How to acquire customer research that shapes your go-to-market strategy

Before you can hire a full-time marketer, you must first get to know your potential customer and what is going on in their life that will ultimately trigger them into using you.

If you can get to grips with the below areas you’ll be much more prepared when deciding what type of marketing resource you want:

  • Why would a customer subscribe to your product?
  • What triggers your customer to decide your product is the one?
  • Who else are you competing against?

I’m going to introduce you to three frameworks that’ll help you get answers to the above, but more importantly, show you how to apply this to marketing and what it can help you unlock and learn. This topic is something I created a resource on: How to talk to people and land your first customer.

Why would a customer subscribe to your product?

You may have heard a marketer refer to Jobs to Be Done (JTBD). In essence, this is something that helps you to understand what your customer is looking to achieve when ‘hiring’ your product.

A basic example: You don’t hire a hammer to pop a nail in the wall, you hire a hammer to hang a picture to make your room look nice. The hammer is helping you make your room appear attractive, perhaps sellable, or stylish because you want to impress others.

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The same goes with a tech product. You need to work out what your product can help your customer achieve.

The process:

You want to interview the right customers and ask questions such as, ‘what are you ultimately trying to achieve? ‘What’s the first thing you’ll do’ or ‘Have you tried to fix this problem yourself, and if so, which products have you cobbled together?’

There’s certainly a science to the questions to ask, but the emphasis needs to be on what they are trying to accomplish. Take note, this can be a lengthy process because you have to really dig into interviews, but the rewards are totally worth it.

How to apply it to your startup’s marketing:

It can help you with targeting your customer base. There’s a chance you may identify a few potential jobs people wish to achieve. Use the findings to identify the group that will pay the most to get the ‘job’ done the best. This may help to speed up the sales cycle or identify more lucrative customer opportunities.

What triggers your customer to decide your product is the one?

Whilst there are many frameworks out there to help you navigate this customer research piece, the effective ones are broadly based on the work of Moesta. He suggests there are six stages a customer will go through when buying something: first thought, passive looking, active looking, deciding, onboarding and ongoing use.

The process:

Your customers don’t really care about you and your brand. In fact, when they first started exploring a potential solution, you may have not even come up on the list. The aim of this work is to talk with customers to learn what they did and where they went to research alternatives during the purchase process.

People don’t buy things randomly, there are a number of forces at play that will move you further along the buying process. Your aim is to interview customers documentary-style to learn what process, website, influencer and motivation kicked in and where.

How to apply it to your startup’s marketing:

Once you’ve learned your customers’ trigger points, you’re in a better position to understand where to place your brand, content and product – so in essence, you’re building the blocks of your go-to-market strategy. You want to understand how your customer looks for and buys a product like yours, and make sure you’re there at the right time.

These interviews will give you an idea of what emotions, motivations and feelings a customer had. This is all useful information that can also help you with the creative in your advertising and the copy you use throughout the customer experience.

You can also use this to explore whether a sales-led or product-led strategy is best to pursue. Asking about the details of the sign-up process, and the questions they may have, and the complexities they need are details to consider.

Who else are you competing against?

There are three types of competitors: direct, indirect and replacements.

  • A direct competitor is a business that offers the same/similar product in the same category as the one you operate in.
  • An indirect competitor is a business that offers the same/similar product but in a different category.
  • The replacement competitor is a business that sells a different product, but it still (kind of) gets the job done.

The process:

Your aim is to collect information about who else is competing with your product. You can collect this information from the interviews you may have run with customers, but also from pop-up surveys and interactive tools.

First off, list the direct and indirect competitors you may have. You can find this from lost deals but also who else is competing or bidding for certain keywords in search engines. To best understand who may be a replacement competitor, you need to understand what your customers’ jobs to be done is.

There’s a great example that helps to highlight the application of this: take the online video tool, Zoom. A direct competitor of Zoom could be MS Teams, an indirect competitor could be video calling on your smartphone. And a replacement competitor could be a flight to meet that person, face to face.

How to apply it to your startup’s marketing:

If you’re an early-stage startup with no real idea of what customer acquisition channels to pursue – look at what your competitors are doing. It’ll give you an indication of the way potential customers buy.

Positioning. Once you learn who you are really competing against, and for which customer segment, you’ve got the chance to work on your positioning. What’s the one thing you do really well? How will you use this against your competitors? This informs everything from strategy to the words on your website, to the marketing activity you choose to get involved in (and not get involved in!)

What happens after you’ve collected this information?

Once you’ve got the answers you need from these three core areas, you’ll then need to create a Voice of Customer document. This is a document that will help you see the gap between customer expectations and what actually happens. This can help form the basis of your startup’s customer-led growth strategy — a strategic approach by the founders of Forget the Funnel.

You can run this process on your own, with a consultant who is versed in extracting the right unbiased information and your team. But the important thing is to act upon it.

These are just a handful of frameworks and theories out there designed to help you really get to understand people and move you one step closer to securing your first customer.

I’ve written further about startup customer validation processes and what can go wrong, as well as ways to really learn who your startup is competing against.

It’s a process you have to take part in regularly. That’s because the way a customer derives value from a product changes over time. Their circumstances, their job, their living arrangement, their lifestyle can change at any moment and lead them to reassess the products they subscribe to. This approach will help you know what’s coming next.