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BlogAwkward Silences

April 18, 2019

  • Last Updated:
  • September 26, 2019

4 Ways to Make Qualitative Research Your Competitive Marketing Advantage with Katelyn Bourgoin

The best way to create better marketing strategies? Talk to your customers.

Carrie Boyd

Katelyn Bourgoin has launched three startups in the past ten years. Through that, she's learned the best way to grow quickly is to get obsessed with customer feedback. Now, she helps product and marketing teams make qualitative research a habit and grow 2-3x faster because of it. This week on Awkward Silences, Erin and JH talked to her about how to make qualitative research your marketing team's competitive advantage.

[2:48] Marketers have different questions than sales or customer success people, but typically learn about customer through those people

[3:30] Go into qualitative research with a goal of learning

[7:18] Stop running away from the angry bear

[10:42] Use your qualitative research to learn about what your customers did in the past

[13:41] Doing a switch interview to learn about the buyer's journey

[16:46] How to do churn interviews

[18:48] Swipeable copy: writing better copy from qualitative research

[20:03] Creating better marketing personas based on qualitative research

[23:54] Don't do selfish marketing

[27:57] Create a culture of consistent research

[30:15] Don't lean on the "faster horses" quote

The best stories about user research

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Why your marketing team needs qualitative research ✅

As a growth strategist, Katelyn has helped tons of teams take their marketing from zero to hero by adding one simple ingredient: customer research.

Oftentimes, marketers are expected to learn everything they need to know about customers from observing and gathering second hand information. This can include sitting in on sales calls, reading through customer support tickets, or analyzing quantitative data. While all of these things can be helpful, they’re no replacement for actually going out and talking to customers.

When Katelyn starts working with a new client, typically their marketing teams aren’t doing qualitative research for one big reason:

They’re afraid.

In Seth Godin’s book, This is Marketing, he says that when people don’t act as you expect them to, look for the angry bear. What he means by this is, nobody makes rational decisions when they’re afraid of dire consequences, like being eaten by a bear.

Not gonna lie, this is pretty terrifying

Katelyn sees this a lot with startups and businesses that scaled quickly. In the beginning, they didn’t focus on qualitative research because they were just trying to stay alive. Nobody had time to think about doing research on top of that.

Bigger businesses have this problem too. In many companies, customers come with big dollar signs attached. And with those big accounts comes a potential liability that can be pretty scary. What if you allow your team to do research with someone who is a key account holder and they’re put off by your questions and leave?

The good news is, these are just fears. In reality, qualitative research can help you improve your processes and actually make better choices that move your team forward, out of the bear’s reach. And your customers don’t have to be scary, they’re just people, paying you, they’re awesome!

Doing great qualitative interviews as a marketer 📣

As marketers, we need to get people to want what we’re selling. A big part of that is understanding how your customers feel about your product. To do truly great qualitative research for marketing, Katelyn has two rules you should try to follow:

Learn about your customer’s past behaviors

If you want to learn about how people think about weight loss, you could ask them about their habits in two ways—

“What do you plan on doing to lose weight?” or

“What were your diet and exercise habits in the past month?”

You’ll likely get two very different answers. The first question elicits a more aspirational response, your customer may say something along the lines of, “well, I’ll eat a salad for lunch and go to the gym.''


While your customer’s hopes for the next month are admirable, they may not be a good indicator of what will actually happen.

The second question, asking about past habits, is probably a better indicator of how they’ll actually end up doing in the coming months. If your customer says something like, “well, I ate a bunch of hamburgers and hung out in my house,” it’s more likely that’s what they’ll end up doing in the future.

Hamburgers 😄

Moral of the story? You’ll learn more about your customers by asking them to describe what they’ve done in the past and the emotions that led them to those decisions. Encourage them to tell stories about what they’ve done in the past and how they came to choose your product.

Talk to people who have the problem you want to solve

Katelyn sees people make this mistake all too often. When you’re looking into a specific campaign or feature promotion, talk to people who are your target audience for that specific thing. If you want to learn more about churn, talk to people who have recently left your product. If you want to learn about new customers, talk to people who have recently signed up for your product.

1. Learn more about your buyer’s journey 🗺️

To learn more about your customer’s buying journey, Katelyn recommends conducting “switch interviews.” These have their roots in the jobs-to-be-done framework, which asserts that all customers are looking to complete a specific job, and they hire your product to do that job.

You do switch interviews with customers who have recently made the switch to your product from another solution. That could be a competitive offering or a hacked together workflow they built on their own. The important thing is that they recently experienced a push to leave their old solution and a pull to convert to yours. In the switch interview, you’ll ask them about that push and pull relationship. Keep in mind that no matter how strong your pull is, they’ll need that original push to actually start looking for a new solution in the first place.

In the switch interview, your objectives are to…

  • Learn about the solution they were using before, and what pushed them to look for a new one
  • Learn about how they researched new solutions (Did they Google it? Did a friend recommend something? Did they read something somewhere?)
  • Learn about their anxieties around making the switch from their old solution to your new one (Did they have to change programs? Did it require additional training? Were those things a big part of their decision to make a switch?)

Once you’ve completed your switch interviews, you can make better marketing decisions for campaigns in each stage of the buyer’s journey. Depending on what you learned, this could be anything from deciding where to allocate resources for promotion to changing your messaging around a certain feature. If you learned that most of the customers who recently switched heard about your product through a blog post, you may choose to ramp up your organic content outreach. You could also learn about a big pain point, like the difficulty to import data from their old solution to your product, and promote workarounds or potentially work that feature into your product roadmap.

2. Improve retention 🌟

You shouldn’t only be talking to people who had a great experience with your product. To improve retention, you’ll also need to talk to people who have recently churned from your product. Acquiring new customers is 5-25x more expensive than keeping the ones you already have, so having a plan to keep current customers engaged and happy is pretty important.

Finding recently churned customers can be a struggle, but genuine outreach efforts and a little bit of an incentive can go a long way. It may be tempting to go into these interviews with the idea that you could win this customer back. While that’s possible, you’ll learn the most if approach these interviews with learning from your customers as the main goal.  

In churn interviews, your objectives are to…

  • Learn about the emotions that led them to leave your product. (Were they frustrated with the way it worked? Or maybe they were just drawn to a solution that worked better for them?)
  • Learn about any friction they experienced while using your product.
  • Learn about what they’re using to solve that problem now

Once you’ve learned a bit more about the emotions that make your customers leave your product, you can take steps to improve the experience of the customers who are still actively engaged. If your customers are feeling disconnected from your brand, you can look into creating great content and email campaigns that humanize you a little bit. If they don’t feel like they had access to the support they needed to use your product best, make sure existing customers know how to get in touch with your support team.

3. Write better copy ✍️

According to a study by Braze and Forrester, 57% of customers say that human connection would increase their brand loyalty. The easiest way to communicate that you, a real live human being, are behind your brand’s messaging is to write better and more human copy. Copy that lets your customers know that you get them.  

Not like this 🤦

When Katelyn’s doing research, she keeps a swipe file of all the best little moments from her interviews. You know, those moments when a customer says something better than you ever could have? Keeping and cataloging all of those little moments can help you build a brand voice that’s more real, and most importantly, more human.

Katelyn's swipe file lives in the form of an Airtable base with a form view. She created a shortcut to the form on her desktop and on her phone, so she can access it in seconds.

4. Create better marketing personas 😍

Personas are a mainstay of many marketing practices. It’s important to know who you’re talking to and why they might buy your product.

In many cases, marketing personas are very focused on demographic information. I don’t buy Rothy’s flats because I’m a 25 year old female, I buy them because I’m sick and tired of worrying about my flats stinking and I like the fact that they’re washable. Your customers will also have specific motivations behind their purchasing decisions, so building out personas based solely on demographic information won’t get you very far.

Katelyn loves the Jobs to be Done framework for thinking about personas. What are they trying to accomplish? Where does your product fit into that? What is the emotional payoff behind your product?

Intercom’s punk rock JTBD illustration.

When building out personas, qualitative research can help you learn more about what your user wants to accomplish with your product and how they feel about that outcome. They don’t care that your product has titanium hardware, they care that they’re getting a smoother ride on their skateboard.

Keep doing qualitative research to take your marketing to the next level 📈

Qualitative research isn’t just a one and done activity. In order for it to have a real effect on the way your team does marketing, you’ll need to keep talking to customers. For switch and churn interviews, you can set them up on an ongoing basis to learn about why customers choose your product and why they leave it. These ongoing interviews will help you write better copy and construct better personas, though you can always do more research to make things even better.
If you want to take it a step further, you can set up quarterly or biannual retros to check your progress, In Katelyn’s workshops, she starts off by asking teams to outline all of their upcoming efforts. To put an effort on the board, teams list the value the effort brings to the customer and how many customers will be affected. In many cases, marketing teams have a value in mind, but can’t attach a number of affected customers to a given effort. Mapping things out this way makes it easier to see who you’re doing your marketing for: your internal team or your customers. You may want to start your qualitative research efforts by doing this activity, then keeping it up to make sure your entire team stays customer centric as you grow and scale.


Seth Godin's book, This is Marketing

Profitwell's study on building from customer feedback (most companies talk to less than 10 customers a month 😱)

A quick overview of Jobs-to-be-Done by Harvard Business Review

Want more JTBD? Check out this Medium publication

About our Guest

Katelyn Bourgoin is a growth strategist and trainer that helps companies learn how to grow from customer feedback. She's founded three startups and has learned a lot about growing your business through customer feedback. Now, she's obsessed with getting teams excited about learning more about their customers.


Erin: Hi, everybody. Welcome back to Awkward Silences. We are here today with Katelyn Bourgoin and she is a growth strategist and trainer. She helps teams be more customer-centric and get to know their customers and users more.

Erin: Today, we're going to talk about marketing. Something near and dear to my heart and how marketers can get better access to their customers and the insights that they hold to make better marketing and business decisions with that qualitative data.

Erin: Thanks so much for being here, Katelyn.

Katelyn: Thank you so much. This is something that I'm super passionate about so given the opportunity to chat about it is awesome.

JH: Yeah, thanks for joining us.

Erin: Awesome. We were talking a little bit before and you said something that really jumped out at me that strikes me as true in life which is that marketers don't get to talk to customers enough. Tell us about that.

Katelyn: In my experience working, having my own marketing agency, working with clients, and then also working with clients as a consultant who need help with their growth, often times the marketers are kept separate from customers.

Katelyn: It's kind of expected that marketers are going to figure out the right messaging and the right strategy on top of those really on point personas. But they're supposed to do all of that just kind of by observing customers or by sitting in on sales calls.

Katelyn: In my experience, it's really in having conversations with customers that marketers can develop the most empathy. They need a chance to do that more but are often not given that opportunity.

Erin: Is the advantage that there's benefit in simply being part of that conversation? Or is it that marketers are asking different kinds of questions than other folks might ask?

Katelyn: I think it's both. Definitely marketers have a- The thing that we need to know are different than what maybe a sales person or customer success needs to know. They're different types of conversations.

Katelyn: Typically when a customer is talking to somebody in sales, they're in the process of getting sold to and they might be more closed lipped to a certain thing. They're not going to be as frank and open with sharing certain insights.

Katelyn: And then when they're talking to the customer success team, maybe they're trying to troubleshoot an issue and that's what they want to get done. They're in no mood to chit chat.

Katelyn: I find that given the opportunity, marketers just have different questions that we need answers to. We really need to understand a customer's buying journey. We need to understand their decision making process. We need to understand what their buying criteria is, what objections they might have, and what they're trying to get done in life.

Katelyn: I really love it when marketers have the opportunity to have these discovery calls with no aim other than to learn and when done strategically, when done with the right framework, those conversations can yield incredible insights that really make your customers feel like you've read their mind.

Katelyn: That's kind of the work that I do these days is teaching people how to gather those insights in a way that's really thoughtful.

JH: It feels like within product and design worlds, there's been a little bit of a awakening in terms of the value of talking to customers directly and doing that qualitative discovery.

JH: Do you have any ideas in terms of why that hasn't happened on the marketing side or why it's a little bit more of an uphill battle? And people need to come in and kind of be convinced or trained on the value of it?

Katelyn: I think there's a couple of reasons. I think that one is that if you look at the way that a lot of companies work, they will hire an agency but, yet, they'll have their own team of internal marketers.

Katelyn: There's always sort of like a turf war between the in-team of internal marketers and the agencies. The internal marketers, the thing that they can hold on to, the thing that's really meaningful, is that they're supposed to have this really good understanding of the customer that they can then feed to the advertising agency or the marketing agency. That's their role.

Katelyn: In holding to that role, they might be a bit resistant to invest in the agency's doing any marketing research. In actually going out and doing qualitative research.

Katelyn: And then when people from agency get hired by start-ups, which happens a lot. Start-ups are sexy and people in agency want to go and work directly with a company and actually be hands on and a product driven company.

Katelyn: They bring some of that historical baggage with them. That expectation that they're supposed to figure it out with the information that's available.

Katelyn: Because, in the past, they haven't been encouraged or given access to being able to do more of that conversational research.

Katelyn: Typically, chatting with my friends who are agency owners now, I was a agency owner years ago, clients just don't want to pay for that. They think it's an extra line item on the invoice and they want to avoid it.

Katelyn: And, so, I know a lot of agencies that even if they want to be doing more qualitative research, they aren't given the budget for it. So they end up doing it themselves out of pocket.

Katelyn: Then when those marketers come over into these companies and get hired on product teams and start-up teams, they kind of bring some of that way of working with them because it's what they knew and it's what they expect.

Katelyn: I'd say that that's part of it. I think another part of it is that a lot of teams, a lot of leaders, are very hesitant to let anybody talk to customers who don't need to. They think that talking to customers can potentially lose the customers.

Katelyn: And, so, it's really a needs basis of who gets to talk to those customers. That's been my experience when working with founders. They're really nervous about letting anybody who isn't sales, who isn't customer success, have those conversations.

Katelyn: It's like they're afraid of what they'll learn or they're afraid of potentially alienated or irritated a customer.

JH: That's such a bummer. I'm sure it's true in some industries but, at least in my experience, the customers you talk to the most, they're always the ones who end up loving you the most.

JH: And, so, it is a shame that people still have that fear. But it definitely makes sense.

Erin: I think it's through in B2B companies a lot, too, where it's like there are these huge ACB values attached to different accounts and everything is a liability. Right? But I think you're right.

Erin: Obviously you don't want to be spamming your customers with requests and requests and requests. But if you're smart about it and maintain a CRM such as research hub, you can kind of track those relationships.

Katelyn: It's really funny. In Seth Godin's new book, he talks about when people don't behave the way you expect them to, look for the angry bear. It's hard for people to dream of the future or to make decisions from a rational place when they're afraid of getting eaten.

Katelyn: I think that that's part of the start-up mindset is that every day you're kind of afraid of getting eaten. And, so, when it comes to kind of the culture and how things- We've always done it this way here.

Katelyn: That often comes from this place where you're this scrappy company in the beginning, working really hard to get things off the ground. Some of those behaviors and those anxieties, I think, stick with a company even as they grow.

Katelyn: That's been my experience. To your point, what's fascinating is the first time that a company actually lets those marketers go out and have those conversations, the insights that they generate are so incredible that they're usually fairly quickly convinced that this is the good thing and they should be doing it more.

Katelyn: But it's really just that resistance and that anxiety that holds some of these companies back.

JH: Yeah. The crazy thing is that marketers are having conversations with customers regardless. Right? When you are deciding what to put in an ad or how to write the copy in an email, it's not a one-on-one qualitative conversation. But you're talking to your users at scale.

JH: And, so, being afraid of letting them talk to one person is- When you think about it from that perspective, it seems a little crazy.

Katelyn: Absolutely. Yeah. Absolutely.

Katelyn: I think part of it is the fear and part of it is, again, going back to that, well, we haven't done it that way, historically.

Katelyn: Marketers, often times, because they have access to so much quantitative data and because they are engaging with customers online at a pretty rapid pace often, it's perceived, "Oh. That's enough. We've got enough. We understand the customers."

Katelyn: So I'd say that there's a lot of marketers themselves that feel as though they've got all the insights that they need.

Katelyn: Maybe they've done customer research in the past or they've done surveys where they've had conversations and had a hard time making sense of the qualitative data. And, therefore, thought, "Okay. Well, that's not a fast and efficient way to get information."

Katelyn: I see that as well. That's why I think it's really important for people to learn how to do qualitative research and not just assume that talking to people is easy.

Katelyn: Because the talking part, it can be easy, but if you don't go into it with a good understanding of what the right questions are to ask and then a plan for how you're going to analyze what you learn and kind of look at all of that qualitative- all those interviews as one data set, it can be easy to kind of get confused.

Katelyn: Because you might hear mixed messages coming from your customers. You might bias those interviews by kind of getting them to say the things you want them to say anyway.

Katelyn: What the content of those conversations matters. That's one thing that I think a lot of people don't know how to do well.

Erin: What are some of your tips? Obviously, books have been written on this but if we're trying to get kind of a new cohort of people out there talking to customers and, as importantly, getting some actual signal from that noise, what are some of the key things to get started doing some meaningful customer interviews?

Katelyn: Well, there's two big things to start with. One is to focus on understanding what the customers done in the past and what their past behaviors are.

Katelyn: Because when you have conversations that are aspirational, people are really bad at knowing what they're going to do in the future.

Katelyn: And, so, really getting customers in having this conversation and kind of pulling out of them the behaviors that lead to them making certain decisions and kind of getting them to take you on a bit of a journey as to how they make decisions, that can be really insightful.

Katelyn: But asking them questions about, "If you saw this campaign, would you like it? Or what would you think of this?" That can be helpful but it can also lead you astray.

Katelyn: The kind of joke I say is that if you were to ask me what I'm going to do in the next month to get in shape, I'm going to say, "Oh. I'm going to go to the gym three times a week and I'm going to eat salad for lunch." Okay. Well, what did you do in the last month? Oh. I ate 100 hamburgers.

Katelyn: What people have done is far more indicative of what they'll do in the future. And, so, it's important for people when they have those conversations to kind of try to focus on understanding past behavior versus using them to try to predict some type of future behavior because they can really throw you off.

Katelyn: If you use them that way and then the people react differently- Let's say you do a bunch of interviews and you ask people, "What would you think of this? What do you think of this?" And you put that campaign out and it fizzles, then you might think, "Oh. People don't know what they want."

Katelyn: And that's true. People don't know what they want. But they can explain to you why they make the decisions that they make if you pull that information out of them.

Katelyn: And, so, I find that that's a really good tool is just starting by focusing on past behavior and kind of trying to get to the emotions that lead to them making certain decisions.

Katelyn: The other piece of advice is- This is easier when you're talking to your existing customers. But talk to people who have the problem that you solve because sometimes when people are thinking about launching a new feature or launching a new product even, they'll go out and they'll talk to a lot of different people.

Katelyn: People who may not be solving that problem, who may not have a need for that solution, and they don't really qualify them first. That can kind of throw them off as well.

Erin: Got it. So get your data from the people who have the answers you seek and then ask them about things that they have actually done in the past.

Erin: I love the emphasis on the emotion behind it. Right? So important to marketing is how do you emote in people the solution to their problem?

Erin: And, so, speaking that language back to them in terms that they're using and feeling is so, so powerful. Love those tips.

Katelyn: Absolutely. One of the frameworks that I use a lot when doing customer interviews is known as Jobs-To-Be-Done. It's a tool called the switch interview.

Katelyn: The idea behind the switch interview, which is really handy for marketers, is you basically interview somebody and you want to know what made them switch from their solution to your current solution.

Katelyn: You want to kind of explore that journey. Explore the switch. When you're doing that, one of the things I like about this framework is they get you to kind of listen to what they call the emotional forces.

Katelyn: And, so, there's the forces that will make somebody actually make a switch. It will push them towards making a change. That's the push of their current situation. So that can often be described as the pain. It's what sucks about right now that will make me start looking for something else?

Katelyn: And then there is the pull of the new solution. The features and the benefits and the stuff that's sexy about it and what they want to achieve.

Katelyn: One of the things that I say sometimes is if there's not a push, no amount of pull matters. We might be able to look at a Ferrari and think, "Oh. That's so beautiful. What a nice vehicle." But if there's nothing pushing us in our life, there's no emotional friction or pain, that is driving us to change our current situation, we won't change.

Katelyn: Then there's also emotions that stop people from making changes and that would be anxiety. Anxiety about the new solution. Will it work the way they say it will work? What will people think if they see me using this thing? What would my boss think? Will they think that I need this tool? All sorts of anxieties come along with making a switch.

Katelyn: Then there's the inertia or the habit of your habit solution. I've always done it this way. Or if we use that tool, I'd have to get a different project management solution. I'm in the habit of using this one. I don't know if I want to make a change.

Katelyn: And, so, when I do interviews, I typically will try to interview people who have recently made a switch to either the product that I'm trying to market or it's a new product coming to market. They're using something that would be considered a competitor.

Katelyn: Then I interview them to try to understand all of the trigger points and decisions that happen along that switch journey. But those are the forces that I'm listening for. The push and the pull of what makes them choose a new thing. Or the anxieties and the habits that stop them from making a switch.

Katelyn: From a marketers perspective, that's massive insight because you're understanding what channels they're looking in, you're understanding who they're looking to for recommendations. Tons of good stuff there for marketers.

Erin: Yeah. That seems, obviously, hugely valuable for a kind of new product offering within your product or for acquisition to your company in the first place.

Erin: Do you have different frameworks for getting insight in terms of retention and increasing lifetime value or things like that further down in the customer journey?

Katelyn: Well, that usually comes down to, again, figuring out who would be the right person to talk to about retention. Well, it's probably somebody who just left and understanding why they left. Understanding the friction that lead to them leaving.

Katelyn: There was some type of friction that they experienced. Whether it was something that you could control or not that happened that lead to them leave. Then the satisfaction with the current solution.

Katelyn: It's a different style of interview but you're still listening for those same challenges. You're still listening for those same kind of emotional triggers. But the questions that you ask will be different.

Katelyn: They'll be less focused on their buying journey because, at this point, they bought and what you're trying to understand is what stops them from buying what made them leave.

Katelyn: And, so, understanding the buying journey can be very helpful but then you also want to spend a good amount of time understanding their experience with the product and kind of the motivating factors that would have made them leave.

Katelyn: Tricky part for a lot of teams is that often times once somebody's left your product, they're not as keen to chat with you. Finding people that are willing to give you their time and talk about that, whether they're being compensated or incentivized in some way or not, can be a little trickier. But hugely valuable for the ones that you do get to talk with.

JH: As a non-marketer but somebody who thinks about qualitative research a decent amount, is there almost even a simpler piece of this? Just by being out there and talking to users who are in this problem space that you know your product or service plays in that you absorb and start to use the actual language and communicate these things in the same terms that they do?

JH: The thing that comes to mind is that 30 Rock, Steve Buscemi. How do you do, fellow kids? You're just coming across as a nark type of thing. Is there just a benefit of just knowing how to speak about it in a way that feels authentic and real to users and doesn't come across as corporate-y or cold?

Katelyn: Absolutely. One of the things that I do is I use this little tool. I'm just going to have to look and see what the name of it is.

Katelyn: But, basically, if I see customers talking about- If I'm representing a client, I see them talking about that product or a competitor's product and I think that it's interesting the way they phrase something, I'll snap it and I'll save it to this archive.

Katelyn: It's like the voice of the customer archive. If I'm doing customer interviews, I'll have those transcribed and I'll read through them all, find things that- I call them swipe-able copy.

Katelyn: That's like, oh my goodness, the way that they said that is so good. That's the way they would say it in real life.

Katelyn: Using the voice of your customer, using their own words, is incredibly compelling for marketing. A lot of marketers try to sound slick or clever but, really, it's the words that your own customers are already using to describe their emotional challenges and their desired outcomes that are going to be the most compelling to use in your marketing materials.

JH: Cool. Another non-marketer dumb question, maybe, is personas. Right? I've worked with a bunch of companies. You have all these user personas, customer personas, whatever you want to call them.

JH: Are people really creating those without doing qualitative research and just looking at quantitative trends? Or is that being done by the agency? Or ...

Katelyn: Yes. They're definitely doing that without- Often times, they're based on internal kind of assumptions. You see it a lot. People think, "Oh. We did that exercise. We've got our personas done."

Katelyn: And, often times, I'll see a company whose personas are very much focused on demographic information. One of the kind of teachings from Jobs-To-Be-Done is people don't buy because they're a 23 year old male who has two dogs and a degree in marketing.

Katelyn: That's not the reason they buy. There might be some correlation in terms of who your customer segments are but the demographic stuff isn't really what matters.

Katelyn: It can be helpful in figuring out what media to buy or where to try to show up but, really, people buy because they have things they need to get done. They have outcomes that they're trying to achieve. They have pains that they want to overcome.

Katelyn: When I work with companies to put together a persona, it's a persona that's kind of driven by figuring out what are the jobs they're trying to get done.

Katelyn: What are the actual functional jobs they're trying to get done? That's stuff like get from here to there. But what are also the social things? How are they wanting to be perceived by others and why would that make them buy your thing? And how do they want to feel about themselves or how do they want them to affect them personally?

Katelyn: I kind of get people to break those down beyond the typical demographic information and really just think about all of the thought process that a customer has and what they're trying to achieve with your product.

Katelyn: When people start thinking about it from that perspective, it really changes the way that they market their product. And also that they think about what the right solution could be.

Erin: Yeah. When I've built personas in the past and you kind of give them a gender, you give them a name, maybe they have a family or interests in things like that. It's interesting. Right?

Erin: It's sort of this shell to put these behaviors in but then you feel like you're just creating this massive stereotype that's not really good for anybody.

Erin: I'm loving to see the kind of transition to focusing more on the behaviors that are certainly more relevant to them and to your business. Which also lends themselves to being used in more valuable ways. Right?

Katelyn: Well, absolutely.

Katelyn: There's always so many different emotional things driving us that aren't just the core function of using a product and I love when people build personas based on those emotional drivers as opposed to just that demographic.

Katelyn: Or even like firmographic stuff. A lot of peoples personas are- We go after companies of this size with this many employees, doing this kind of revenue, in this protocol.

Katelyn: Well, that's great. You just described a particular type of company but you didn't explain at all how they'd get benefit from your product or what they're trying to achieve or why you should matter to them.

Katelyn: While you might want to target that company, you haven't explained why they should even know that you exist.

Katelyn: One of the ways that I kind of get people to prioritize their projects, when we look at putting together growth plans, is the first thing I have them do is I have them kind of map out all their different projects on a matrix and the-

Katelyn: One line is the value that that project would create for their customer and the other line is the number of customers that would get value.

Katelyn: It really kind of forces them to, before they think, "Oh. How is this campaign or idea going to benefit us?" To put it, kind of, root it back in customer empathy and think about, "Well, how does this actually create value for our customers?"

Katelyn: What happens is a lot of people- I'll use a kind of a post-it note kind of ideation session. A lot people kind of come with all of their ideas. They're all pumped and they've got all these ideas. Then I get them to map them on this matrix and they realize that a ton of their ideas don't actually create any value for their customers.

Katelyn: Oh. This is why our marketing isn't working. It's very selfish.

Erin: Right.

Katelyn: That's one of those exercises that really kind of gets people to open their eyes.

Katelyn: But to know that, you need to know your customers. If you're not talking to them, you'll have a hard time really knowing what they need.

Erin: Do you face resistance? And if so, how do you get companies to kind of say this qualitative data of talking to three or five or 10 people is sufficient and valid enough that I should have confidence in what you're telling me?

Erin: How do you work with companies and marketers to bridge that gap? If there is one.

Katelyn: It can be tough. The thing is, again, it comes back to what are their jobs to be done. Often times, by the time people are willing to invest in that qualitative research, it's because they've made a bunch of mistakes and been humbled by it.

Katelyn: And, so, a lot of the companies that I go to the first time trying to present this, if they're kind of still in the start-up mode, still trying to either launch a product or have recently launched one but haven't really fallen on their face yet, they're unlikely to do it.

Katelyn: Well, I'll come back to them later when things are getting tougher and then they're going to be more likely to open to this conversation.

Katelyn: Because until they've felt that push of doing the wrong thing, why would they need to talk to customers. Right?

Katelyn: It's one of the kind of ironic things that there's so much of that lead start-up training that a lot of early stage companies go through. They're listening to the theory but they don't really live it because they haven't made the mistake yet.

Katelyn: And then it's when they've made the mistake that they go, "Oh. That's why we were supposed to do it that way."

JH: Cool. I think it's somewhat similar in the product design world in the sense of without qualitative research, early on, you might be able to get a decent amount of it right just through intuition and some luck and being smart, thoughtful people.

JH: But when you get to a certain point where you need your execution to be above an even higher bar as you kind of need to continue to grow or you're getting more competitive in terms of what you need to win on in terms of what your product can do and stuff.

JH: That's where the mistakes start to become fatal. You know what I mean? Obviously, you can get it wrong earlier too. I'm not trying to downplay that. But to your point about not feeling the pain until you make the mistakes, it can be tough because you have smart people focused on a problem using their own intuition.

JH: Sometimes you can get it mostly right and the mistakes aren't that obvious until the bar gets raised and the stakes are little bit higher and then it becomes too late to build those muscles when you really need them.

Katelyn: Absolutely. Bill Gates, I think he said, "Success is a terrible teacher. It fools smart people into thinking they can't lose." I think that that's part of it too.

Katelyn: Companies that have a culture where things have all been going well and then things stop going well or they're not growing at the click that they expect to.

Katelyn: When they've been successful in the past, they may not immediately think, "Okay. We need to kind of recalibrate here and we need to think about doing this from a more customer-centric place."

Katelyn: Because they've never done it that way and they were successful regardless. That's a great point.

JH: Yeah. The reality, right, is this stuff is hard to have-

Katelyn: Super.

JH: A successful business. To have a great marketing function is hard. Right? And, so, anything you can do to stack the deck in your favor, which I would unequivocally say qualitative research is going to do that at a pretty low cost, probably a net positive since it's going to help you prevent mistakes and things like that, it just seems worth it.

JH: It makes me think of the- I'm going to probably get it wrong but the tree quote in terms of the best time to plant a tree was 30 years ago. The second best time is today.

JH: Even if you did do all that stuff and you build something and you learned it's wrong now, you're better off pulling the plug on it now than waiting another two weeks. You know what I mean?

JH: It would've been great to have learned it before you built it, but if you didn't and you made that mistake, it still is the right time to recognize it and go back and try to course correct.

JH: Leaving it out there and kind of turning a blind eye is not going to make it any better.

Katelyn: Absolutely. That kind of goes back to that angry bear thing. People don't act rationally when they're scared and building a company can be very scary.

Katelyn: And, so, I think that that's kind of the part of what when it comes to more people not doing that qualitative research, I think that that explains a little bit of it.

Katelyn: It's that people are scared and they're scared of changing and embracing a new kind of practice that they're unfamiliar with and they're scared of being proven wrong.

Katelyn: And, so, it's interesting. That's why a lot of my work now is just on raising awareness to how much value this can bring to your growth.

Katelyn: It sounds obvious, though. This is the thing. I say this all the time. I make this joke. I picture myself kind of standing on stage and pitching this and being like, "Who here has ever tried to lose weight?" Probably like every hand in the room is going to go up.

Katelyn: What if I told you that I had the perfect solution to weight loss? It's this 300 billion dollar industry and I know what the answer is. And people would be on the edge of their seat. The answer is diet and exercise.

JH: Yeah, yeah.

Katelyn: It can be simple but does it make it easy? I think that's where people struggle with the qualitative research. It's that it sounds simple enough but then to actually create that kind of-

Katelyn: Whether you call it the voice of the customer program or feedback loop, whatever you want to call it, and to make the time for people to do that. To give them the time and not expect it to happen off the side of their desk and actually use it to make decisions versus just to validate things you already want to do, it's a real culture change for a lot of people.

JH: Totally. I always use the exercise kind of behavior change metaphor as well. Because in addition to it kind of being obvious the way you just laid it out, it's also a matter of what's the alternative?

JH: The alternative of sitting on my couch, eating junk food can look pretty appealing sometimes to a run and a salad. I think it's similar for whether it's a product or marketer. I can trust my own intuition and build the thing that I think is right and stick to my gut and move quickly. That can be appealing if you've worked that way historically and that's what you're used to.

JH: Having to change to build in time to talk to folks and synthesize the output of that is a big change. It's not a trivial thing.

Katelyn: Absolutely. When I talk with it sometimes I get clap back of people being like, "Well, Henry Ford said that if people would've asked what to build, they would've said faster horses." I always find that funny for two reasons.

Katelyn: One, that he didn't actually say that. That quote is misattributed. It's something he never said. And, B, when I was running my start-up, I said it too.

Katelyn: Because when you're trying to move really, really fast and you're looking for an excuse, as an intelligent person, not to have to slow down and to hope that what you're coming up with is right, you'll pull out quotes like that and they'll make you feel validated in that you're doing the right thing or that you're trying to do the right thing.

Katelyn: And, so, yeah. [crosstalk 00:31:00] I find that funny.

Erin: That's probably a topic for a whole other episode. But when you think about using your qualitative data to make good conclusions, you're talking about kind of confirmation bias or searching for information that confirms what you already think. That, PSA, is not the right way to do qualitative research.

Erin: I'm curious. You're talking about you've worked with so many companies. Right? Teaching some of these methods and frameworks for talking to customers and getting insight from them.

Erin: What are some of the good things you've seen happen in organizations that have embraced some of these methods?

Katelyn: Well, it's game changing. From a outcomes perspective, I've seen companies double and triple their leads or their close rate just from changing their messaging based on what they've learned by talking to customers.

Katelyn: In my most recent workshop that I ran, I saw a team that has spent the last year chasing down a new customer segment just because they could. They kind of got this opportunity to go after that customer segment.

Katelyn: A partner wanted to bring them in on something. They kind of ignored their core business for about a year and going through my workshop and kind of learning to talk to customers and think about customers from this different perspective.

Katelyn: They're like, "Oh my god. We've wasted a year. We're not the right fit for this customer segment. We don't have the right product for them. There's lots of competitive solutions that are far better to help them get the things done that they want to get done. But we're super great for this core audience that we started with and we've kind of just ignored. If we just went to them and went 10 times deeper there as opposed to trying to go wider, then we'd have way more results."

Katelyn: Seeing them kind of have that ah-ha moment and reprioritize and get refocused. These are the things that just are such great wins.

Katelyn: But the thing that I've also learned from doing a lot of this training is that it's not enough to tell people what they should be doing or even to tell them how to do it because we live in the weeds of our own biases with our company. Of our own kind of overthinking it.

Katelyn: It's really, really valuable to have somebody who can come in and kind of play that guide role who gets to know your company, who understands your customer pains, and who can give you a unbiased outside perspective and kind of make you gut check some of the things that you're assuming are true.

Katelyn: I found that to be really interesting because I think that, again, coming back to the metaphor of weight loss or fitness. I always look at the Weight Watchers product as this absolutely brilliant product in terms of making behavioral changes possible.

Katelyn: There's kind of like this saying that you need kind of four things to make a behavioral change happen.

Katelyn: You need to have something that makes making behavioral change easier. So it's clear what you're supposed to do. That's kind of the "what" piece. That can be training. That can be books. That can be products. Whatever.

Katelyn: But then you need to have peer support of people that are going through that behavioral change with you and that understand where you're at so when things get hard, you have someone to talk to.

Katelyn: But you also need to have the guidance of somebody who's done it and who can kind of pull you out of your own head.

Katelyn: I've always thought that that's part of the challenge when it comes to people adopting a more customer-centric philosophy as a company is that they're being told how to do it and maybe they're being given tools so that they can do it but they might not have those other pieces that really allow them to be successful.

Erin: Yeah. Whether political capital, soft skills, interpersonal skills. That stuff is so important to effecting organizational change. Of course. We have a great episode on the topic, by the way, with Holly Hester-Reilly. Check that out. But-

Katelyn: Oh, awesome.

Erin: Yeah. I think in any line of work. Right? If you're seeking to make change, that's hard. Do you have any tips for baby steps for that? Or how have you seen organizations do that? Just building those kinds of skills or ...

Katelyn: I think that you need to recognize who people are and you have to kind of give them some quick wins.

Katelyn: I think one of the reasons why- You can think about that Weight Watchers example. You know exactly what number you need to hit and, every day, you measure your performance. I think that being able to figure out how to kind of give people those quick wins and what's good enough for now versus trying to push some kind of perfect model.

Katelyn: This is realistically what we can do today and that's good enough and trying to remove the barriers that allow them to get those wins faster so that they can kind of get that dopamine hit and go, "Yeah. We want to do this again."

Katelyn: I find that every time you get a- Whether it be a marketer, a product person, when they get on the phone with customers and they really get to talk to them, they get that win.

Katelyn: The part that's where I think that they get the win out of their sales is in taking what they're learning and actually getting the rest of their team to buy in or to make those individual insights feel like something that they can present to people and it feels more real. That's part of where they struggle.

Erin: Yeah. Love that.

Erin: Thanks for listening to Awkward Silences. Brought to you by User Interviews.

JH: Theme music by Fragile Gang.

Erin: Editing and sound production by Carrie Boyd.

Carrie Boyd

Content Creator

Carrie Boyd is a Content Creator at User Interviews. She loves writing, traveling, and learning new things. You can typically find her hunched over her computer with a cup of coffee the size of her face.

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