To buy, customers need answers, and they need them now. Your customers’ path to purchase is strewn with questions. Here are 5 ways to use customers’ questions to create great content and to inform your content marketing strategy.
Like an iceberg, most of the meaning in a set of customer questions lies below the surface. You may be surprised by how much customer questions can reveal.
It’s crucial to hunt down and capture customers’ questions. Start with your sales and service people. Ask them to write down all the questions that customers are asking, for a couple of weeks. Try to capture the words of customers at various points in the buying and use journey.
Monitor LinkedIn groups where customers discuss pertinent topics. Read customer reviews, survey responses and Tweets. Learn which content customers crave most.
Go with your sales force on sales calls, especially when you can meet new customers or learn about new products and applications. Meet customers face to face at trade shows.
Phone up your customers. Probe a little, then listen, listen, listen. And write all of their questions down, word for word.
To get the most out of customer questions, process the questions 5 ways to discover hidden value:
1. Customer questions tell you which problems they’re worried about.
Listen closely for the emotions behind customers’ questions. Note their fears and concerns. What keeps them up at night? Pay rapt attention and make detailed notes.
Successful content marketing directly answers customers’ real questions, in real time, with a real awareness of the problems beneath the questions.
2. Customer questions teach you to speak customer.
Sellers and buyers often speak different languages. Make sure your content marketing speaks customer.
I learned this lesson while marketing filters to molten metal foundries. Our R&D team had worked for years on a brand-new filter for iron and steel, and they were deservedly proud of what it could do.
The new filters successfully removed more than 90% of inclusions (dirt) from molten steel. These filters were the first that could handle the huge thermal shock of molten steel at 2750°F without breaking. At the time, both of these were huge technical advantages competitors couldn’t match.
But our beta customers didn’t mention either of those features. Instead, customers were delighted by how much the new filters reduced their need to rework castings.
Once customers taught me to speak their language, the message was simple: foundries hate rework. Rework demands overtime, cuts into profits and risks delaying the delivery of finished products.
To them, cleaner metal (the benefit we were selling) was just a way to create to less rework (the benefit they wanted to buy).
Our successful product launch built on our customers’ exact words: “Stop reworking for a living.” To break through to customers, speak customer.
3. Customer questions suggest where they are in the buying journey.
That’s because customers ask different questions as they move through each step of the buying journey. Questions provide clues, especially in the case of high-dollar, long buying cycle B2B purchases.
In the first step of the buying journey, as customers begin to recognize a need, they ask:
— Do we have a problem?
— How serious is it?
— Do we need to change?
In the second step, when customers evaluate options, they ask:
— Which product or service offers the best performance?
— Which has a lower price?
— Who offers the best service?
In the third step, when customers resolve concerns and reduce a long list of vendors to a short list, they ask:
— Whose problems have you solved that are problems like mine?
— Where can I go see your product in action?
— Who are your customers I can talk to about this product?
Listen closely to customer questions to find out where they are in the buying process. Offer content that addresses questions during each buying stage. That enables you to figure out where customers are by which content they’re focusing on.
4. Customer questions tell you which role each person plays on a buying committee.
In high-dollar, long-cycle B2B purchases made by committees, each individual plays a distinct role. Their questions help you learn which role.
At a high level, the decision-maker has the authority to make the final call. On multi-million-dollar purchases, decision-makers grow super-cautious, since they’re wagering their careers or businesses on the right decision.
To help the decision-maker, a recommender gathers inputs, narrows the options, recommends the best choice and offers a detailed rationale.
Specialists who have input to the recommender and decision-maker often include people from purchasing, operations, compliance and environment. Each brings a separate agenda to the decision.
Great content marketing addresses all the individual needs by understanding their differences yet answering key questions consistently. Make it easier to address a large buying committee’s myriad needs by building a color-coded 1-page Message Map.
Through the entire sales process, great content marketing delivers one consistent message through all marketing and sales touch points – for as long as it takes to close the sale. A carefully considered B2B purchase may take months or years to decide, so use a message map to maintain perfect message consistency over time.
5. Customer questions point to answers your content must deliver.
Which ideas are you going to advance in your content marketing? At the end of the day, focus on answering your customers’ most important questions better. Be clear, be concise, be blunt.
As Cyrus Shepard of Moz says: “Focus on providing better answers for your audience: know that Google wants to have answers for its audience, not just a lot of information.”
When customers cut to the quick with a sharp question, note their exact words. Make your answers just as sharp and clear.
Many successful white papers lead with customers’ questions, served up verbatim, or with direct answers to such questions. For instance:
Q. A Kapost white paper: What’s the ROI of a Content Operation?
Q. An Eloqua white paper: How to Create Personas for Your BtoB Marketing Strategy
Q. A Content Marketing Institute white paper: Why White Papers Still Matter
Customer questions lead directly to ideas for long-form content. Collect all the customer questions you can.
To squeeze the most juice out of them, listen closely and process the questions 5 ways. Especially listen for surprises. Which customer question has surprised you the most?
As a marketing change agent, I consult with clients, lead content marketing workshops for the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and write the weekly Simplify Marketing blog.
With experience from Fortune 500 companies such as AT&T, RR Donnelley and Tellabs, I've been named:
- Content Marketer of the Year by the Content Marketing Institute.
- Best Marketer by BtoB magazine.
- A B-to-B CMO to watch by Fierce CMO.