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User research isn't just for design and product teams. Here's how a Head of Growth used UXR methods to grow his business.
Aazar Shad is Head of Growth at Userpilot. He enjoys finding new and creative ways to connect with Userpilot's audience, is passionate about growth, and interested in creating better product experiences.
Erin: [00:00:41]Hello everybody, and welcome back to awkward silences. Today we're here with Aazar Shad. He's the head of growth at user pilot. you know, we talked to a lot of user researchers and designers on the show, and recently we've been talking to some more growth practitioners to learn. How user research techniques can help your overall business to grow.
So today we're going to talk about how to sleuth your users. So how to use user interviews and secondary research to really uncover who your users are, what makes them tick to ultimately grow your business. So thanks so much for joining us.
Aazar: [00:01:13] Thank you so much for having me.
Erin: [00:01:15] And JH is here too.
JH: [00:01:17] Yeah. I'm excited to learn how to sleuth on people in a non creepy and ethical ways, so it should be fine.
Aazar: [00:01:23] That's a good way of putting it.
Erin: [00:01:25] So let's start from the beginning. what have these sleuthing techniques done for you and your business? You, you talk about, when we were talking before about how user understanding is really. The beginning of acquisition, not acquisition itself. What's that mean? Why do we start with user understanding?
If we want to think about building our business
Aazar: [00:01:51] Yeah. So I've, just to give you a little bit more context in there. I am, I joined as a pilot like a one and a half year ago, and I'm use a pilot as user onboarding software. I recently learned before even joining the user pilot was that not trying to understand the user the best way because I couldn't do that in my previous starter really well. I just had an assumption and I just went with that And then I started targeting people on Facebook. I started targeting people on direct mail and I was just going haywire here and there, like trying different channels without even understanding where my market hangs out. And, that previous mistake of my startup that I learned that, that I tried different channels and none of them actually worked.
And so that made me understand, okay, you know what, when I joined my next startup, I'm not going to do that same mistake. And before starting to do some Facebook ads, Google and stuff like that. the reason why I say user research is more important than user acquisition because once you know where they hang out.
Then you can just be there. And if what I learned that if you are in the interest of those people, if you just know where they hang out and who these people are, even if you're not trying to sell them, they will be sold themselves. And since I come from a sales background myself, I've, I've, I've learned with time, as a, as a, as a sales person, as a growth hacker, that, just being in front of your target market.
And showing what you do and telling them how they can be successful in their business or life. we'll actually have enough interest for you to acquire them. And that's why I think user research is more important, in that sense.
Erin: [00:03:34] Yeah. So is it that user research is more important than acquisition or that user research is essential to acquisition.
Aazar: [00:03:43] It's, it's essential to acquisition and just to give you my process, what I did when I came in, usually some, there's another head of growth I was, I do admire. And he recently joined another company and what he did was he went from revenue and he went back up to awareness channel.
Whereas what I did was instead of going towards revenue, I just chatted with those users who were actually paying us. And, I had a huge questionnaire that I was doing it and I'm in this, in that questionnaire and I was trying to understand, okay, you know, what, what they are doing exactly, by the users of pilot, what were they using before?
And then, understanding them that, and then try to understand where did they find us. And this is something that user pilot did not have in the questionnaire when they, if somebody signs up. And then I'm like, okay, you know what, when you use a tools solution like this for where do you buy? Do you find the solution?
And then they said, Google, which doesn't seem like an a, not a new answer, right? So people do search for everything, but my market, which is usually product managers , who don't like ads, these are people who do not, click on Facebook ad they does it not appreciate cold emails?
The most important insight that I got from them was that they like to search for everything and they liked to be self-served and they like to, they like to find the solution themselves, look for it, and then sign up and try the product themselves. And this whole insight that they, they don't wait for somebody to reach out to them.
Focus on SEO part because that's where they're looking at and that's what I, that's what I really focus for my one year and then now the rankings are up. I can probably say that that this whole thing came from the user research that I did initially.
JH: [00:05:47] I just wanted to add that as a product person. this, this lines up, I, I have not responsive to cold emails and I do like to try to find answers myself. So a sample of one, but, it sounds like you're on the Mark.
Aazar: [00:05:59] yeah, yeah. I think it's just the behavior because, I, I feel that, not just talk, not just praising you, but like, I feel product managers are very smart people. And they usually either come from technical background or business background and business people are usually people who do a lot of research while they're in this, in school or while working for somebody else.
And so it just easier, it just easier for them to switch on that mode of research themselves before going and looking for solutions or getting solution from somebody. So that's, that's my perspective.
Erin: [00:06:32] So let's talk more about how you, how you sleuth that. So you had this, you know, it sounds like maybe you were, you didn't want to throw stuff at the wall as you had in the past. We want to know where people hang out. You introduce some sort of questionnaire that. You know, reveals that Google is a piece of the puzzle, right?
But to your point, you don't want to just be, how did, how did you realize that product managers, you know, want to do the self discovery and don't like ads? How did you get from Google to this broader picture of how you're going to reach your audience?
Aazar: [00:07:06] Yeah. That great question. when I joined in, before even use it interviews, I was forced to do cold emailing and I'm, I used to be a cold email specialists like incident 15, 16, where there was no GDPR, there was no privacy law. You can just land on anybody's inbox. And, and I was, I was forced to do cold emailing and cold calling just to get us started.
We wanted more customers. And so when I did that and I saw the SAS community and product management community, did not appreciate my cold emailing. So I did a different tactic there. Instead of them sending them cold emails, I signed up for the product and once I signed up for the product, I, I said, Hey, I looked at your onboarding and it seemed like it needs a little bit of love and I can give you that by just sending you a small, a small, short, short video.
And they appreciated that. And so first thing that ticked was SAS and product managers and support people. They love feedback. And even if they love feedback from a stranger, and that's where I realized that these companies , I did close them through cold emailing by making them interested on the proposition I had and I found out that they like feedback and once they close, I reached out around a hundred companies, 90% of them responded, but like five of them closed.
And then I realized that it's too much of efforts actually reach out to these people. So we need to use a different channel. So that was already back up my mind. And while doing that, I was already talking to a couple of my users and that boat thing together made me take that, okay, you know what?
We made need to start doing SEO. and that was the. Entire journey in the process where I learned, okay, you know, SEO is something they would search to something they would, they're hanging out all the time. And one more thing. That was also an a learning that a technical product manager comes from a technical background, either a front end developer or QA or back end developer.
These guys are really prone to looking at stack stack overflow and get up. These are the two tools that keep, they keep looking at it and they try to find answers. And I'm on these tools and these tools are ranking on normal keywords, right?
And so when you search for something, they have already, so these people are already prone to searching these things. So I just connected the whole story together by. Doing cold calling, then cold emailing and then talking to my customers and then trying to figure out, okay, you know what? Where is my, my, my customers are hanging out, my prospects are hanging out, and that's how it takes the whole story together, if that helps.
JH: [00:09:36] Yeah. Yeah. It, this is maybe a kind of a nuanced question on it, but, how did you land on referring to it as like where do they hang out? Cause I'm just trying to think of myself as a product manager. I don't know that I would describe myself as like hanging out on Google. Like my, my inclination is to like go to Google for when I need answers and try to find answers myself.
So like that all lines up. but I might think I like hang out in like Slack groups or I, you know, somebody that's like, I'm just curious, is that like a very specific phrase or how did you land on like referring to it that way?
Aazar: [00:10:05] Yeah, so my research was just not primary research. It was secondary research. And in that primary secondary research, I met a lot of people who are marketing and growth. People were selling to product, product management, and product managers. . But the question there, the way I asked him, I don't say, Hey, where do you hang out? I say, when you look for a solution like this, what do you, how do, how does your process start. So that's the one thing.
And even before that, I say, what was the problem that you're trying to solve and how does the process start? That's one thing. And the second thing I found out that there are product managers read it, product managers, Facebook, but Slack channels were something that all the product managers loved because product managers don't love.
Getting the information they like seeking the information. And so Slack is always more where they can just ask a question, somebody will respond if they want to look at it, they will look at it, but they don't have to go those to those channels.
I didn't say, Hey, where are you hanging out? I just said, like, you know. If you have to consume the best content, where do you go and consume it? And, whose content are you consuming recently? Who do, who, who inspires them? To, to consume that content, who inspired them to become somebody like them.
And that's where I found out that, you know, medium Twitter, Slack, or three channels and Google the number one or the four channels that these people are really hanging out. And that's how I found out. So instead of asking them direct questions, I try to ask them, you know, understanding their lifestyle.
You know, what they do in those 30 days, when they are 20 days of workup working is how there's, how does it start when they come come to work? How does it start? What did they do for what are the second? And so the lifestyle question made me also understand some questions they will not directly answer, but they will still tell me how the usual day looks like and who they really get inspired from.
Erin: [00:11:56] Yeah. And I think point. And I think that where do you hang out is, that's a phrase like marketers have started to use a lot in terms of just the audience discovery, you know, channel development and things like that.
But it's an interesting. Point, right? Because some channels very much are more like kind of lurking places that you sort of are and hang out a lot like Slack or Facebook or whatever. versus I'm going to go here with intent when I have a specific question, very much what Google is, which has different implications for how you then.
Like use those channels to do your marketing. Right. so you, you mentioned that you discovered Google was going to be key and then also secondarily, Twitter and Slack and medium. Have you taken advantage of all those channels at this point or.
Aazar: [00:12:45] Yeah. I have taken advantage of all those channels except Twitter. I am unable to crack Twitter somehow. It's a, it's a, it's a completely different world, but I can tell you how it, I took advantage. So the first thing I did was like we, in terms of SEO, I started looking what, what are the main keywords I did ask them, you know, how do you describe your pilot to others?
And that gave me a couple of keywords already. You know, these keyword tools give them, so I, if you just like just search for user pilots audit and look at, look at it on ETFs or somewhere, you will find out that, you know, there are a lot of keywords use Apollo's ranking.
I did exactly for that. and then, Slack, I actually created a article on how to do Slack marketing and one of the channels where me and Aaron connected that channel was the primary channel where I acquired my first five users as well. and just because when you go to Slack, there is this preference center and in the center you can write those keywords there.
So keywords such as for user pilot would be user onboarding, product adoption, onboarding, interactive walk through guided walkthrough, in-app training in app experiences. And then competitors names. So just using those keywords, it always reactively alerted me that these people are looking for solution.
And couple of channels also have tools section as well where I just keep myself on it or need help as well. So what I did was I did alert myself and I did respond to those people based on those alerts. But I also did was when they seek for advice and help, I give them free advice. I held them wherever that I could.
I, I've been really community channel community person in general. so I've been helping them without them in any benefits. And whenever somebody introduced and was my target market, I introduced myself, them, Hey, good to have in the channel. I saw your application. Looks great. Happy to look at your application and give you an onboarding, onboarding, teardown if you want.
And those started the conversations already. And because of that, Slack was my primary marketing channel. in terms of reactive marketing, I call it like reactive marketing because you don't know. Go, you don't plan it. It just happens when it, when it, when you want to have it, when they want to have it, when users want to have it.
The second channel, after Google's lag that I started exploiting was, it just, that it happens with time, was, medium. So what I did was I found out there were like so many, product managers, publications and newsletters. That were there, which people are already reading on. So what I did was I just used the same blog, which I already have one user pilot.
I just change the topic and change the content around it and then propose the same topic to those medium newsletters. So product management insider. Product school. So these, these were looking did, they were always looking for some new content. And I, I am generating new content by having new people, new escapes or the new people who are looking at our con, making new ways of using the pallet and just putting it up there makes a really good sense.
And what I also did was I'm really opinionated. Like for example. We don't believe in product tours. We believe the product tours are not that helpful rather than interactive work through or making them user or user click on certain things is better than take showing them five tutors. So driving the opinion at article on those platforms also helped.
I haven't seen the ROI enough. I just read like five, six articles, but that made already Conan gets ordered and now we trying to collaborate more on this. and yeah, so these were the three, four channels that I have already explored it. My, I still, the biggest channel that that gives me recurring, recurring business is SEO.
And that's why I invested heavily on it. So that's, that's how it worked.
JH: [00:17:14] That makes sense. The, the Slack tip of the, getting alerted for keywords other than your name. Same is the smart one. I had never thought about something like that. The, the reason I think I asked about or got caught up on the hangout word is,
is it does feel like there's kind of a fine line here, right?
Of I like to hang out in Slack communities or I like to read, you know, medium articles from certain places because I, cause they do, cause they feel like real communities and th and it doesn't feel like, you know, a sales or marketing channel. And I think what you're describing is like, it sounds like there's a way to do it well, where you're, you know.
A useful and helpful part of the community where you're disclosing what's going on and stuff like that. But, it feels tough, right? Like I think people talk about this sometimes with like, you know, text messages as being like a potentially like channel for, for stuff or whatever and is like, yeah, you know what I like about text messages?
It's like, I don't get, I don't get like, email spam in it. I, and so it feels like it's a hard line to walk cause that's something that you think about in terms of like taking advantage of these channels in these communities, but not in a way that causes backlash or, or how do you get that balance
Aazar: [00:18:11] Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So, that's a very good question actually. So user pilot is all about user experiences and, that's answer number one. The second thing is value driven content. wherever I, wherever, so I've never been blocked. I've never been kicked out of any group, on any Slack groups as well.
what I learned that if you are being helpful, and if you, if you have that empathy, to, understand that a person, what they will receive from the other end, it's always going to make the conversation better and always going to make that attempt. What are we trying to do better? So those communities where I saw that I didn't just go in directly wrote the blog.
I just saw their blogs, how they're writing it, what they are doing it, what people like, what people are clapping on it, stuff like that, and then wrote a comment. That's why it just keeps getting better every time. Because the more you push content out there, the more people give you feedback if it's good or not.
And based on that, you keep adding more value. And since you. If it's, if it's very specific, right? So if it's very specific to a specific situation that you're already currently be experiencing, it just hits the, it hits the, it's hits the bullseye. And that's what I want. That's what I want to like, I don't want 500 people to look at it and then, just say they like it.
I just want those five people who have the problem right now, who can look at it right now and they say, Hey, I need something like this. And now. That's what happened. And this is why we had this new research called the product onboarding research. And since there's a product word in it, it's the reset in 2020, which will help the product managers to help them, to be better at whatever they're doing in terms of launching new features, engagement, and getting more engagement from the users and like what mistakes people are using.
You're doing those all things combined together really helped, to my, My, you talk to my existing, I wouldn't think to my prospect readers and, that's how I kept, kept the balance in there. Okay.
Erin: [00:20:08] You got a lot of good insight in terms of, you know, what are these going to be, these meaningful channels for you? And it sounds like power law of distribution channels, SEO is going to be huge. You have correspondingly, you know, invested a lot there and you've thought about, okay, here's our channels to H point.
How do we use them appropriately? Given, you know, the UX of how people want to experience these how did you leverage different research tools to, you know, get it, some of these insights in terms of what's going to resonate with your users and who they are? You talked a little bit about surveys.
I know you've done interviews as well. Could you tell
us a little bit about
Aazar: [00:20:48] sure. Sure, sure. I, I, as I said, initially I learned like any to do these user interviews on a regular basis. So I used to have like, you know, once in a week I interviewed with my users and just hanging out like. Just hanging out was just a way to talk to them and get insight, but also help them at the same time.
Because if they're spending 30 minutes with me and I don't have that much money to give them Amazon voucher, what I can do is give value in return. So the first tool that I use was like, Hey, I can give you the UX audit of your current onboarding and the flows that you made that might help you improve your numbers.
But that was incentive for them. And then I asked them to jump on the call. I already had a huge questionnaire there in mind now notion,
I have like. Around 17 question that there are too many. And I was just jumping on from one to another and to another, to another, to another when as soon as they, he responded instead of diving deeper into it. And so what I learned was that, with that specific interview that, you know, you don't need to ask all the questions, you can ask like five or six questions that you really want to know and dive deeper into that.
For example, I have this question, which I all is as, what drove you to search for product like user pilot. And what were you trying to solve? That is, I want to do X so I can do Y. And, so when he or she responds. My job is to dive deeper into that question into the, instead of just going to the next step.
That's one key insight that I learned and that has really helped me because now the number of questions or less, and answering those questions and getting the insights from them and keep asking them why. Keep asking them why. Made things much better than I read some article somewhere and it made me tick as well.
Okay. You know what? I should stop asking too many questions and not asking their workflow, not asking their role. I can do all the research there, but like asking those unique questions that give me insights. The other thing that I learned was, I don't need to ask him all the question in the interview.
So what I did was I broke down my, my interview process, like my data collection process into different steps and different ways to do it. So the first way, like when somebody books a demo, and even if I don't have sales call, I just jump on somebody else calls and, and tell them, Hey, can you ask these two questions?
Like why did you sign up for the pilot and what are you trying to solve? That's one question. after demo, when they when they sign up. even in the signup, I use, user pilots in app survey to ask them couple of more questions when they have been activated.
So that's another way I'm, I'm getting some data the third is actually once they pay, I asked them also like, what made you choose user pilot? Do you love user pilot? If not, why. And the third question is a little more customer success, which is like, you know what, how does the success look like in user pilot?
Like what metrics are you looking for? So I'm breaking down these questions in their whole user journey. And then NPS is also there, which I use as a pilot for like user pilot is NPS. I'm using that as well. And once all of these are done, then I'm asking for an interview. If I know they are power users, I'm not asking if they are, if they are not looking, if their numbers are not looking good, if they're just average and user pilots data, then I'm not reaching out to them.
I'm only reaching out to power users who love us, the writers on chat all the time and they are raising hands all the time. And this is my process in terms of getting insights. So I've broken them down into different stages and based on different stages. I asked them question and interview is the, is the like biggest date . The way I asked him on interviews I usually do is like, you know, Hey, you have great numbers. You're the power user. can you help. So, and then, then I say like, you know, how can you help me? And they say, I'm just jumping on a call and I'll help you with your UX audit.
And then that's how we exchange value. Also, NP has give us enough data as well. Like, you know, NPS tells us why the users, what's great, what's not, and if they give us 10 on 10 NPS, I also send them an email, say, Hey. Well, you give us 10 NPS score a why did you choose it? And then give us more insight.
So I don't have to ask Noah so many questions. I, that interview is about those unique insights that I couldn't get in this process if this whole process makes sense for you.
JH: [00:25:00] Yeah, it makes it makes a lot of sense. Do you, will you ask them these same questions with non users? Will you go outside of your user base and try to gather similar data or has been just sticking with the people kind of already familiar with user pilot been the main source.
Aazar: [00:25:16] So then these are the, these are the customers or people who are interested in user product. but like I do, I, like right running, um, an interview with like a head of, of, head of product growth of different big companies because that's what we're trying to also learn. and just chatting with them. And there are, there are the companies such as growth, mentor, clarity FM, where these people are hanging out. LinkedIn is a great place to hang out, you know, so these people are very easy to get in touch with. And if you tell them that there is no commercial interest from your side.
They're happy to talk to you for 15, 20 minutes. And you know, since you love a product, they love product you bought, want to talk about product, why not just chat, chatting 15, 20 minutes about anything, having a virtual coffee. I also do that. So whenever I'm going to conference, so I'm going to SAS or now I hope that happens, but like incest talk when I was last year.
I already just, everybody was sending cold emails to me, say, Hey, let's meet. But what I did was instead of selling to them, I said,` Hey, I love product and I love product management. let's just chat about what you've been doing.
Let's see what we can learn from each other, and then asking them indirect questions. For example, you know, what they currently and stuff like that. I couldn't get from them. So I have different channels where I can just go and ask and they get feedback from my ideal persona, so to say.
Erin: [00:26:37] Yeah. It's great to hear about just all the numerous channels and methods you're using to get all these insights about your target audience. What. Have you learned over time? We, you know, we start talk at the beginning about the kind of channels people hang out. What else have you learned about your target audience and who they are through all this research?
Aazar: [00:26:59] So I've learned the most important thing is that there is no right answer. Like you have to keep digging in there. That's the key. Like that's a key. Learning like to keep digging there. I've also learned that not every feedback is useful, and not every feedback is a feature request.
sometime people don't know what they want and, so you have to look at data from the backend and see what they are doing it. So these two things that I've learned, and I think. Every feedback that you get, just take it from as a painting, like in the salt, and then just try to see if this is aligned with other patterns that are there.
I also like learned with the, with the time that I need to document everything. you know, you have to keep doing the secondary research instead of you asking the people, wait for people to ask those questions. When I started, I was one person marketing company person, and now they're like five people in marketing. We're doing different things, smaller things, and this will help eat everybody. And if you have a documentation in place, of these interviews of these processes, of the videos, of this work fridge, people can just go and look at it and then they can, they can consume the content to do their jobs better.
So yeah. Not taking all the feedback at face value. keep digging and ask more questions and documenting. These would be three key learnings, acquired over time. If I have to summarize it well.
Erin: [00:28:24] Yeah. How do you, I think this is something that we don't talk about enough, right? all feedback is not equal. And some of it even maybe a, you shouldn't pay attention to at all. How do you, how have you developed a sense for what warrants documentation, right? You talked about the importance of versus, you know, what is it.
Feature requests versus, you know, how to, how and where to sort of like literally and metaphorically file away these different insights and pieces of feedback.
Aazar: [00:29:00] Yeah, that's a, that's a very, very interesting I don't have a S like a right answer for that, but I can tell you that, I think you need to have a desk creep zone ethically cribs on, on, see what they're doing. So if it's a customer, see what they're doing inside the application and why that specific feature is important. and then look at how many people are also asking the same feature and complaining about the same feature. Um, and it's, this just comes to your way naturally that, okay, all the users are asking this specific feature requests.
and so about documentation. I think, the be all end all always have a bias. I think we will always have a bias what answers we want to document and what we don't. And then when we presented people who are reading it, they also have a bias. So I think this process cannot be foolproof, if I would say, but what you can do is like you can document as much as you should be doing it that you think is important.
And then asking a second person to review it. that reduces a little bit burden on from your head. And that did that. It's that this feedback is ag, not just, just a feedback. Other people also see it as well. And that's how I just corroborate right now by just letting somebody else look at it.
And then, and also. The same feedback. If you keep listening over time, So you see if this is coming again and again, maybe this feature request is the specific thing that people are talking about would be important.
So I also do that.
Erin: [00:30:28] So from all this research that you've done and shared, I know you lead. The growth team. So how has it helped you grow.
Aazar: [00:30:37] It has helped us grow. So I think user research was the primary reason why. We did not lose six months if we would have lost six months by trying different channels the way I did in the last month. So user research helped us understanding users so well that it helped us grow last year around 35% in month over month.
And we are still growing crazy fast. Like, we, we are part of like now and now I'm a community and when we tell them this number, they're a bit surprised and you just don't see it this number in. In revenue. But when you see the activation numbers, when you see the, the, the, the number, when they are hitting that specific milestone, and when they do the, when, when they talk to us about it, it seemed like the customer education is so high that that we have done something right and putting them into the funnel of going through product adoption school, doing these research, it's somehow inculcating them.
And then we see that number's growing up really fast. and it also helped us doing this research that we recently did protocol boarding research. That research was all because of the fact that I did those user interviews and I found out there was a customer who told me, Hey, I want to find out if like what I'm doing is correct and what other companies are doing.
And that user interview the customer is no more with us anymore. But like that, that specific answer, he gave me the tick my mind for an idea that I should do product onboarding research. And I did it like six months later and he's no more with us, but I did send him this That specific answer that he said, Hey, I want, I wish there was something like this.
They can, I can look at as a standard and say, okay, not, these are the SAS companies are doing and these are the mistakes or these are good things and these are bad things and I want to improve with that. And that specific research got viral. We got like crazy twenty thousand thirty thousand people looking at that specific research and we never had like 30,000 visitors per day. And it helped us like give us thousand leads in couple of days. And I think that was also kind of a validation of those research that I did in that time.
Erin: [00:32:45] Yeah. I feel like when you're doing user research, right, you, you almost feel like you're, stealing, like you should get in copywriter IP trouble. You know what I mean? It's like I just took somebody else's idea and then, you know,
Aazar: [00:32:58] Yeah, yeah,
Erin: [00:32:59] with that, beautiful thing.
Aazar: [00:33:03] yeah. I think it'd be should, somebody should like copyright it as well. I think it's, it's just like it, users will know how valuable information they're giving it to us.
Former Content Writer at UI
Carrie Boyd is a UXR content wiz, formerly 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.