5 business-critical questions to ask customers when your product isn’t selling

August 22, 2018 by Louis Grenier

What do you do when your product isn’t selling as much as expected and the financial pressure is mounting?

I spoke with two business leaders who saw this happen: Brian Dean (founder of Backlinko) and Sarah Doody (author of UX Notebook). They bounced back by reaching out to the only people who could help them figure out what to do: their existing customers.

Surveying existing customers helps you get a genuine feel for who your target audience really is and what they need from you. These people have already bought your product/service, and therefore are the type of people you want to get more of.

There’s so much noise when you interview all your audience members since many are unlikely to buy. You want to talk to the tiny minority who did.

Brian Dean - questions to ask customers when product is not selling
~ Brian Dean, founder of Backlinko

The 5 business-critical questions to ask your customers:

  1. Who are you and what do you do?
  2. What does your day look like?
  3. What made you buy the product? What challenges are you trying to solve?
  4. What did you like most about the product? What did you dislike the most?
  5. What nearly stopped you from buying?
  6. Bonus question

 

Question #1: Who are you and what do you do?

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It might sound like too basic a question to start with, but this one is crucial if you want to truly understand who your most profitable customers are. We’re talking things like job titles, responsibilities, level of expertise and knowledge, purchasing power, etc.

Sometimes it’s as simple as this: there isn’t a problem with your product. The problem is you’re talking to the wrong audience. Take Brian Dean for example. He developed and marketed an $1,000 Search Engine Optimization (SEO) course to a beginner crowd, while his real customers were SEO professionals who wanted to scale their businesses and/or take their SEO efforts to the next level.

Basically, I found out that messaging on my course was all wrong, completely wrong. [I was saying] SEO is hard, it's confusing, this can bring clarity; what these customers were telling me was that SEO is not hard, they're good at SEO, what they need is help to get to the next level, or to scale what they're already doing which is completely different than what I was saying.

What these people were telling me was, “When I bought your course, I already knew SEO. That's how I had $1000 to buy your course, I already knew this stuff, I just needed help getting better with the results that I'm already getting, or getting a team to execute your blueprint rather than me developing it from scratch.” When I saw that I was like, man, I wish I knew this a long time ago. I was so surprised.

Brian Dean - questions to ask customers when product is not selling
~ Brian Dean, founder of Backlinko

Question #2: What does your day look like?

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Once you know a bit more about your customers, this question helps you put yourself more firmly in their shoes. When you ask ‘what does your day look like?,’ what you’re really asking is: where does my product/service fit into your life?

You use this question to find out what your customers do on a daily basis, what processes they follow, what tools they use—so you can understand where there is (or isn’t) space for your product/service. Brian used it to learn how his customers use SEO:

[I ask] “What does your day look like when you're doing this stuff?” My thing was SEO, and these people were either doing SEO full-time, as an agency, or part-time: but what does it actually do on a daily basis? Get into their head a little bit on their tasks, like when they do SEO, what does that look like? Is it keyword research? Are they writing a lot of content? Are they managing a team that’s doing all this stuff and they're being the conductor of the orchestra? What's going on here?

Brian Dean - questions to ask customers when product is not selling
~ Brian Dean, founder of Backlinko

Question #3: What made you buy our product? What challenges were you trying to solve?

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This one helps you uncover the real reason(s) customers are buying your product; their response(s) will tell how to craft your messaging and improve your product accordingly.

At some point in her career, Sarah Doody lost a $5,000/month client, which is a significant blow for any freelancer. In the aftermath, she decided to leverage her expertise by delivering paid training to UX designers, and her initial idea blossomed into a full-fledged course. As people started to sign up, she wanted to understand what exactly had led them to her—so she asked them.

Questions I like to ask after a workshop I run or a class like this, one of them is: “before taking this course, the biggest challenges I faced were __________,” or “the thing that was holding me back was ___________.

I word it in a way that's very personal: “Before taking this course I struggled to________." And then just by asking it in that state, it gets them to respond I think in a more human way and then I ask, "After taking this course, ____________" and let them fill in the blanks.

Sarah Doody - questions to ask customers when product is not selling
~ Sarah Doody, author of UX Notebook

Question #4: What did you like most about the product? What did you dislike the most?

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These questions are vital for product development, and the more honest the feedback, the better. Thorough answers will help you understand what works and doesn’t, so you can improve the experience for your customers; in turn, this knowledge will help you create promoters who will keep recommending your product/service to their friends and colleagues.

I always try and evaluate the materials and the content [of the course], so [I ask] something or along the lines of "The module that was most beneficial was ________" or "The module I learned the most from _________" or, "The module where I wish you had spent more time________". Just to give me a sense of what areas might need a little more coverage.

Sarah Doody - questions to ask customers when product is not selling
~ Sarah Doody, author of UX Notebook

Question #5: What nearly stopped you from buying?

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Ok, this one doesn’t come from Sarah or Brian, but it’s still an important question to ask when your business is in trouble.

It’s extremely powerful to understand what your customers had in mind—their fears, their concerns, their objections—after they went through the full experience, rather than trying to infer this information from random visitors on your website who might not fit your buyer persona or who might not have wanted to buy in the first place.

There are dozens of points in a buyer’s journey where they may be tempted to back out. Maybe they are afraid of wasting their money, or the order form was confusing, or the messaging rubbed them the wrong way—nevertheless, they made it through. By asking customers to identify any point at which they had second thoughts, you’ll be able to uncover the fears and concerns that linger in the minds of other potential buyers.

Bonus question: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

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This is perhaps my favorite question of all.

In my experience, people tend to wait until the end of the conversation (or the survey) to open up about an issue that’s been bugging them, or something that they love about your company or product. This usually leads to some very interesting insights.

Sarah agrees:

And then I always have a last question which is just open-ended: “Is there anything else you would like to tell me?” And sometimes those are where you get four paragraphs long of this amazing content that you would never have got if it was just a Net Promoter Score [survey] or something like that.

Sarah Doody - questions to ask customers when product is not selling
~ Sarah Doody, author of UX Notebook

Here’s a pro tip from us at Hotjar: encourage people to be 100% honest. As in, really spell out that they should be honest, and that you will love their feedback. This question is great because it gives your customers the chance to discuss any thoughts they have about your company or product that they haven’t yet expressed. Ask the question, encourage them to speak from the heart, and just listen.

Final tips: asking the questions

When your product isn’t selling, time is of the essence. You don’t need to go overboard and send a massive survey with these questions to everyone who ever bought from you—it’s enough to start really small, with 3-4 customers. You won’t get overwhelmed, and you will get enough insight to make a bunch of changes and forge ahead.

And yes: it might feel weird to contact people or even have a Skype/Hangout call with a complete stranger—but some customers might even feel flattered that you want to hear from them. And you really need their help.

Go for it.

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Louis Grenier

Content Lead at Hotjar - Louis is a major marketing geek who believes that good marketing starts with understanding people (and not tricking them).

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