Last updated 22 December, 2021.
Raise your hand if you instinctively experienced one or more of the following at the mention of customer research:
- Think that you need to pick up the phone, call a research company, and mentally prepare to go through stacks of tabular data.
- Reject the idea because…well, you know your customers well enough and how to find them.
- Groan at the thought of it because it brought up unpleasant feelings.
Before you also almost instinctively close this blog post, hear us out!
Customer research doesn't involve lab coats or big data. 🖖
The word ‘research’ connotes a large-scale, tedious investigation process of gathering data. This connotation is likely to come from the phrase ‘research and development’ recorded in 1923 for work on a large scale to drive innovation.
So if you think you need to seek out research companies, or 200 customers, to conduct customer research to get information, you’re not alone.
Etymologically, the word ‘research’ simply refers to the act of searching closely for a (ONE!) specific person or thing — let that sink in for a bit.
And pssst: If you’re interested in this topic, stay tuned for more (and subscribe to our Advance Insider newsletter to make sure you won't miss any future posts! 👇)
Has that sunk in yet? Let's talk a little more about customer research for b2b saas companies. 🤩
Here’s what customer research really is: It’s a conversation in which you have a clear goal(s) on a specific topic you need information on.
From a marketing standpoint, customer research is a conversation about understanding the proper motivation and values that your customers are experiencing from using your product. It also helps to identify your ideal, and not so ideal, customer segments.
- Here’s a step-by-step guide for better B2B SaaS customer research to help you carry out one. ✅
The best part? You only need to talk to six people to identify a pattern that will validate your assumptions about your customers. Sometimes, you may only need three customer interviews to show you the bigger picture.
Customer research eliminates the element of guessing
Let this sink in too. ☝️
If you have been trying to guess what appeals to your customers or why they leave you, then it’s time for customer research. If you have been basing your strategy on what you think your customers like, it’s also time for customer research.
Building a strategy based on wrong information is setting yourself up for failure. We don’t want that, do we? Any customer research is better than no customer research at all (because you don’t live in their heads and, therefore, can’t speak on their behalf).
Customer research is not just for marketing. It can be utilized throughout the entire company. For example:
- Sales teams will benefit from understanding why customers are buying from you, not your competitors — how to talk to customers at different lifecycle stages, build rapport, and eventually close more sales.
- Customer success teams can understand the pain point of the product and figure out ways to better serve the customers.
- Product teams have information that can help them develop a product that is sticky among their customers — the stickier the product, the longer the customer lifetime.
The only way to know all that? Talk to your customers about their experience.
10 example use cases for customer research findings in marketing 🤑
You can probably tell by now how much we love seeking information (all that make-informed-decision talk is real). That’s because customer research is not just about finding new customers. It’s about finding the right customers AND retaining your existing customers — it’s the basis of the big growth game plan.
Here are some of the discoveries our customers made from conducting customer research:
1. It was the “side” product that had more value. ✅
In this particular case of having multiple SaaS products, our customer discovered that their main product wasn’t generating as much revenue as they’d assumed.
After having spoken to their customers, we found that there was a larger ideal customer segment for one of their smaller products — one that was not given much attention but was generating the most leads out of and required the least outbound efforts.
- Result: Companies that were still using Excel sheets for their human resources management would need their software. Excel sheets are great for some tasks, but human resource management is not one of them. It was an overlooked pain point.
- The outcome from this? Our customer discovered a market fit for a product that had been disregarded. On top of that, we also created a content strategy that was targeted towards this specific customer segment to boost lead generation.
2. The “larger” customers weren’t our ideal customer segment. ✅
Customer research is greaaaat for customer segmentation. In this case, we partnered up with a time management SaaS company. Their biggest challenge was not knowing their best customer segment with the longest lifetime. Churn was becoming an increasingly concerning problem, and their customer success team was using a fair amount of time on customers who were churning.
Our research found that the churn rate was more significant among their larger customers because the product wasn’t meeting their needs.
In contrast, customers with a standard subscription package have a longer lifetime because it was exactly what they needed.
- Result: After narrowing down their Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) based on our research data, we were able to tailor our messaging to serve their existing ICP better — a huge step towards better retention and lesser churn.
3. Being in front of the right audience yields results, fast. ✅
Many of our customers find it challenging to nail down their ICP properly. Due to that, they often end up in front of the wrong audience — it’s like talking to a brick wall! You know how frustrating that is. Not to mention expensive too (oh hello, customer acquisitions costs 💸💸💸)!
We had narrowed down ICPs for many of our customers using our customer research framework. Based on the information we gathered, we were able to tailor our messaging according to their needs.
- Result: In one of our cases, we successfully helped our customer boost their online sales. Our customer research data gave us insights into the different needs and situations of other industries — knowledge that allowed us to deliver various successful experiments and tactics that generated results. 👇
4. Customers were buying for entirely different reasons than what we thought. ✅
In this case, we partnered up with a company specializing in water efficiency.
They’d initially thought that their value proposition lies in helping their customers be more cost-efficient by being water-efficient. But our customer research revealed that it was otherwise.
- Result: Their customers were buying from them because they were more concerned about sustainability, not cost-efficiency. This discovery led to some of the following outcomes, among others:
- A CRM tool to better nurture and quality leads.
- Content optimization and a new content strategy for their target industry.
- Approximately 15% monthly growth in organic traffic resulted in quality leads.
5. Time to enter a new market! Wait…they don’t want the same features?! ✅
Remember we mentioned that customer research is not just for marketing? This is one of those cases. Our customer was ready to enter a new market segment after successfully selling accounting software to enterprises in the past.
They assumed their new target customers would want the same thing or have the exact needs for product features as their existing customers. However, the findings from the customer research showed otherwise — their new target customers wanted something else.
- Result: We presented this data to our customer with the presence of the product team. While the team gained a clearer insight into features that matter most to their new target customers, they also needed to decide the best time to enter the market.
What would you do if you were standing at a crossroad like that?
- Option 1: Go ahead blindly, and hope for the best.
- Option 2: Find your way, and strategize with the information as your guide.
Even the most adventurous of us know never to wander into the wild without a map and a compass. As this was a very recent finding, we’re still in the midst of helping our customers decide the next feasible go-to-market actions — to develop desired features before the new target group market entry or to implement a new packaging or productization.
6. Pivot, pivot, pivot! ✅
It is only by talking to a customer, an actual person you want to sell to, that you’ll gain the contextual value of what they want and are willing to pay for. Having that knowledge is king!
In the case of helping a HR management SaaS customer reach their growth targets, we found out that many of their customers didn’t realize they needed a HR management software until a salesperson reached out to them.
It turns out, a company should already invest in a HR management software when they have 30 or more employees.
- Result: Instead of casting a wide net, we tailored their messaging to strengthen their positioning among companies with 30 or more employees but don’t yet have a HR management software.
7. “This is how our customers compare us to our competitors?!” 🆘
During customer research, you’ll gain an understanding of your customers’ buyer experience — the way they buy the product, how they make comparisons between service providers, and how they compare the brand, features, and pricing.
This is exceptionally so when you have a complex product. Any kind of friction such as difficulties in getting information is a risk of losing that customer. And you won’t know about it unless you talk to your customer.
- Result: We use insights and findings from customer research to help our customer strengthen their product marketing efforts and reduce friction for their customers.
8. “We didn’t make this up. This is what our customers are saying.” 🙆🏻♀️
The highlight of our customer research framework is that you get to truly understand your brand and tone of voice from your customer’s perspective. When you get to hear (firsthand!) your customers speak about the products in their own words and what kind of challenges they face, you’re golden. Why?
1) You no longer need to guess what kind of content to create when nurturing them.
2) You get endorsements and quotes you can use in your marketing game plan. Your customers are your brand ambassadors!
- Result: We utilized customer research findings in content creation. It’s as close to the customer as it gets. In one of our customer research interviews, several participants highlighted that they enjoyed how our customer communicated with them. It was personal and non-jargony as if talking to a co-worker. Based on that discovery, we modified our customer’s tone of voice.
9. “We had brand research. But we didn’t know our customers were facing these challenges until now!” 🆘
There are two types of customer research: qualitative and quantitative. In this particular case, there were still gaps of missing information despite having existing brand research.
Remember when we said ‘any customer research is better than no customer research at all’? This is it. Their existing research allowed us to identify themes that we then incorporated into our very own customer research framework.
- Result: The entire process brought their customers to the table and allowed our customer to see the challenges their users faced and the solutions they were searching for. The insights we gained from this research enabled us to communicate the product's competitive advantages to their audience better.
It was also an eye-opener for their product team. They gained a thorough understanding of how the team should develop the product and features that were particularly valuable to their target customer segment.
10. “We actually know what our customers need now.” 🙆🏻♀️
You know how frustrating it is when you don’t get to say what you want to say, and you don’t feel heard. Customers are the same. And their breakup with you comes in the form of the dreaded churn. Throughout our journey with customer research, we've learned that they appreciate being heard!
- Result: In the above case (#9), we were able to capture their customers’ pain points which we used to build a content strategy that focused on nurturing their existing customers.
A piece of advice for marketers? Talk to your customers.
Customer research really isn’t as daunting as it sounds. Five things about customer research to take away from this piece:
1️⃣ It is not only about finding new customers. It’s about finding the right customers AND retaining your existing ones. Listening to your customers helps you serve them better.
2️⃣ You get to be in front of the right audience so that you won’t be talking to a brick wall.
3️⃣ You eliminate the element of guessing. You no longer need to take a shot in the dark. Yes, you CAN and should make informed decisions.
4️⃣ It’s the basis of your strategy, game plan, and secret sauce to becoming your customer’s favorite vendor.
5️⃣ You don’t need to talk to 200 customers to find the answer. You can if you want to. But talking to six customers is enough to give you the information you’re looking for.
As to when’s the best time to do customer research? In most cases, customer research is needed when:
- You have missing pieces of information, and you don’t have anything to work with anymore.
- You plan to enter a new market or make changes to your products.
- It’s been several years since the last customer research.
If you find yourself trying to figure out your next steps towards growth and don’t have an immediate answer to that, then the answer is: It’s time for customer research.
Want to learn more on how customer research can help B2B SaaS companies grow to their potential? Check out this podcast! 👇