For a long time in our early days, Groove was really bad at learning from our customers.
In one of our first surveys, we asked mostly multiple-choice questions.
We assumed that the best way to get value from a survey would be to use multiple-choice questions, gather enough responses to make our results statistically valid and then easily sort the responses.
And so we asked questions like:
Unfortunately, the answers were less than helpful. We assumed that we knew what our customers felt, and so we boxed them into our preconceived notions.
The responses were all over the board, and they never told us anything meaningful that we could act on to change our business.
That is, until we started experimenting with open-ended surveys.
We were hesitant at first; open-ended questions make for messier surveys and more work. How would we easily parse the responses?
As it turns out, it was a little bit harder, but the results were massively more useful and the insights we gleaned were a huge part of what let us reposition our product and go from $30,000 to more than $100,000 in monthly recurring revenue.
- Open-ended questions don’t force your customers into your assumptions. You’ll finally hear what they really think, rather than which of your views they most agree with.
- Open-ended questions are a goldmine for landing page copy. We already know that in copywriting, we should be using the words that our customers use. What better way to come up with those words than by collecting hundreds of examples directly from your customers?
- Open-ended questions can still be useful with smaller sample sizes. You don’t need to collect thousands of responses. Because of how rich and insight-packed they are, even 40 or 50 responses to thoughtful, strategically crafted questions can give you big, business-changing results.
Now that’s not to say that multiple-choice questions are necessarily bad. In fact, they can be very useful in the right circumstances.
For example, when you’re collecting customer feedback on your product, multiple-choice questions can help focus your customers on the the parts of your product you’re most interested in testing.
But in the initial stages of collecting information on emotional insights like your customers’ needs, hopes, goals, fears and dreams, we’ve found that open-ended questions work much better.
We’ve spent years honing our customer development survey questions, and below I’ll share the ones that we’ve found most useful.
1. Tell me about your experiences with [X]
In this question (and in the next one), “[X]” refers to the function that you want to help your customers perform.
For example, for Groove, [X] is “managing customer support emails.”
For Unbounce, it might be “creating and testing landing pages.”
This question allows the customer to walk you through their thought process in their own words, helping you spot the key terms they use to convey their feelings about it. You’ll be able to capture their tone and sentiment (Is it generally positive? Or filled with seething hatred?), as well as other elements you might miss with multiple choice responses.
Responses to this question have helped us uncover some insights that were completely missing before. For example, we learned that collaboration was just as important, if not more important, to our customers than productivity (the original “big benefit” of Groove). That insight allowed us to address that need in our product and copy:
The more we addressed collaboration in various channels — our site and landing pages, our onboarding flow, our support emails — the more engagement we saw.
2. What’s the biggest problem for you with [X]?
Businesses are built by solving your customers’ problems. The better you understand their problems, the more effectively you can help to solve them.
And asking open-ended questions about problems lets you get super-specific in your copy.
For example, when Laura Roeder was building the landing page for her Social Brilliant product which helps small business owners with social media marketing, she could have simply assumed that her customers thought that “social media is hard and confusing.”
Instead, she dug deep, talked with her audience, asked open-ended questions and extracted the precise language they used to describe their problem.
Check out the excerpt below from her landing page – how much more compelling does this sound than the generic approach?
3. What are your biggest frustrations with problem [X]?
Now let’s further break down the customer’s “big problem” into individual frustrations.
The responses to the “what are your biggest frustrations?” question will help you understand your audience’s motivation for buying your product:
- Are they spending too much time on it?
- Are they spending too much money on it?
- What aspects of their current solution suck the most?
Don’t assume. Let them tell you.
Why do you think Amazon, on one of their long Kindle product pages, starts with an image of a kid next to copy about how much more drop-resistant the Kindle is than the iPad mini?
It’s not an accident. Amazon knows that a big frustration of the audience for this page — parents — is how easy it is for an expensive tablet to get broken in a household full of kids. The iPad reviews are full of these concerns:
By understanding their customers’ frustrations, Amazon can address them in the copy on their product and landing pages.
And while you might not have access to thousands of reviews of your competitors’ products, you can achieve much of the same by asking the right open-ended questions.
4. How are you currently dealing with the problem?
How is your audience dealing with the problem in this exact moment?
Are they ignoring it?
Are they using some clunky, hobbled-together solution that they threw together themselves?
Are they paying for software they hate?
Great copy is relatable, and the only way to be relatable is to know what your audience relates to (duh). By digging into their status quo, you can write copy that they’ll connect with deeply.
Notice how HipChat, a team chat app, specifically calls out how many businesses still clumsily deal with team communication, “losing momentum with reply-to-all wars and buried email messages.”
Anyone who’s been bogged down in “reply-to-all wars” — myself included — will know exactly what HipChat is talking about here. It feels like the copy was written just for me.
Great copy paints a picture of where your customers are & how you’ll take them where they wanna…
5. What else have you already tried to solve the problem? What else are you thinking about trying?
If the problem you’re solving is important enough, then you’re probably not going to be the first solution your customer has tried.
And in fact, often the biggest objection that your customers have — at least in our experience — will be some variation of “but nothing else has worked for me, why would this be any different?”
In order to address that objection, you need to learn exactly what those alternatives have been and what other alternatives they’re considering.
Once you have that insight, you can guide your prospect to the best decision.
Notice how on this ConversionXL landing page, one alternative — working with another agency — is dismantled, point by completely reasonable point.
Face it. Your customers are considering alternatives to doing business with you. Neglecting that is a mistake.
Help them work through the other options along with you and show them why you are the best choice.
6. What would solving that problem allow you to achieve?
You’ve learned where your audience is — now it’s time to learn where they want to be. After all, if you’re going to be the one taking them there, you have to sell them on the ride.
This question will help you learn exactly what your audience desires most so that you can help them achieve that. It’s what your “ultimate promise” will be.
On the Copyblogger Authority program landing page, they could have promised “we’ll teach you content marketing.” It would’ve been an easy and obvious lead.
But how many of their customers want to be “taught” content marketing? No, they’re not going to pay if the promise is simply to be taught. They want to become experts.
Notice the powerful messages here:
- “Become a content marketing expert” is an extraordinarily strong promise that speaks directly to the end result that the reader actually wants. Much stronger than “learn content marketing.”
- “Around a Dollar a Day” is a subtle way to make the program feel more affordable than saying “Around $30 a Month” or “$360 a Year.” Of course, you’re not actually paying a dollar per day; your credit card will be charged in monthly or annual intervals. The psychology behind this is the same reason that the “just pennies a day” messaging in charity campaigns is so effective.
- Even the description of the Authority community in the top right corner furthers the point that the page is about the customer (who wants to accelerate their skills and success) and not the company.
Writing landing pages with this type of sophisticated nuance is only possible if you’re asking your audience the right questions.
Why asking the right questions is so important
In the world of doing business online, we have a fascination — an obsession, even — with data. Collecting it, analyzing it, talking about how much of it we have.
And so we often make strategic decisions, like what kind of questions to ask our customers, based on how much data we get. This leads to big surveys full of closed-ended questions.
But when we’re talking about deeply understanding our customers, especially early on, we don’t want data. We want answers.
Answers give you the foundation for product development and landing page copy that resonates with your audience. Once you have that, you can go nuts collecting data and optimizing your conversion rates to grow your business.
But first, get the insight you need to build a strong foundation by asking the right questions to get the best answers.