important to discover who your customers are. They’re going to use your products and services in different ways and for different reasons than you would have ever expected.
The next time you say to yourself “Wow, this is a major problem, I should build a business to fix it!” Make sure other people have the same problem.
Alright then. We don’t know immediately who our customers are and they’re typically not us. So how do we figure out who our customers actually are?
How to Find Your Customer
Your customers are out there, it’s your job to find them.
Whenever you’re trying to identify your customer, start with your most profitable customers.
You’ll want to dive into your analytics (this gets a lot easier if you’re using customer analytics) and look for which groups of customers are the most valuable to you. Break your data up by traffic source, customer type, and marketing campaigns to find the groups with the best lifetime value.
What we’re doing here is called segmentation. Breaking your data into different groups allows you to compare those groups to each other and get an idea for who your customers are. If you’re just getting started with segmentation and want to know how it works with Kissmetrics, definitely check out this post.
Then when you have a group of customers that clearly love what you’re doing, pull their emails and reach out to them directly.
How do we get their email? It’s built right into the Kissmetrics People reports.
And I’m going to give you some word-for-word scripts for the email so you can get started right now.
The Email Template
Send this email to 5-10 of your most profitable customers:
[Subject Line] [their name], I’d like to help you [main benefit of your new feature or product]
Hi [their name],
We’re working on a new [product/feature] here at [your company] that helps [type of customer] get [main benefit]. And I want to make it perfect by understanding exactly how it will help you.
Do you have 15 minutes this week to help me understand how you accomplish [the main task you’ll be helping with] so I’ll build exactly what you’re looking for?
When people reply, suggest a phone call, Skype chat, or coffee. And if you have some local customers, I highly recommend buying them lunch for a face-to-face meeting. This is one of the most valuable ways to spend $20 on your business.
Let’s run through a quick example. Say you’re starting a photo website that helps photographers sell prints to clients by doing all the printing, payment, and shipping for them. That would give you an email like this:
[Subject Line] Joe, I’d like to help you sell more prints to your clients.
We’re working on a new print service here at CoolPhotoSite.com that helps photographers sell more prints by handling all the logistical stuff like accepting payments, printing everything, and shipping the prints to your clients. This way, you can focus on photography without having to worry about all the business stuff. And I want to make it perfect by understanding exactly how it will help you.
Do you have 15 minutes this week to help me understand how you currently sell your prints so I’ll build exactly what you’re looking for?
Before reading any further, send this email to 5 customers or prospects. Seriously, send it right now. This single step will completely change how you approach business and you’ll wonder how you ever managed to get by before. Go go go!
Of course, feel free to change anything in this email so it matches your business more closely. When doing any editing, keep these 3 best practices in mind:
- Keep it short.
- Use 1-2 sentences to explain the benefit which is different than a feature. Benefits are the change that a customer will see in their lives (more time, more customers, happiness, reduced stress, etc.).
- Tell them that the meeting won’t last long and honor your promise (keep it to 15 minutes or less).
Now that you’re waiting for some responses, what should we cover during the actual meeting?
Well I’m going to give you some of my favorite questions that I’ve used to get a deeper understand of my own clients and customers. I’ve used these questions hundreds of times and they always help me get an in-depth idea of who I’m working with:
- What’s your target market? (ignore this one if you’re B2C)
- How do you judge success?
- Where do you want to be 3 months from now?
- If you achieved that, what would it mean to you?
- What are the major problems that you’re facing right now?
- How do you handle [the main problem that your product or feature is trying to solve]?
- In the past, what have you tried that hasn’t worked?
With these questions, you’re looking for a basic understanding of the customer along with their main goals and problems. If the customer starts talking about the same problem you’re trying to solve before you even bring it up, you’re on the right track my friend.
Usually, the problems and goals that customers bring up on their own will be completely different than the problems you’re thinking of going after. So try to get a feel for how far off you are. If customers tell you that they don’t care about that problem, you’ll probably want to change direction completely. But you’re still looking for a passionate response even if they’re not actively thinking about the same problem you are.
Remember, this meeting is about gaining an understanding of who your customer is and what they want. It’s not a sales call. Focus all of your energy on asking good questions, diving deeper with follow-up questions, and fully absorbing their perspective. If you’re talking more than they are, you’re doing it wrong.
Starting From Scratch
This process works just as well if you’re starting from a dead stop. If you don’t have a business, a product, or a single customer yet, getting to know your customers is just as critical.
But there’s more guesswork involved. You won’t have any analytics to dive into at this point. So start putting together potential target markets you think would be a good fit. Pick the one you think has the best odds, find 5-10 people in that target market, and send a similar email. Within a few meetings, you’ll know whether or not your business idea has any chance at all.
Make sure that your potential target markets are clearly defined. Here are a few good examples:
- Dog owners in Denver, CO
- Orthodontists with $100,000+ in annual revenue
- SaaS businesses with 10+ employees
For each of these target markets, it’s very easy to tell whether or not someone fits into it. You’re a dog owner? Great! But you live in Seattle? Sorry, not who we’re looking for. Easy.
A lot of first-time entrepreneurs start with really vague target markets like:
- People who like dogs
- Any professional in the dental industry
If you start with a vague niche, you’ll have a terrible time discovering the needs of that group because they’ll differ so much from one person to the next. The needs of a dog owner in downtown New York will differ completely from a dog-lover in rural Idaho.
Once you have a solid understanding of the needs of that target market, adjust your business to closely match what that market is looking for. Or abandon it all together and pick the next target market on your list.
This is Not a One Time Process
Honesty time: you’re not going to create your amazing product after only one round of feedback from customers.
Even if you do everything right, some things still won’t be up to snuff. You won’t see these flaws coming and neither will your customers. The only way to reveal them is to launch your improvements, get more feedback, and build another batch of improvements.
So dig in for the long haul. Spend time optimizing your process for collecting feedback and make sure you’re regularly engaging with your customers.
The faster you move through the cycle of building improvements and getting feedback, the faster you’ll build a product that customers will fall in love with.
We Practice What We Preach
This isn’t just a bunch of theory and random best practices that sound good. We use these exact same principles here at Kissmetrics. As soon as we start thinking about a new feature or improving an old one, we talk to our customers. We know that our ideas about the product may not match the needs of our customers perfectly. So we reach out and seek to understand.
We’re definitely not foolish enough to believe that we’ve built an amazing product in every way. But that’s our goal.
Building amazing products depends entirely on our ability to understand our customers as deeply as possible. And deep understanding always starts with a legitimate desire to make the lives of our customer more awesome.
But we should be careful about falling into two common pitfalls:
- Customer are rarely who we expect them to be.
- Our customers tend to be very different from ourselves.
To find customers that you want to reach out to, look through your customer analytics to see which groups of customers are already in love your product.
When you’ve identified a group of profitable customers, start reaching out to them so you can get a better idea of what they’re really looking for. And if you don’t have any customers yet, put together a list of target markets that you think will work well and find people in that market. Even a few meetings will make sure you’re headed in the right direction and get you closer to an amazing product.
Remember, you won’t get there after just the first round. Get feedback, make some improvements, then get more feedback. By approaching this as an iterative process, you’ll build that amazing product in record time.
About the Author: Lars Lofgren is the Kissmetrics Marketing Analyst and has his Google Analytics Individual Qualification (he’s certified). Learn how to grow your business at his marketing blog or follow him on Twitter @larslofgren.