The Keys to Really Knowing What Makes Your Customers Tick: Ryan Gibson


Sadly, most marketers don’t really know their customers.

They have buyer personas and ideal customer profiles.

But these tools barely scratch the surface.

The only way to know your customers is to talk to them.

Yet many marketers don’t do it because:

- They claim to have no time

- They have bigger priorities

- They’re afraid doing hard work

- They don’t get why it matters

That’s not good enough.

Ryan Gibson not only believes in the value of talking to customers, but he pivoted his consulting business to focus on “customer investigations”.

It is insightful and often surprising, he says, what customers and prospects will tell you if you ask them questions.  

Welcome to marketing spark knowing yourcustomers inside out as the better. You know, your customers, he moresuccessful your marketing in sales effort, but truth be told many marketers, don'tknow their customers. Well, not. It means they're, making educated guessesrather than decision paced on insight and knowledge, and one of the keys to truly know inyour customers is simple talk to them. On the podcast today, I'm excited tohave Ryan Gibson founder at content, lift which does investigative customerinterviews, also known as customer research, welcome to marketings barkthanks for in for having before we get into it. I wanted to talkabout your career path and how you have evolved from being a fractional C mo ajob that I do to being focused on customer research. What triggered thechange in direction and did you have an epiphany or was it something thatevolved over time yeah? How far back do we go? You could go far back enough, but whendon't you give you the readers digest version yeah, that's a good version, soI I started in marketing at the beginningof my career work in food service BCE, and I had done a lot of market research. I worked as a director marketing and Iwas dog market research, customer researches, part of that role and Iloved it, and I was so brazen. I would even go into the line ups ofcompetitors and start pulling people. You know we have a chain in Canadacalled importance. I work for a competing coffee chain, so I just goand start talking to their customers in real time. I just need to understandwhy right like why them you know what was it about them? What was drivingtheir decisions- and I really enjoyed my time in that industry, but I sort of burned out a little bit and I made acareer change and I ended up taking broadcasting in college and I became atvier reporter at C B C here in Canada, and that wasamazing. It was a fantastic job and you know that really got me into storytelling communication, but also the interviewing side righthow to structure an interview, the psychology of a ewing people. How doyou get to an objective, especially if you're doing something that you'retrying to get to a certain point of the objective of the interview and also you know just having a fun time tellinghis stories right. So I did that for a few years I decided I want to go backand marketing worked for companies work for some nonprofit worked for some tech companies running marketing, but I lean more into the content and PR sideof things and Brannan side of things. I sort of had abandoned my researchbackground and when I left tech I was like well I'm going to be, I think, afractional marketer Fractional C mo and help companies out that way, and it wasfine for a while. But what happened I was. I just wasn'tfeeling a lot of the same love that I was for marketing. You know over thelast twenty years and then out of the blue. I got to call from an old callleague who said I remember I used to do customer research back in the day. Doyou do that still like yeah? I still do so. I work with on their clients. Wewent through that whole process. They loved it. I loved it. We did some more and then it startedgetting all these calls about wanting to people asking for the service andthat's when you twenty as rod in a pipoy. I tell you for the life of me. I never put the twotogether like wait, a second I used to do this. Then I needs to interviewpeople for a living. I really like it. I know I just do this, so I need youdown from being a fractional. I'm still doing that work, but now all I do iswhat I call investigative customer interviews and my whole goal is. I justwant to understand why? Because that's...

...really, if I just hear what I've justdescribed, that's all I've ever wanted to do just to understand. Why, like?WHY ARE PEOPLE MAKING DECISIONS? They are and that's to me just the most funpart. I hope he answers the question it does and was that what is that theReader's Digest version or yeah? That's the reders digest versionand there's a couple of okay, good things that I draw from your answer.One is that one of the things that consultants needto focus on and it seems counter intuitive- is the idea of focus themore you focus, the more successful you are in my case, the focus on BBCcompanies has been a really successful and effective move because iteliminates any ambivalence about. What do you do and who you serve? So I cantotally empathize with your direction and falling into a place where I guessfalling the wrong word, but getting to a place where you're doing what youlove, F, you're, doing the work that excites you and that you're passionateabout- and I think that's awesome I think, has a good point. I mean I thought that the broad aspect of my business beforeI niched into custom research was going to be the way to go, but I found I justthere was just too much for me to focus on and I couldn't really enjoy a lot ofit because it was how would say this is almost like. I was restarting everysingle time with every client, but now I have a really good framework that Ilike to follow and it's I get more out of the work because I've narrowed downon something that I really like. Does that make sense exactly and- and I haveI have my own methodologies and frameworks that I developed over thelast year- that really meant my business more efficient, shifting gearstowards knowing your customers on Linkin and I may be getting a skewedview of the world. There's a lot of conversation and many posts about thevalue of knowing your customers inside out. A lot of marketers are talking thetalk, but I wonder how many marketers walk the walk and the question to youwere. The questions would be. Do you think that marketers fail to talk totheir customers enough? Why is there so much focus on the importance of knowingyour customers and what does all the chatters say about the state ofmarketing and marketers yeah? So that's almost like threequestions right, the first one it is, I think you ask islike our people failing. I don't know if I is the word failing, but they'restruggling that you know when I, when I decided Iwas going to sort of pivot into this. You know I had been interviewingcustomers, my entire career, that was always my go to even when I was runningtechnology companies even want to work for non profits. My first step wasalways want to go talk to people that are the you know they're at the endgame of this, and they get our services a product. I want understand whatthey're saying when I talked when I a started talkingto VP's of marketing cos and other marketing leads the answers varied, but at the end ofthe day, we'd like to do more right, we're not doing enough or yeah we'renot doing it at all and when I've worked for Tech Company, I've workedwith tech companies for the last five years, and I'm not sure if this is whatyou're you've seen where I find that the conversationshappen is either in customer success, which is great sales or product, butmore around feature sets. You know how do we build the next thing within theproduct and that's great, you should do that where I find people reallystruggle. Maybe I just since I'm a marketer, this is what I've noticed isthey're, not really getting a good sense of why? Why are they choosingthis, and how did they actually even come to find us? You know and what wasthe logical thought process they went through and the emotional thoughtprocess they went through at the time. They had no idea, we existed and theyjust know they had something. They...

...maybe want to throw money at to solve aproblem and what was every step they took along the way to before theyactually closed the deal and bought our product. That's the part I like tounderstand, because that's where marketing lives right, how am Iinfluencing that person? Sorry? The question would be: I mean it's aproduct centric versus customer centric view of the world, and I guess what I'masking you is: What stopping marketers from talking tocustomers and prospects and getting that insect into their needs. Theirwants and, as you say, what are their motivations and triggers to actuallyconsider making a purchase, because when people buy a product or service,many of them are switching from one solution to the other and like you, I'mfascinated with that journey and why that happens. Yeah so I'll tell you what people havetold me one: is they don't have time right? Their prior priorities lay elsewhere,it's hard work. What I do is not an easy lift. It takes time and you haveto distill the qualitat of data. It's a lot easier to do. Surveys and MPsscores, and you know, go to your Cram and look atthe date of what's happened since they've know hit your website. That'seasy. It's a lot easier to get that prioritize and invest time. In thatother things, I don't, I think, people struggle with doing it. You know I I'mworking with a client now and I'm doing co interviews- and you know just mytactics of how I can extract things- are a little further along. I think,there's a whole host of reasons that people there's never one silver bullet.Reason of. Why Right? They just all see the struggle withthat part of it. When I think about your approach tocustomer reviews and the way that I look at customer interviews, thecontenait Ers as we were both journalists, I was a new star as right,a yeah. I was es paper journals for Fifteen Yearsso, asking questions ofpeople that you don't know or you've. Barely met seems very natural to me,the ability to ask them things that may seem uncomfortable or things thatyou're curious about to me is easy. It's just the way thatyou talk with people and maybe a lot of marketers. Don't have enough experienceasking hard questions or trying to get dig into the real answers. I guessmaybe that might be one of the biggest reasons and big monos barriers to entryto get in the insight the marketers need it's. When I was watching, I sawmark ro bar. She was at hub spot years ago. He was their chief revenue officer.I saw me to talk two years ago and one of his first hires he said was ajournalist and for that very reason is outlined. You know you have a certain set ofskills as a journalist that you, your whole role, is okay. I havean objective and a hypothesis I have to go and see whether that's true or false.I have to eliminate as much of my personal bias and sand cognitive biasesas I can, and that's not easy to do when you'reinside a company and you're feeling pressure to fill a pipe line, you'refeeling pressure to decrease churn or your feeling pressorto cross all new products, you're feeling pressure to hit growth metricsof a hundred percent, because you just raised a series, a or a series B, andyou have two quarters to hit right like going out and asking customers. How didyou feel about that e h? It doesn't often get prioritize, it's the otherthings that do. But what I find is you know. Let me take you through, like Ihad an interview yesterday with it's one of a client. One of my clients arein tech. It's a market place a product like, so it's a an apt, that'san assass tool and we talked to with one conversation with a client thatrecently bought, which is who I like to... to. I really like to talk peoplethat just converted not too much who are using the product because then thebuying journeys very fresh in their mind of all the things they did asfresh as it can be, and in that one conversation I was able to get. You know really deep content,educational content ideas. I was able to get some business development ideasbecause there were some. There was some ways that he talked about how he usedthe product from where he came from to where he is now that we weren'tthinking of before interesting. Those are that's a whole new type of companythat either I could cold out reach to, or I can talk about in I C- U D profile. In some of my content,I got copy ideas. There was one a few things that that person said I sentright away to the creative team because they can putads around it in real time and- and there was also influencers that theytalked about and one that I no idea existed. So I went right away to theiryout chanel like interesting, and then I said that to the performt person.Maybe we can. There is something to use here, because this person who bought USsaid they listen to this other influencer and were their words whereeveryone else is full of nonsense. But I really like this person, so I want to capitalize on it. Iwouldn't have known any of that if I had it and gone and had that forty fiveminute conversation in depth with that customer and that's just one, but ifyou repeat that over ten you'll see trends and patterns emerge, but allsorts of things that you can do, let's get into the needer of customerinterviews. First Question: How many customers should you interview and howoften and what type of customers should you be talking to the rule of thumbthat I've always seen myself? Another researchers talk about his eight to ten, because I think again, this is not afive minute conversation. This is you know, half an hour to four five minutesand you re paying a for time and you're just doing the data. So you want tofind a balance, there's a middle of the bilker there and the reason for that is, if you don't have too little it's notenough high enough of a sample size to many just be going over the same thingshe to ten seems to be sort of the sweet spot. If it's hard to get people on theline and for some products it is you know, especially if your early stage,you don't have a lot of customers. I think you can get away with five to sixI've done that before, but I think eight to ten and then who you shouldtalk to. I think it depends on your objective. So if I want really goodcase studies, if I really want to understand the impact I've had on their business economics-or I want understand- you know- I want a good good social proof. I want totalk to super fans because I can engage them for my content. What have you Iprobably want to talk to someone? That's been around for quite some time.If I really want to get a true sense of the current buying journey, I want totalk to someone that's just closed, because if I have a client, a customerhas been around for three years and I just talked to them now about theirbuying journey, a lot of change in that three years I mean the landscape movesso fast now that there could be things that are influencing your customers nowthat did not influence that customer from three years ago, but with the current customer. I willknow that Hey, I just joined a discord group three months ago and theymentioned your product. I just came straight to the demo. That's how stuffgets done now, so you need to sort of understand all the different wayspeople are coming to you. You don't have to be experts and leverage everysingle one, but I think you should have an understanding, so I would talk to. Iwould I think it depends on the objective to your question. What do youwant to get out of the interview and that's who you need to talk to here's atricky question? What about interviewing X, customers,people who have left you because they're no longer satisfied for avariety of reasons, or they found a different or better solution? That kindof insight strikes me as extremely valuable, but it's also a tricky goingback to someone who...

...departed, for whatever reason shouldyou talk to them is the first question and how should a company approach themin a way that doesn't seem defensive or why did you leave like you want to? Youwant to have the right approach for the right attitude when you approachsomebody who's, no longer a customer, I mean, I think, there's value there.Actually there are entire. There are companies that all they do is focus onwin back or close lost conversations. It's not where I live, but I can. I canunderstand how to do that. I think it's importantbecause you learn a lot of things. You learn one. Why was the experience out matchingwhat we want to give them? What did they have a perception of what theproduct could do that didn't map against what we actually deliveredright? Were they expecting something before they came to us and we didn't be,we were able to get that now, some of this product related, but some of hisexperience related when I talk to a lot of customers mark- and I don't usuallyhear a lot of issues with the product- it's usually how they treat me thesupport I get and whether it's off my problem or not, but to your point yeah you should, Ithink you should talk to them and then how do you approach it? You know,there's win backs and there's closes lost, so I think you can understand. Ifis this, a client that I can probably get back war is, is a client thatthey're gone for whatever reason. So if it's a win back, I think you theirtactics and tricks that I'm not fully up to speed on it, but I can get thatback but from a close lost. It's almost the same conversation for me and how Iapproach it is I'm not here to convince you to come back to us. I respect this.Is You made? What we want to understand is where we drop the ball, how we cando better for other customers or any things we need to improve on, and Iwould really love your insights and feedback and be so valuable. I'm justhoping I can take up twenty months your time and then I wish you the best ofluck in your career and thank you for you know, being our customers so long. I, like that's, how I wot yeah. It'svery it's a very positive approach. It's not defensive at all, and itreally is asking people for their inside and but surprisingly, when youtalk to people- and you ask them questions, they will tell you thingsthat you may have not known before here's another question very. It soundslike a straightforward question, but the answer probably has some nuancehere is: Who should talk to your customers whenI do consulting engagements? Usually what I insist upon is that I talk tothem independently. I don't want the head of marketing or the CO to be onthe call, because I feel the person's answers are going to be biased becausethey don't want to offend the company. They don't want to say things that mayseem out of turn or overly critical, but I'm wondering about your approach:Should the marketer be talking to customers directly or should it be?Somebody? Well else within this organization or somebody external or a combination ofall of the above? The answer always have. It depends,which is always a horrible answer, but it does depend because different partsof a company are going to want to have different goals and they talk to acustomer. So I think everyone, everyone should talk to customers, but if I'm incustomer success or I'm in sales, the context of how I want to talk to aperson and what I want to get out of that conversation is different. I mean,I see, user research teams talk to everybody. I've seen that before andit's incredible who they want to go talk to because they want to talk aboutthe psychology of design and sort of how people move through products. Sofor me I always think marketers should talk to their customers, especially forwhat they need to get done right because of what we talked about is thejourney doesn't just start at the website. It starts much farther along,but you're what you just said about bias yeah. I think if you want anobjective opinion, you want to try and eliminate as much bias as possible orhave customers feel like there's a safe space. I definitely think you shoulddtalk to e. have someone externally do... I I've had my clients, customerssay to me when I talk to them, because I dothings anonymously and I say: Well: You're, just customer seven, I'm goingto pull out your insights and it's going to go into a report. They won'tknow it's you. I've had them say to me. Oh that's great. I've never said thisbefore, but this and I think it's a fantastic way to doit, because you will get so much richer insight when someone feels they can befully honest about their experience or how they came to who else they talkedto it's. It's very it's it's very eye opening when you go to that process,but I think everyone should talk to customers, because if you're not, I think you're really doing yourself adisservice, because I guarantee your competitors, probably are here's another tricky question whathappened and I'm dealing with this personally with a client when a companyhas few or no customers, so nobody using the product? No one has gonethrough the customer journey and converted over time. No one isinteracted with the sales of marketing collateral and you're dealing with theblank slate. What's your approach to that kind of situation? That's a tough one, but there's waysaround that if you are creating something and you think it's going toget petit in the market against X, Y Z and you've put his position to so whenyou've done all your research and you've mapped out sort of where youthink the company is going to fit, go and talk to your competitors. Customers,if you can I've done that, you know. I foundpeople through link in face book. So, and so I told you used to do it when Iwas in my old days, is a walk into people'slines like hey right, wonder why you buy them. It sounds really brazen, butis actually people love to talk about this stuff? In my in my experience, andyou just approach it the same way that we talked about a close lost, I'm nottrying to sell you anything, I'm just really trying to understand theindustry, understand you and what do you care about? There's other ways too.I've sent sent out surveys if you can't get qualitative in information throughsurvey monkey for their paid audiences. There's a great site called the userinterviews which I'm a member of it and what they do is they create boards or the great customer groups,and you can find people in a certain space to go and interview right. So, ifI want to understand the buying journey of people in B Tob, I could probably find thosepeople, through maybe user interviews or other there's other companies aswell. I think winter, which is Pepe Aga's company. They do a lot of liketesting of messaging. I think he's starting to build user groups in thosedifferent spaces and verticals try and find those people. That's a, I think, areally interesting way to get at people who could use their product andunderstand how they buy, how they evaluate what's important to them andwhere they go to do all these things and how they research. If you don't,have anyone, that's come through your fun, your pipe line yet or your funnel.One final question: After you've interviewed customers x, customers, thecompetitions customers. How do you extract value and insight from all thisinformation like? How do you share that information with the organization sothat you can turn conversations into actionable items, because it's onething to know what your customers are thinking understand what their needsare problems, aspirations and all the insight that will raise your game froma marketing sales and product perspective. But what are the keys tomake in sure that that information is shared and pliver ated? So I'll tell you what my how I do it? Ilook at blocks of okay. What was the journey so there's always I fall a lotof the jobs, be done methodology, but an people aren't familiar. That's quitein Christenson. We created that innovation of framework quite a sometime ago now, but I look at it through a lens of marketing, as opposed toinnovation for new products, but they...

...were sort of hand in hand. So I look atokay. What was the first point of the pain and what was their thought processaround it? How did they move from passive searching for a product whichis you know, top of funnel type stuff or even now, prior to that? If we'relooking at the current landscape active search, so you know I'm I'm looking atthe comparisons between products and I need information to do that and howwould have fit into my business and now I've brought in people more people intothe deal. If there's a buying committee of brought in more people and then tothe user side of things and did it did it map against what I was expecting tohappen. So I sort of pull out insights out of the interviews to map there andthen what I'll do is for each segment of a company. So I have customersuccess at this development. I have marketing and subsets with the noseI'll take out all the insights that I think and all the trends and patternsin seen and merge and PLOP them in and say here is what you can maybe do nextcase in point. I'm working with actually marketing consulting agencyand.One of the things that's coming out is: they are really good at this, but they are not really good at thisand I'm hearing the not really good at this consistently and they're very goodat this consistently. So already, I'm like you might want to consider aboutreducing your service, offering we talked already about you, know nichingdown right in getting a gust, they're killing it here here, they're runningto that sort of that tration l trap of well, we need another revenue streamhere, maybe you're R. maybe you just need to try and increase the amount ofpeople you get in this pipeline for this course service. You do really wellright, and I wouldn't know that I wouldn't have seen that pattern emergehad. I had not talked to eight to ten people, but I'm also getting reallygood copy and camping ideas. The channels here people are finding themhow w how people are deciding that over them versus their competitors thatinfluences sales. So there's I take all these things. I put them to eachfunction of the business, and I say here is a possible next action for you,because to your point, yeah, it's easy to go and talk to people, but a lot ofwhat I get in discovery calls on with clients is well then what well. This is,then, what you know and the customers drive these things, it's so much easier,rather than just sitting in the board room. Looking at the White Board andtrying to figure out your next steps like you're doing that in you know, ina vacuum, your customers are really going to give you a good road map. Nowyou still need to have the intuition and the business acumen understand howto apply all that, but it just it. You know that the the veil gets lifted so to speak. Whenyou start going out and talking to customers hope that answers thequestion yeah it does. If anything, I hope that this conversation motivatesor inspires marketers to talk to their customers and talk to them on a regularbasis, because, like you, I see huge value in getting their insight and themore you talk to them, the more content, ideas that emerge, the more feedbackyou get about, what they like about the product and what they don't, and itreally sort of build strong relationships and helps turn customersinto evangelist and advocates, and I think that's a important thing. So,there's there's all kinds of reasons why you should talk to your customers,I just confused or puzzled by why marketers aren't doing it all the time.It's just a no brainert ing to do. You know I don't regreg them for that.I understand. Sometimes it's even just anxiety. You know picking up the phoneand talking to people, I think there's a hose reasons, but to what you said,all those great things and one of the things I've learned that was reallysurprising to me. Customers, love to have the go be as their opinion, andI've heard them say this in interviews you want like this is so great, I'm soimpressed that you were doing this. None of not of the other companies thatI buy from do this. I this makes me have so much morerespect for you, so just the fact that you're talking to them changes their perception of view justthe fact you're doing it. So if you can...

...just get into that muscle, exercisethat muscle starting to talk to them, imagine what you can do if it's becomesa regular part of your marketing and sales activities. Well, this has beengreat in Sirin. Where can people learn more about you and content, lift yeah?They can go to content left dot, io, I'm really active on Linkin. Just likeyou how he's happy to Pachow people there? I have a free list of questionsbroken down to the the areas that I just talked about, which is you know,first thought passive search, active search, some customer success, evenbranding questions. A conversation around brand identity is necessarilythe same as you know why people bought you sometimes they're similar. They cango there. They can download that they can email me reach men Linden, I'malways happy to chat, I'm just always up for that and just help people. Ilove this like this- is so much fun for me, so I just want to help people getbetter at it if they want to do it. Well, thanks for listening to anotherepisode of marketing spark, if you enjoyed the conversation, leave areview subscribe by, I tunes spot ify, Wer, favorite, podcast APP and shareViei you'd like to learn more about how I help me to be sauce. Companies is arational, smoor, tachic advisor and coach send an email to Martin at MarkeyPark. Do a.

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