I recently helped a startup in the HR tech space with their messaging.
In our strategy session, the team told me that “ease” was the core value of their product. They had built the platform to be easier to implement and use than legacy solutions. They even had a comparison chart to prove it.
It was hard for them to imagine customers valuing something other than ease. After all, that’s why they built the product in the first place!
I set out to understand what their customers thought. After speaking to 10 customers, none of them mentioned ease. All of them talked about how they used the product to build a work culture where people felt like they mattered. In their eyes, the value was emotional.
That’s why getting customers on the phone is a critical part of my messaging engagements. They see your product differently than you do, through the lens of their own personal experiences and needs. Your messaging needs to use that same lens, so it resonates with your target audience.
A phone conversation with your customers can reveal meaningful insights to help guide your messaging. Here are 4 of my favorite questions to ask customers.
1. What made you seek out a solution in the first place?
If your product is in a new category, this question is absolutely critical. Many companies rely too heavily on their category to convey the core value of their product. When in reality, your ideal customer doesn’t necessarily know your type of solution exists yet. They’ve either never heard of your category or only have a vague idea of what it is.
That’s why you need to connect the dots between your product and the pain they’re feeling. Because people recognize their problems and care about solving them.
Ask your customers to think back to when they were first looking for a solution. What problems were they trying to solve? What challenges were in their way? How did it impact their life? Talk to 10 customers and you should start to see a pattern of why people decided to change.
In your messaging, focus on addressing those top problems first to draw prospects into your story. This will infuse meaning into your category.
2. How were you solving the problem before using our solution?
This question helps you get a better handle on who your real competition is…and it’s not necessarily your direct competitors, or that hot new startup. I worked with a category creator who had a crazy-sophisticated platform for sales organizations. The solution it typically replaced? Post-It notes.
Many startups focus on their direct competitors and get into the weeds of how their product compares. The battlecards come out with all the bullet points of features, integrations, etc. But this is a narrow view of competition.
There are always alternatives to using your solution. Spreadsheets, Post-Its, janky workarounds…doing nothing. It’s important that your messaging acknowledges where your customer is at. What does their current solution look like? How is it falling short? What’s possible with a new approach?
Real stories from your customers will help you better understand where your prospects are coming from.
3. How would you describe our product to other people?
If I had a dollar for every company that struggled to describe their product in a clear and concise way, I’d be a very rich woman. Making complex technology easy to understand is a challenge — but it’s even harder to try and do it for your own company.
That’s because you have the “Curse of Knowledge.” You know so much about your technology that you assume others have more background knowledge of it than they really do. It’s a proven cognitive bias!
That’s why an outside perspective of your product is so valuable. One of the quickest ways to solve this is to ask your customers how they describe it to other people. They’re not burdened with deep expertise — they’ll naturally come up with a simple description. And it’ll be in their language, so it will resonate with other prospects.
Another fun question to ask customers is to come up with a metaphor for the product. I worked with a leading sales intelligence provider who wanted to position themselves as more than just a data provider. One of their customers told me they were like a treasure map, giving him the turn-by-turn directions to meet their growth goals.
That helped us see that our product was a unique growth tool and our messaging talked about giving teams direction towards their goals. It resonated because it came from customers.
4. How would you feel if you couldn’t use our product anymore?
A friend of mine was the VP of Sales for a well-known data analytics company. He sold some of the best software the world had ever seen. But he never started a pitch that way. Instead, he told stories about people.
One of his favorite stories was a time he got into an elevator with a customer. They got to talking and she said that before using the software, she used to work late extrapolating information from dense spreadsheets. She often missed her kids’ soccer and baseball games.
That all changed once she started using the software. Calculations that used to take hours now happened instantaneously.
She said: “Your software gave me my life back.”
This story led to many, many sales of the software. Because it conveyed value in a deeply human and relatable way. It changed her life!
Ask your best customers how they would feel if they suddenly couldn’t use your product anymore. This is one of my favorite questions because it digs deep into the emotional benefits of using your product, no matter how technical it is.
I’ve heard some pretty emotional responses about B2B SaaS products, like:
- “I’d seriously quit my job if I couldn’t use this anymore”
- “Our team would be screwed, we use this for everything”
- “I’d hate to go back to all that paperwork”
- “Work wouldn’t be as fun anymore”
This is stuff you can’t make up. Some quotes are so good, you could turn them into your homepage headline.
Keep talking to your customers
Messaging is never a one-and-done thing for growth-oriented businesses. As you add products and go for new markets, you must continually refine your message to convey what matters to people.
The more you involve your customers in that process, the more successful your messaging development will be. Mark time to check in with your customers every few months. Ask them questions. Listen to how they talk about their challenges. Take note of things you hear again and again.
Your customers will give you gold — you just have to ask.