How to Conduct Customer Research

If you don’t understand what your customers want and how they want it, it will be challenging for your business to achieve its goals. And the best way to get the insights you need to successfully connect and form relationships with your customers is to understand their motivations, fears, pain points, desires, and struggles. When you can understand the motivations behind their behavior, you can provide meaningful solutions to your customers’ problems. Conducting customer research can give you the answers you need to run a successful business. Keep reading to learn about your options for customer research, and for tips to get started today.

1. Define your approach 

Before you start conducting customer research, you need to understand your options, and we can break this down in multiple ways. Let’s start with primary versus secondary research.

Primary research involves insights and data you personally collect about your audience. Think conducting surveys, analyzing social media, asking a customer to hop on a call for a conversation, or emailing back and forth with a current or prospective customer.

Secondary research, on the other hand, utilizes information collected by somebody else, including government reports, third-party reports, online lists or databases, and analytics tools like free and paid keyword research websites.

Let’s break this down further. Your data, whether primary or secondary, can be quantitative or qualitative. Quantitative data involves numbers. Consider your email marketing service and how you can look at open rates, clickthrough rates, and bounce rates. Qualitative research gets to the why behind the numbers. Both give you valuable information and combining the two covers both angles of your customer research.

Ultimately, your juicier data will be qualitative, and this data can be a north star for your content strategy. It’s great to know information like a customer’s location, job title, age, and gender, but it’s golden to know why they wake up in the morning. But different types of research might make more sense for your business. Let’s talk about that.

2. Choose your research 

There are so many different types of research you can do, and your decision will hinge on the size of your business, the resources at your disposal, your team makeup, your prior experience, and your goals. Let’s walk through some of your options for conducting customer research so that you can make the best decision for your business.

Use Databases and Industry Research
One of the easiest ways to do customer research is to use preexisting databases and publicly available industry research. All this secondary research requires is an internet search, and if you want to, a small fee to pay for specific collections of data. Some examples of places to look for private research include: Pew, Gartner, Forrester. And if you want public research, check out U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor & Statistics.Every single year, there are large organizations that conduct research that all of us can benefit from. And some marketing-adjacent companies do the work of angels and compile said research in easy-to-read blogs. One caveat here is that national or global statistics may not reflect your industry or audience’s exact nature. Primary research fills that gap.

Create Your Own Survey
We know a thing or two about creating surveys to do customer research. Surveys involve identifying your audience, creating close-ended questions, and gaining valuable insights to guide your business. You can read all about it in our blog about survey best practices.

Talk to People, One-on-One
Whether you’re hosting a focus group, emailing back and forth with a customer, or talking to prospective customers over the phone, talking one-on-one can help you get to know the people behind the data. While numbers are great, and super useful, hearing your audience’s story as narrated by them will give you more information about the whys behind their choices and perspectives.

Leverage Social Media
Social media is essential for running a business in 2021, and while it’s a great way to connect with your audience, it can also be a fruitful source of research. Use poll features to ask what your audience cares about. Let them know you’re doing a survey—and what’s in it for them. Ask what kind of content they want more of. And observe. What do they like, what is underneath the surface of their comments.

Take it further than your profiles, and do hashtag searches. See what accounts people follow, what conversations they participate in, and what they care about.

3. Identify customers to talk to

Once you’ve decided it’s time to conduct customer research, and you’ve chosen your method, you need to find some customers to talk to. You can interview prospective customers or current customers, depending on your research goals, but either way, use your resources to leverage a sampling of your audience.

Many businesses have customer relationship management (CRM) software they can use to identify subsets of customers to speak with. You can use your email list, specifically segments or tags, to send out a survey or ask for feedback. Ask for participants through social media.

If you have a strong sales team, talk to them! They may know of a handful of customers to reach out to for insights. Moreover, the salespeople themselves may have insights to offer. Ask them if they notice trends. See if there are signs, behavioral or otherwise, that they notice in customers before they close a deal.

It helps to do a soft startup; don’t just send a survey out to your email list. Ask people if they would be willing to do a survey, participate in a focus group, or have a conversation. And you can sweeten the deal by including incentives.

If there’s something in it for your customers (or prospective customers), they will be more likely to participate. Offer a discount code for completing a survey. Send a thank-you note. Include a free downloadable resource for them once you talk. Show them that you value their time and will pay in kind. In order to connect with your customers through research, you need to be in the right mindset.

4. Get in the right mindset   

When you decide to conduct customer research, you need to get your game face on. And by game face, we mean the right mindset for talking to your customers on a deeper level. You’ll get high-quality answers to your questions when you approach your research with:

  • Curiosity—Seek to understand. Be an active listener and center the customer in your interactions.
  • Empathy—Try to put yourself in their shoes. Aim to connect with them on a human level.
  • Flexibility—If your customer says something intriguing, don’t be afraid to diverge from your list of questions. Natural conversations don’t come with blueprints.
  • An open-mind—You may have preconceived notions about your customers. Set those aside. Give them space to enlighten you.
  • A casual approach—People are more likely to conceal truths if they feel pressured or on the spot. Make your customer research enjoyable. Be friendly, be interested, be casual.

Once you’re in your customer research mindset, get ready to ask the right questions.

5. Ask great questions 

If you don’t understand how to ask the right questions, you could get answers that lead your business and content strategy in the wrong direction. When approaching qualitative customer research, aim to ask open-ended questions and let your customers fill in the blanks.

It’s a slightly different approach with surveys, as you want to ask close-ended questions to compile a bunch of quantitative data. But if you’re doing a focus group or one-on-one conversation, ask open-ended questions. If your questions are close-ended, they don’t leave much room for your customer to share their story. And when designing an open-ended question, make sure it’s not leading. Here’s an example:

Do: What challenges do you face with raising your children?

Don’t: Most parents find time management challenging. What do you think about that?

Leading questions give you the answers you want, not the answers you need. When you ask thoughtful, open-ended questions, you can watch your customer’s story unfold. You’ll hear about a problem they have. The stress and frustration they felt. How they looked high and low for a solution and came to your website, found you on social media, or heard about your company from a friend. You’ll know what stuck out to them—the language you used, the solutions you offered, the ease of purchasing, the social proof. You’ll find out what mattered most to them, and why they keep coming back.

Every aspect of your business should be a mirror for each part of your customer’s story. Remember, customer research is guided by the customer. Once you have your sometimes unexpected, but always valuable answers, it’s time to compile your insights.

6. Compile your insights

Okay so you did your research. Now what? It’s time to synthesize your research into an useful package. The format is up to you, and depends on what works best for your team, but you can make a slide deck, write a formal report, or host a webinar. Or all of the above! But don’t keep your valuable information to yourself. Analyze your insights, figure out what you’ve learned, and make a plan for action.

7. Evolve your business

The whole point of conducting customer research is to identify gaps in connection. Where are you falling short with your customers? When do you experience disconnection with them? Why do they decide not to use your services or purchase your goods? What stops them from clicking, adding to the cart, or buying from you again? What are their values and does your business share those values? These are vital questions to ask, and once you have the answers, you can create solutions to your own problems.

Have discussions with your team once you analyze your customer research. What insights do your team members have? What solutions can they come up with? Create a step-by-step plan for addressing your gaps in connection in meaningful ways. The magic of customer research is that it is a straightforward way to create business growth.