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  • Last Updated:

October 12, 2020

Using Research to Write Next Level Copy with Joel Klettke of Business Casual Copywriting

How the best copy takes words straight from your customer's mouths and meets them where they are.

Carrie Boyd

This week on Awkward Silences, Erin and JH chatted with Joel Klettke, who has 6+ years of experience writing killer conversion copy for clients like Hubspot, Scott's Cheap Flights, and WP Engine. His first piece of advice? 

All the best copy [is] words you've stolen from the customers themselves.

He also stressed the importance of meeting your customers where they are, involving copy from the start of any new project, and structuring your user research so it's easy to pull out the best insights. He walked us through how he used research to make changes at Hubspot that resulted in a 35% increase in demo requests and a 27% increase in inbound call volume. He also outlined how he used chatbot data to help an online divorce startup net an extra 165k in revenue by answering questions their users needed answers to.


[2:09] The best copy comes straight from the mouths of customers

[3:46] You can't sell to an audience you don't understand.

[6:02] Structuring your research is important, so you can better identify good copy when you see it.

[6:24] Joel wants to hear about people's experience. Here's the specific questions he asks to learn about them.

[8:31] Taking copy straight from customers mouths is more compelling and specific. It makes you stand out from what your competitors are saying.

[10:07] Joel uses text analyzer to identify recurring phrases from his research.

[10:52] Companies default to their own internal language, but you have to speak to customers in a language they understand

[13:00] How Joel used this process at HubSpot to make meaningful copy changes that resulted in a 35% increase in demo requests and a 27% increase in inbound call volume.

[16:28] Joel works on anchoring new ideas for copy in known concepts to make it easier to digest.

[18:16] Get specific, but not so specific your audience can't relate

[19:53] When Joel works with clients, he makes everyone sit in on a research findings session to talk about why they're taking the position they are to avoid confusion later.

[20:29] It's difficult to run user testing on landing page copy because participants aren't in the buying frame of mind.

[21:44] Copy is more agile than design. It takes just a few minutes to change, so the best test is to actually deploy it to market.

[26:35] Copy can help establish the order of operations for users, and work with design from the start to create something better than adding on copy later.

[31:17] Meeting customers where they're at, at the right awareness level at the right time, plays a huge part in the success of your copy.

[34:32] How Joel approaches copy for startups that don't have any data or customers yet.

[35:51] How Joel uses insights from churned customers to write better copy and understand where promises weren't kept.

[37:02] Ask your sales team "what question do you wish you never got asked again?" to identify gaps in your copy.

[37:34] How Joel used chat bot data to help an online divorce startup net an extra 165k in revenue by answering questions their users needed answers to.

[45:22] Every job Joel's had since university was something he didn't know existed until he started doing it.

The best stories about user research

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Erin: [00:00:00] Hello everybody, and welcome back to awkward silences. Today we're here with Joel Klettke. He is a conversion copywriter. He specializes in working with SAS businesses, B2B businesses, with clients like HubSpot, Scott's cheap flights, WP engine, and many others. Today we're going to talk about. Copywriting and copywriting to drive conversions, and how you can use user research and customer interviews to write really good, effective copy.

So thanks for joining us.

Joel: [00:01:03] Yeah. Thanks so much for having me.

Erin: [00:01:05] We also have JH here.

JH: [00:01:06] I am. Yeah. I feel like copy is a weird word for copy, so I have a lot to learn in this topic. So excited.

Erin: [00:01:13] Let's just talk about

JH: [00:01:14] Why is it called copy? Right? How did that get selected? But, yeah, it should be cool.

Erin: [00:01:18] No one knows. We'll have to include that in the liner notes. so get us started. Why is this an important topic?  why is customer interviewing a good thing to do? To write good copy?

Joel: [00:01:31] Yeah. Yeah. I think it all comes down to the idea that I think a lot of people have this sort of mad men conception of copywriting where they lock themselves in a boardroom, they drink a whole bunch of alcohol and inspiration for the perfect headline is going to strike them. And you know, and then next thing you know, people are seeing kumbaya and they're selling millions of dollars in Coca Cola.

And that's really not how it works. I think a lot of people have misconceptions about what it takes to write something that is compelling and persuasive and worth reading in the first place. And so I think a lot of people assume that it comes down to creativity or it comes down to, you know, just looking at quantitative data and, and that sort of thing.

When really all the best conversion copywriters, all the best copywriters, period on the planet. Um, the biggest part of their job is not writing the words, it's understanding the audience. Empathy and understanding what motivates people and how those people behave, and why those people behave in the way that they do.

and kind of, you know, if you were to put it on a bumper sticker, all my best copy has been stolen out of the mouths of customers. All of it. There's, there's very few situations. You know, we, we might refine it. We might tweak it, you know, we, we might Polish it up, but if you aren't talking to your customers, if customers aren't at the center of the entire process of copy and communication, you lose.

You're making assumptions, you're making guesses. And so it becomes critical. You know, as Joanna have says, only about 10% of copywriting is actually writing. 90% of copywriting isn't writing isn't me sitting at my keyboard, you know, trying to be creative or bash out the best words as a certain president claims to have.


Erin: [00:03:09] Perfect

Joel: [00:03:09] The perfect words, the best words, all the good words, and it when it comes down to recovering really isn't even at the end of the day all about words either. It's about knowing why those words and how to use those words in which which words, and you can't do that without the customer.

Erin: [00:03:24] Yeah. I love that. I think demystifying this kind of solo genius, whether in copy or designers to write copy sort of being this component of an effective design, 90% or whatever the percentage is, that research and that thinking and that empathy that goes into their creation rather than, you know, the pixels are the words that you end up seeing on the screen

Joel: [00:03:46] Yeah, and I mean, it sounds so obvious, right? You can't sell to an audience that you don't understand, but then when you look at how companies actually behave, most of the time, I would say I come into situations where. That that's not the way that it looks. We have teams, you know, all pulling in different directions.

We've got, you know, all sorts of different voices contributing to different assets. We've got these boardroom meetings where there's a whiteboard and someone says, what's our positioning statement? And they go through this, you know, kind of Mickey mouse positioning stimulant. Alright, that's our, you know, that's our target.

That's where we're going to. And so when you look in practice, everybody pays lip service to the idea. Of understanding your customers. And everybody talks about the importance of, you know, knowing the customer. But when you look at actual practice, it's pretty rare, I would say, to find organizations that are living that out.

And, and even if they are putting the customer into the process, they haven't built a process around the customer and around that feedback, they haven't made it an integral part. So it's one of those things that's easy to say and easy to talk about. But when you really get down to it, not a whole lot of people are actually doing this in and even fewer, have a good process for 


JH: [00:04:56] Hmm. that makes a ton of sense. you said something in the very beginning that kind of jumped out to me and I was wondering to learn more about was, you know, all the best copy has been words you've stolen from the, the customers themselves. when you're going out, right, and talk to these people and learning about what they care about and hearing how they phrase things, how do you know which words are the ones to sample?

You know what I mean? It's like, I almost think of like, you know, a lot of music these days, you know, samples, old classics and stuff, and it's like, you still have to kind of have the ear for like, knowing that that little like beat or that little loop is right. It's like the thing that's going to be catchy and, and how do you actually do that part?

That seems really hard.

Joel: [00:05:28] It is really hard and there's a few different ways to do it, I think. I don't want to just leave it up to saying, Oh, it's a gut instinct, like, you know, great copy when you see it. And I think part of it, honestly, it's not a cop out. I'm not going to stop there, but part of it is that you, you do start.

Knowing how to recognize when you see it. But if we're going to kind of come down off that ambiguous ledge and get into the weeds, there's a few ways that we make this possible. So ideally you're in a situation where you can bring some quantity to the qualitative. So that means things like running customer surveys or doing more than one customer interview and documentation becomes really important.

So a big part of my job is structuring. Surveys, structuring interviews so that when they're recorded, they're easy to refer back to later and analyze it. And we can look for the things I'm about to lay out that we're going to look for a, but, but I'll use serve as kind of an example. So we'll structure the questions in the same way.

I would run, say, a customer interview. Before, during, after a BD, a type of format. And the goal being, we don't really care about people's opinions. We don't want platitudes. And like, it's so great. We care about their experience. What's their experience like? Why or where did they come from and the challenges they had at that point.

What did the journey toward the product look like? And the alternatives they considered. What surprised them about the experience of using the product or service and what was that experience like? And we talk about the results we're capturing all of that. In their own words. And so once we've got that down in writing, cause it's a lot easier to analyze something when it's in writing as opposed to just listening back to.

In an interview or whatever. So the first step is to convert whatever medium into a format that you can actually splice and analyze. And then we'll look for a few different things. So one of those things is we want to make sure that we're paying attention to best fit customers. We want to make sure that we're really heavily weighting, not just, you know, every customer and the people that are going to bounce next month.

Cause you're not exactly what they want, but how happy are these people? How, how much of an advocate are they for you? How often did they refer? Uh, and that's what things, we'll try to ask some questions that help us segment and reach this group of best fit customers. And then we're, we're going to dive into and look for some very specific things.

The first is we're looking for themes. So when they talk about the benefits that they're getting, or when they talk about the pain points that they have, or when they talk about the outcomes that they wanted in the first place, what themes categorically do we see over and over and over again? And I'll start there.

I'll say, okay. Time-savings is, is a theme that we're seeing come up a lot. Or, you know, the, the classic one is cost savings, but there are other things too where it's not always time and money and it can be things like, Oh, we needed, you know, in, in the SAS world, we needed these particular integrations, or we needed this level of security because, you know, working with our customers and their sense of data is really important.

So we'll look to see thematically. What comes up and not only what comes up, but then priority, what comes up most often? So what do people talk about? How do they talk about it? Then once we've kind of got these themes established and this prioritization down, that's when we dive into the words themselves, and so we'd be looking at things like, okay.

What's just a really, for example, compelling, or I'll put it in the bucket of a new way of talking about this idea. So the old way, for example, is save time and time and money. But what specifics, how does somebody illustrate that point? So for some situations, that might mean if someone says there's only one number I have to call anytime I need an answer, that's stickier copy than just saying.

We take care of our customers, which is what everybody is saying. Or when someone talks about their pain points, let's say, instead of saying, Oh, well, you know, this was a really time consuming process for us. We'll look for the specificity. Well, what did that mean for them? And it might mean, while our receptionists were chasing 50 different people around the office trying to give them their paychecks, and it took ages to do so, specificity.

Uh, really is, is a clue and it is something that can point to sort of that stickier copies. So we'll start with themes and categories. We'll look at priority, what's coming up most often, and then we'll dive right into key. Do we, what just punches us in the gut as a newer novel way to talk about it. How do we find these more specific descriptors versus the generic boiler plate?

And that's the one where you kind of do know when you see it, cause you've seen it a thousand times. Like if you've done the research, you've seen every co, you know, every company on the planet. Says, we take the time to get to know our customers. You can't say that if you want to make a different point, you just end with the boiler plate.

So digging into some of that specificity, new ways of saying things, and that's where kind of this starts to come out and it's easier to find those things once you've grouped things into categories or buckets too. Cause then you have sort of this. Set of data to, to go through to look at where the novel ones are and the tool that I've found immensely helpful for this.

And thankfully it's free. And so if you just Google text analyzer, one of the things that you start to see is you can plunk your whole column of responses in there. You can get recurring phrases, but not just phrases, two word, three word forward phrases. And that helps establish some of this priority right away.

So you know where to start digging.

JH: [00:10:24] Cool.

Erin: [00:10:25] So it sounds like you're just swinging it basically.

Joel: [00:10:28] Yeah, we

JH: [00:10:28] I was gonna say that was, that was such a thorough answer. That was like so much. That was awesome. Yeah.

Erin: [00:10:34] Yeah, no, that's, that's really cool. And it does, I mean, it sounds like what we, you know, here with user researchers, you're gathering all this qualitative data. It's a mess. You have to find affinity groups and themes, and then what are you going to do with it? Same thing. you're obviously trying to create a different product out of that, but the methods are similar. 

Joel: [00:10:51] Right? And I think what's interesting too is in writing, there's a real, you know, every company defaults to their language because they speak it every day, the way they talk to each other, the way that they. You know, sell on the phone. But what's easy to overlook is how aware is your average prospect when they come in.

Like if they don't know the acronyms, you know, or they don't share the language you share. When you talk about the problem or the solution or the desired outcome, that's a huge issue to sell to those people. We have to speak to them in a language that immediately. You know, they immediately understand. So what better way to understand the language that those people are using that to interview them or survey them, get it down in writing, and then analyze it for those themes and trends and, and look for those kind of markers of.

Of how they talk about the things that are important to them. And that's a really important step for me on the copywriting side, because if I only talk to people internally, or if I only look at competitor sites, or if I only look at, you know, things outside of the customer. I make some dangerous assumptions about how much they know today, how much they need to know to make a purchase decision, how much I need to need to educate them before they'll start talking about things the way that we talk about.

So the language itself is really critical and that's where that sticky copy comes from too, is in looking at how they talk about it today. It means we can speak to them today on a level they're going to get when it comes time to help them convert.

Erin: [00:12:14] Yeah.

JH: [00:12:14] do you have any favorite? Um, like before and after, uh, on these, like, you know, you showed up in the company was like, we're going to go with this like generic statement and then you did this process and then afterwards it was like much sharper. Do you have any like, ones that stick in your head.

Joel: [00:12:26] I mean, there's lots of, there's lots of projects where we're sharpening things and refining things. I mean, one of my favorite projects was HubSpot for that reason. Uh, when we came into HubSpot, they were a company in transition. So for years and years and years. They had been known as a marketing, you know, marketing software.

And in down marketing was kind of the phrase they coined. And so everyone knew HubSpot is kind of the inbound marketing platform. Um, but they were in this point of transition where they had spun off this CRM product and now this other sales product. And so the, the product and the company had evolved away from what the general understanding of things was.

And over that same period, I mean, with a big tech company like that, you have so many people contributing to. The marketing site and the the different sections and so many changes made ad hoc over time. Even the best companies are just trying to keep up in some situations like what gets watched gets managed if nobody's watching for consistency in claims or those types of things.

You kind of wind up with this Bonanza of different things, and so for HubSpot, they already knew that was a challenge. It wasn't a mystery to them. They knew the public perception of where they are at. didn't align with where they were going. They could see that in things like chat logs. So that was one of the research points with them is we looked at the chat logs to see what kinds of questions were coming up.

And it was confusion. People were saying, well, do I need this tool to do this thing? Do I need to buy this? And also this to get this result? And so that project, a huge part of what we were trying to do was, okay, how do we understand and make sense of what HubSpot is today? And then communicate it back to the audience in a way that, that they get.

And so one of my favorite lines that came out of that and endures, I mean, HubSpot's constantly changing, but this endures on the site to this day as we kind of realized, okay, we needed a way to quickly communicate to people that this is a separate suite of tools that they can use in conjunction. To get some pretty incredible results.

But I'm never gonna write that one. I just said down as copy, cause it is horrible. but the nicer way we found a pin that down was, you know, powerful alone, but better together. Uh, and that in, endures on the site to this day. And you know, the, the end of that story is not just because of the copy, but a brilliant team of people working on.

The design and the structure and the positioning was myself and Josh Garofalo because the scope was so big, and Pamela Vaughn handled a bunch of the internal pages, but this collaborative effort at the end of the day doubled HubSpot's sitewide conversion rates and something like a 35% increase in demo requests, something like 27% increase in inbound call volume.

So for a company of that size, that's, that's no insignificant. Amount of interest or money coming out the other side and sort of is a Testament to what happens when you listen to customers. You pay attention to how they talk about you now. You pay attention to the gaps in their understanding and then find a way to close them.


Erin: [00:15:13] Hmm. I'm curious, you talked about the sort of specificity principle or, right. you need to get out of these cliches and platitudes and really say something meaningful. How do you balance that? Like how do you not get too specific? Right? So you want to find these kind of like. The universal truths across these, you know, best fit customers you're trying to reach yet be specific and not vague at the same time.

Or when you're talking about, the example of the HubSpot that's still lives, you know, powerful alone, even better together. I think I butchered that, but something along those lines. that's, that's, you know, a high level sort of, Oh, okay, you have my attention. How is it better together? Right? How do you know, how specific to get right versus just where to kind of hook and get my attention. and how does that tie to the customer research that you do?

Joel: [00:16:09] Yeah, so I think some important context is not that we wrote that line, and then the rest of the site was like a vacant, you know, there's no

Erin: [00:16:16] Right, right,

Joel: [00:16:17] You know, we quickly follow up on it. It comes back to. Um, you know, after we've kind of established that as a common frame of reference, like a lot of what my job is, is establishing common common ground.

I have to anchor new ideas in, in known things, known concepts. So I can't necessarily come out swinging and say, you know, HubSpot is now a comprehensive suite of software that enables dah, dah, dah. Like it's a long. Jargony, not useful way of positioning. So, you know, powerful alone, better together. kind of opens the door for us to, like, we, we've reached this commonality where everybody who reads that gets it.

And now we have permission mentally to get into more detail and get more specifics. So when it comes to how specific do we get, that's why we do some of this bringing qual, you know, quantifying qualitative feedback. Like if we know, for example, that of our best fit customers. X number of them have this particular desired outcome.

when they're considering this solution, then we can focus on communicating that language in response, right? So if you look at HubSpot's site today, in that section, we go on to sort of explain, each of the different tools and what they're good for. We get into the specific outcomes of each. So, for example.

For the sales hub, time-saving sales stuff for that helps you get deeper insights into prospects, automate the tasks you hate and close more deals faster. so some of the specific language there, like automate the tasks you hate. Automation is something that was common to a lot of people and something you want to accomplish.

But the specificity is not just saying, you know, powerful automation versus automate the tasks you hate. Because when we looked at how people talked about the things they wanted to automate. They would say, these are the tasks I hated doing. So that's a more specific claim than just saying something like powerful automation.

Or when we look at, say the marketing hub. Then we get into marketing stuff to help you grow traffic, convert more visitors, and run complete inbound marketing campaigns at scale. So then we get into the specific outcomes. You know, each, each one can help drive, but I think before, you know, it wouldn't be useful.

For example, like an example of something too specific would be taking an edge case or taking. Like an ultra specific need that only applies to one segment of their audience. So let's say that, you know, that receptionist example that's going to punch hard in a situation where everyone coming in has a receptionist running around chasing people for paychecks.

That's going to really whiff if we've got a super diverse. User set, some of which don't even have receptionist. So it's a balancing act between capturing these sort of specific examples that will be real and relatable. I think the word, the keyword is relatable to your best fit customers, and that's how you know to pull in specificity.

So specific is good as long as it's relatable. The minute it's only relatable to like a a fraction of the audience, you've, you've gotten a little bit too deep depending on the context.

JH: [00:19:05] when, when we've talked about just user research, you know, more generally like in that kind of like design-y classic examples, uh, we usually hear about people doing a lot of like the discovery kind of phase or you know, different phrases for it. But this learning about the problem area and going out and talking to people in a pretty open ended way.

And then also at the end, kind of like the validation stage of, of showing people prototypes or, or seeing if solutions are actually. A good fit for,  what users needed. Um, it feels like a lot of what you've described to us so far is really on that discovery side. Do you also go out and like once you have a phrase or something in mind that that feels right, try to go out and validate it or did in this case, it's like run some risk of getting watered down when you tried to do it by committee?

Or is that different in this experience?

Joel: [00:19:46] Yeah. I think that's the dangerous thing. With copies, you can suffer a death by a thousand cuts, and normally that's not even external. It's internal. So like one of, one of the rules I have when I work with clients is that everybody who's going to be involved in sign off has to sit in on a session where we talk through the research and what was learned and the why behind why we're going to position things this way.

And the end, the approach that we're going to take. Because I've seen way too many situations where someone sitting on the board or someone. In leadership has a fever dream one night or reads a medium articles like, no, this is the new focus guys. And so everything, you know, the wheels fall off the cart and we're back to square one when somebody imposes their will that way. there, there is testing that you can do. It just sort of depends on the situation. Like in my mind. by the time we're getting to production, we're pretty confident based on the research that these are the things that are important to people. What sometimes can happen is, you know, we'll, we'll do a mock up of a page and then you might run user testing on it.

But the danger with user testing is it's really hard to get people in the buying frame of mind. in front of that copy. So for example, I can, I can put together a landing page. We can do a user test for like usability. But in terms of like, does this copy punch harder, hit home. That's a lot harder. Cause if the audience of people isn't actively considering a purchase or if they know that their job is to be skeptical about what's there.

They're already in a mindset where it's, it's different than the person we're trying to communicate with. Like it helps me zero. If you know bill, the plumber is analyzing the copy we've written for an enterprise SAS company, and that's often the types of people, even though you can segment with a lot of these user testing tools, it's tough to get people at a, at the right awareness level or in an actual buyer state of mind.

So the best test we can do is to deploy it to the market. whereas with design, you know, I think it, it takes a long, like to redesign a homepage or to like design and development kind of go hand in hand. There's a lot of work. You can't be all that agile necessarily with how you do that. But with copy we can deploy a different headline in five minutes.

And so if we've got a hypothesis going in for why this'll hit or won't hit, and then we deploy it to the actual market and see, do they buy, do they not buy, do they act? Do they not act if they don't act, we've already got this framework to work through the goal. Okay. The hypothesis came back wrong. Here is why we think that is.

So the novelty with copy I think is that you can rapidly test and deploy and make changes. even the things like layout or hierarchy or whatever that with maybe design because of that necessitation of development you can't do as quickly. So the best test that that, you know, I think there is on the copy front, is to put it out to market and see what real people do with their wallets.

Erin: [00:22:27] And it can be really impactful too. Right? I think, I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir on this, but, I think copy, particularly in an in product context, you know, not the marketing website, but you know, in the product can be really. Thought of as like an afterthought or just this kind of final thing that has to get done before we can ship it, the ship, the real product.

But, it's part of the product, right? make a big difference, for some relatively easy changes to

make. To your


Joel: [00:22:56] Oh, an absolute massive difference. I mean, if we're getting into UX copy and we're talking about the in-app experience, I've seen changes to onboarding flows. Minor wording changes have massive like double or triple digit impacts on the number of people that actually complete. The onboarding or complete, you know, do, do the thing and clarity, especially when it comes down to it.

And I love the way you put it, cause everybody wants to launch the product and it's still, one of the biggest things that irks me to this day is companies will paint all the, all the pictures without considering the story they want to tell. And that's not to imply that design is decoration. I know it's not, it's communication.

It's critical. But it baffles me. These situations, companies find themselves in like the number of. You'd be surprised, companies with multimillion dollar billion dollar market caps who wind up in my inbox saying, yeah, we've got a month to launch and we've got the design, and we don't have any copy yet.

Blows my mind because what's the design for? How do you know what's supposed to go where and how it's supposed to live? And that was one of the amazing things. With HubSpot is we did have an insane deadline, but I had one hell of an advocate and an incredibly talented designer on the other end who, who understood, Hey, we've got to do this in lock step.

You know, like, I need to know the message we need to communicate and who we're communicating to in order to design, to design around that. And on the other side, I have deep respect for design, a big part of my education and learning. Now I spend trying to better understand design because the way a message is communicated will impact cognition, clarity, completion, whether or not they actually consume it. and so there's not this tug of war between copy and design it in the best. Scenarios. You're kind of working in lockstep, but as you put it, too many companies are too excited to launch the thing that this becomes sort of this afterthought and you know, it's, it makes a huge difference to how people engage with or understand or choose to buy or choose to act or download or whatever you're trying to get people to do.

If that's not clear, it doesn't matter how great the product is because nobody will get it.

JH: [00:25:00]   Yeah. Well there's an interesting like interplay here, like not to like take the different side of things, right? Cause I was, I think this is very important, but, um, what you're describing a second ago of. We can deploy a copy change, you know, to the headline of the homepage in a couple of minutes, and then we can just see if the impacts greater, right.

and I know like when you're doing a product design, obviously it's your point. It's better if they start together and they can be integrated from like day zero. but if you do kind of like figure out the bones of the workflow and you have some of the solution, right. You know, swapping.

You know, descriptions, swapping button copy and stuff is often cheaper than, you know, redoing the page layout or redoing the page structure. So like certainly I think they're better together, but I can understand, I can understand how people like fall into the trap of trying to do it at the end, if that makes sense.

And not to say that's right, but there are things that maybe are a little bit more correctable than, than other decisions. Or maybe, 

maybe I'm wrong, 

Joel: [00:26:31] No, and I hear you on that. But I think the dangerous thing is, I mean, I talked about earlier, right? One of the key things we look for is priority. And so I've walked into situations where the bones, the structure, the design is all laid out, but then when it comes back from the research, it's like earth, like this section you've got here that's hard designed to talk about.

You know, the different features of the product. It's actually not, it's not that important. Like even with the HubSpot CRM project, that, that proceeded like the, over the overarching, um, you know, whole, entire site. One of the biggest wins we had was recognizing like, Oh, the order of operations of what people care about.

And, and thus kind of the design and the way things are framed up. It's all, it's all wrong. Like the conversation that we want to have with people or that people are need to have, is all out of order. Like if we had started this podcast at the end, and you said this was a great podcast with Joel cliquey, you know, and that, that'd be a nonsensical conversation for the people listening or if somebody cut and splice this where I had a quote here and a quote there, it's really hard to track and follow along.

And in the same way, what, when I'm writing to a customer, I'm trying to, it's, it's a conversation. Even though it's static, I'm trying to anticipate the questions they have and the things they need to hear in the order they need to hear them so that we can at least as a baseline, kind of orient the design around that cause you can have, it's sort of like baking a cake, right?

You can have all the ingredients and all the steps put together. but if you mix them together in the wrong order or in the wrong way, or if you like start out with the flour in the oven and then take it back out and do the rest, something's gonna go wonky. So I think it's in an ideal situation, like you're totally right, switching button copy and headlines and that sort of thing.

That is easy. That is fast, but it's much harder where let's say, and I've seen this before, our company's made a big investment into building X widget into their page or laying things out in a certain way. It's like, oops, this is not at all. The structure of the way the customer needs to go through the information.

So it really is, I think, best if the two can work together from the start. Because when we were working with Austin Knight on the HubSpot side, the first thing we did was not wait for all the copy to be done because there was no, opportunity for that. We were on a deadline. But what we did together is after the research, we sat down and we said, okay, these are the things we know customers need to learn.

This is the awareness level. We're pretty clear that they've got, and so we don't have the copy yet, but together we work together to put together the bones and the skeleton and say, okay, we don't know exactly what it's going to look like right now. we don't know exactly, you know. How these features are going to come together and whatnot, but these are the types of sections we need.

This is the order they need to be in. The Austin could go away and start designing. We could go away and start writing, and then it became this dance back and forth where we would send him our hideously ugly wires. He would, you know, find a cooler way to present the information, given his deep expertise, but at least we had the conversation right going in and that avoided.

Some of those things that you kind of alluded to where it's like it is much harder to, once the design is built and designed, it is harder to reorganize sections in some cases or you know, depending on the build. So I think in an ideal situation, both sides respect that the what the other needs and, and they do it in, in lockstep.

JH: [00:29:46] Yeah. No, that makes, that makes a lot of sense. Right? I think what you're getting at is, um, there's a chance that like, you know, design on their own gets the information architecture or the hierarchy correct. And maybe just gets the words wrong and you can swap them in later. Right. But if you're not doing it collaboratively from the start, the risk that maybe the IAA or the hierarchy is not right either goes up.

Whereas if you can get everybody kind of on page one together. You can like, you can mitigate and, and um, kind of put that stuff aside.

Joel: [00:30:12] Yeah. That's the much faster, better explanation of what I just said that then my long winded rabbit. Yeah, exactly. 

JH: [00:30:19] just doing the, uh, the active listening thing, right? If you hear something, you just repeat it back to somebody.

Erin: [00:30:24] But I love your emphasis on sort of this, whether they're literal or, just conversational storyboards, right, of whatever you're building, whether it's a marketing website or an app, or, you know, a landing page or an email or whatever you're trying to. Persuade user behavior, right? Ideally behavior that they are complicit in and want to be part of.

no dark patterns here, but there's persuasion. And so like, what's the story of why they would want to use this or engage with this? And I think having, having that story clear in whatever form across anyone who's going to help. Build that across, you know, engineering, design, copy, whoever. Um, and often all those might be one or two people, right?

In a smaller project, really sets you up for success right from the beginning.

Joel: [00:31:12] Yeah. I think too understanding like the, the linchpin to all of this for me is awareness level and that plays heavily into things like information architecture too. Like. Especially, let's take enterprise SAS and how do we present our product, right? Do we, do we lean into the use cases first and put the emphasis on those?

Or do we talk about the platform first and put the emphasis on that? Do we break it down by industry, you know, do we, how do we present this information in the first place? And the answer to that question is often found by working backwards instead of starting at the end and saying, well, let's deploy by industry because that's what we want to do, or what we saw in someone else's.

Site or whatever, and going back to conversations with the customer, it's like, what do they know. At that point in time, do they know their need? Then you should probably work within use cases. Do they not even really know their need and just know the industry they operate in? Then that's a whole different conversation where we need to start with the, with what they know.

So the whole. Customer conversation has these far reaching impacts, not just on how you say and what you know, what you say and how you say it, but even like where you choose to put the emphasis or how that all gets structured or what you lead with. Because I can, again, it's, it's that terrible cake analogy I said earlier, but I can have a bead on all the right pain points.

All the right desired outcomes. I can say all the right things, but if that person is in the wrong awareness state  to understand them like it's, it's the mentality of like if I offer you a coupon for this brand new novel thing you've never heard before or heard of before. It. It doesn't really, you can't appreciate the, the price discount because you don't understand what the hell this thing is in the first place.

So why would you ever buy it? And that's kind of the conversation, you know, I have to help navigate with companies is how much do leads even know, how much do prospects even know? How do we meet them where they're at, and then educate them through the structure of the page and structure the site, whatever it may be, to get them to the point that they're ready to take that action.

We want them to take.

Erin: [00:33:13] Yeah. I love that. I mean, if I'm going to, we don't really do this, but if I were going to name this episode, it's like meet them where they are. I think that, you know, that's one of the key things you're talking about, which is such a good takeaway. You know, folks get anything from this. I think  meet people where they are, and I'm curious, you talked about.

Doing interviews, doing surveys, obviously you're coming into different engagements where your clients and their clients are, at different places, right? Different sizes of projects, different levels of maturity and so on. How do you figure out your sort of research methods in the scale of those to, you know, answer the questions you need to ask to take on a project or engagement, right?

How do you figure out where the customers are and the way that's relevant to what you're trying to


Joel: [00:33:57] Yeah. So it's a bit of a snowball mentality. So often the question I get from like a startup. As well. We don't have this huge base of customers. We don't even have reviews or testimonials to look at. And so it's kind of like a question of, well, what's what's feasible and helpful right now? And so for example, with with startups, if we're just creating a baseline for them, we're just trying to put together a site that's not going to completely.

With, then we might change change the batter of research we do from say a company like HubSpot that has just oodles and noodles of data to draw. And so on the most basic end of things, let's say you have nothing. You don't have a single customer, um, you, you've never had an inquiry through the site. Where do you start?

If you know the category you want to compete in, then for that company, what I might say is, here's what we're going to do. We're going to go read competitor. Reviews. We're going to make some assumptions because we have to have no choice but to right now, but we're going to look at both their positive reviews and look at what do people love about that platform that they have in common with you, and how do they talk about it there.

We might go look at other ways of solving the same problems. So one of the things I learned from trying to weave on this front is go to Amazon and look at the book someone might read who's trying to solve the problem that. That you solve and look at the positive reviews there and how do people talk about that?

But then the one that I absolutely love is we might look at negative competitor reviews and see, okay, what do people not like about the other people in this space and where do we have a legitimate leg up that we can position ourselves against that? And so for someone in the most basic end of things outside of.

Interviewing prospects or potential prospects, some of those data sources, you know, we might go there. In an ideal situation, I'm talking to three different types of customers. I'm talking to prospects and leads, so people who haven't converted yet. I'm talking to current customers and of those current customers, ideally best fit customers, and then people I'd love to talk to.

You can't always do this and their situation, but it's. People who've churned. So leads and prospects tell us the awareness level of people coming in on average, how much do they know right now? Where are they at in the conversation? Our best fit customers help us understand what they actually find valuable, what those desired outcomes realized look and sound and feel like what hesitations they might've had.

During the process. So it gives us some validation of what we might've learned with the early group. And then shared customers is important because it helps us understand where promises weren't kept or positioning wasn't accurate, where they got into something, didn't get what they wanted out of it. And how do we adjust the way we're positioned or the promises that we're making, to avoid.

That in the future, how do we, how do we categorize and understand who these poor fit customers were so that we're actively pushing them out of the funnel? And so I'll always look to kind of on that early side, can we look at things like chat logs? Chat logs is a big one cause you see common questions.

Can I talk to the internal sales team? Cause they're on the front lines of questions that they get. How do they answer those questions? I want to take all of the, you know, the hit list of the sales team, all the things that they're doing right. And my goal is to bring that across into the copy so that they don't have to do as many things.

Right. Like one of my favorite questions to ask the sales team is, what question do you wish you never got asked ever again? Like, what are you tired of answering? And I'll do my best to see, is there a way to proactively answer this in the copy because that reflects a gap in the information that's there.

Same with chat logs and maybe if we've got time, we'll tell an interesting story of a huge learning we got from chat bots one time. But,

Okay. Well, I'll, I'll, I'll pause here then and tell this story. So I was working with a company out of the UK and kind of a grim niche, uh, online divorces. and so the, this company, they facilitate divorces.

Erin: [00:37:35] Convenient.

Joel: [00:37:36] yeah. yeah. I mean, convenience for the, for the modern, you know, convenient divorces for the modern age. Um, but, but we had a mystery  um, in looking at their data and their analytics, there was kind of an anomaly in that we know that in the offline world. Men initiate divorce less often than women.

So women are typically the ones initiating divorce and kind of, not as, this is the wrong reason, but championing the process, I guess. Um, but when we looked at their conversion data, it was primarily men, and we thought, this is interesting. Why is it, what is it. That's causing more men to convert here than women, because if we can solve this problem, in theory, we'll be reaching the bigger market.

And so we started to dig in and, and, and the question was, well, where do we even begin to answer this question? Because right away a bunch of hypotheses will come to mind, but there's no basis for them, right? Like maybe the imagery is too masculine or the language is somehow so on and so forth. But none of that's useful.

So, okay, how do we solve this problem? So one of the first things that we did was we looked at the reviews of men versus women, and we looked for trends in those. Didn't see a whole lot. Everybody kind of talked about the same overtly anyways, the same benefits, you know, they communicated really well. They made every step clear and so on and so forth.

So like, okay, came up, nil there we, we learned some valuable things, but that doesn't help us solve this mystery. And then we kind of summarize, okay, but by the point that they're a satisfied customer, whatever hesitation they had is already gone. So we're looking too far down the chain. So then we went up the chain, we went into chat logs, and that's where we really started to find the gold.

So we separated chat logs that were obviously male and obviously female. And we looked at the types of questions they were asking and we looked at the types of concerns that they had. And that's where things really started to come together. The first anomaly, the strange thing we noticed, is there a much fewer conversations with women in chat.

So we wondered, well, why, why would that be? And then we looked at, well, what time of day were these conversations happening? And virtually, you know, the bulk of them were happening either over lunch hour periods or at the end of the day. And when we looked at the chat logs themselves, we realized, Holy crap.

Okay. Women are more likely to be taking care of children and asking questions about dependence. And they're also more likely to be financially vulnerable, which means that often they're working two jobs. Which means they can't get to chat any other time. And the problem is that the chat log is only available during regular business hours.

So, okay, we're, we're seeing far less feedback from women here, which is a problem because we know people who use chat converted better. But going back to the things we learned, we saw, okay, they're more likely to have dependence. They're more likely to be financially vulnerable, which makes pricing an even bigger concern for them.

And then one of the big ones was they're more likely to be fearful of their spouse. They'd ask questions like, do we have to ever meet in person? Do I have to contact them? And so on and so forth. And when we look back at the content of the site, we realized these are questions we're not answering. We're not answering.

Is this ideal for you? If you have dependence, we're not clearly answering. Do I ever have to meet or sit down, you know, with, with my spouse. And so they made essentially. Two changes that took them 15 minutes, and on the back of that, they needed an extra 165 K in revenue a year. Um, just by answering questions, just by filling gaps in the information that you would never see.

Just looking at reviews and testimonials, you would never see. Just, you know, talking to. To satisfy customers unless you ask the right questions. What were you nervous about coming in? So that's why looking at these three, these three groups, kind of leads and prospects, best fit customers, answering customers.

Had we been able to follow up with people who showed interest but didn't buy, we might've quickly learned to, well, I wasn't sure. If it was right for me because I have dependence or because I thought I'd have to sit down across from for my spouse and that kind of thing. So getting kind of the whole landscape gives you a richer picture and a richer understanding than just zeroing in on on one place.

JH: [00:41:33] Is, um, yeah, I mean, it's also nice to like the story right behind that. If you hear the numbers a lot in these things of, you know, conversion went up this much or whatever, like the way you described that too, it's right. Like there's also people who got help that needed it, right. And they weren't getting it before.

Um, and so there's also nice to just like have that human angle to pair with quantitative, uh, lifts 


Joel: [00:41:51] Yeah. I think there's a hesitation or a misconception that what I do is like a dark art or like used car sales mini like. You know, we're trying to manipulate people into making decisions that aren't necessarily right for them. And that's honestly what kept me from working in this field for a long time because my first introduction to this field was, you know, like the, the stuff put out words like a forbidden neck pain cure, and it's some quack science or you know, things like that.

And. It was only through seeing the work of people doing this in a more corporate landscape that I realized like I don't have to be like, I don't have to sell my soul to do this. And so today, like Eugene Schwartz starts his book breakthrough advertising off by basically saying, copywriters don't manufacture to man.

No one can manufacture demand or desire. You can only channel it. You can only take desires that already exist and use those to bring people. Toward a product and you can use that for good or for evil. But what I like is that, you know, I don't take clients in, in areas that I don't feel good about, or if I feel like we're pulling the wool over people's eyes, my job is less about convincing people and more about showing them that, Hey, this actually is the ideal solution for you.

It's actually is a solution to the problem that you have and a good one at that. Because you know, I could write on every customer's website, every client's website like. Free, you know, we could slap down free or, and we get a, you know, a huge conversion rate, but we'd also get a whole bunch of ill fit prospects and people whose problems we aren't solving and whose lives aren't making better.

So I think, I don't see myself as a used car salesman or some manipulative, you know, persuasive shyster it's more about taking the desire that already exists and just helping people see that, yeah, this actually is the fit for you and the art and science of doing that relies on empathy. And relies on your ability to understand people and the words, the words is an important part, but it's almost secondary to that.

JH: [00:43:45] Hmm. So wait, so what were you doing before this?

Joel: [00:43:48] Yeah,

Erin: [00:43:48] Used car salesman

Joel: [00:43:49] yeah, yeah. No, I, um, so I, I did a business degree in entrepreneurship mostly because I liked being around people who were doing things instead of talking about things. But I had no clue coming out of university what I was going to do with my life. So I went out and I, I was, took a job as supposed to be for the summer, uh, selling the least sexy product in the world, industrial labeling machines.

And I thought. I was going to be like writing ads and that sort of thing, but when I got there, it was a whole lot of B2B telemarketing and I sucked at it. I was horrible at it. I took everything personally. I was like, I can't separate myself. Like when someone rejected the industrial labeler, it was like a rejection of me and like I was a terrible salesman, so I left.

That feeling like, Oh man, like I'm the one I'm going to do. Like entrepreneurs are supposed to be these great, you know, salesman and have this thick skin. And I feel like I've gotten neither of those things. So I came back home. And, uh, didn't know what I was going to do. But I had this summer yet. So I volunteered at a summer camp and I got a call while I was out there from a friend of mine who had gone to university with, who was in my major in entrepreneurship.

And he said, Hey man, I'm working for this small agency here in the city doing SEO. Would you be interested in applying? We're looking for more people. And my first question was, what the hell is SEO? Cause I, I didn't know it was a thing. He was like, well, you know, it's, it's basically helping companies rank better in Google, which I didn't even know was possible at the time.

It was like, Oh, all right, that sounds pretty cool. And then my second question was, do I have to cold call anybody? And he said, no. I'm like, great. I'm applying right now. So I applied to this agency and I got in and every job I've had since university was a job I didn't know existed until it was mine. So I was doing SEO and I always loved to write, but didn't see a career path in it.

And while I was at the agency, I started writing websites for people kind of through the lens of SEO. And then the Panda update happened in the penguin update happened, and all of a sudden the entire industry was. Looking for writers and communicators, and I thought, this is, this is my moment. This is my time to do what I really love, because I finally had a business context for it. so I, I left the agency doing SEO. I originally started writing, doing content and blog posts and new books and that sort of thing. And then when I was introduced to the work of Joanna, that's when I realized like, Oh. This conversion stuff. Not only might I actually be good at it cause I was still jaded from my whole, you know, trying to sell industrial labelers thing.

I'm like, I'm not a persuasive person. I'm not going to be good at that. It turns out I, I'm not half bad and I didn't have to sell my soul to do it. I didn't have to sell things I didn't believe in. I didn't have to trick people into buying stuff. And, and so I've landed in this role now that's just this.

Perfect combination of the creativity that I love, the analytics that I learned to love and the competitive factor that has always driven me. Um, you know, I love the prospect of trying to beat myself and beat a control in terms of like, you know, getting, getting the better result. I love that. It's so much trouble.

JH: [00:46:41] Awesome.

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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