Content Creation

9 B2B Research Tips to Read Your Customer’s Minds

In this article

  • Loading...

In 1995, Sheena Iyengar, a professor of business from Columbia University, conducted a study about jam.

She set up a sample booth of Wilkin & Sons jams in a California gourmet market and switched from offering a selection of 24 jams to a group of 6 jams every few hours.

Each customer tasted (on average) 2 jam flavors regardless of the size of the assortment. And each of them received a coupon for $1 off of one jam.

Here’s where the study gets interesting…

Only 40% of customers stopped for the small assortment, while 60% paused for the large one.

BUT – a whopping 30% of people who sampled from the small assortment decided to buy, while only 3% of those who sampled from the larger selection purchased a jam.

According to Professor Iyengar, the study “raised the hypothesis that the presence of choice might be appealing as a theory. But in reality, people might find more and more choice to actually be debilitating.”

This is just one example of the many factors that influence the consumer’s decisions to buy (or not to buy).

And the more we delve into the phenomenon of consumer behavior, the more complex it gets.


Tip #1: Gather Emails For Insights

Tip #2: Get Consistent, Qualitative Feedback

Tip #3: Use Proper Messaging

Tip #4: Shore Up Website ‘Leaks’

Tip #5: Connect Search and Social

Tip #6: Avoid Generic Content

Tip #7: Avoid the Danger of “Meatball Sundaes”

Tip #8: Don’t Guess. React.  

Tip #9: Don’t be Afraid to Polarize Your Audience 


Make your life easier by “reducing choice” 
reducing choice icon

People living in urban areas encounter up to 5,000 ad messages per day (according to some reports). 5,000!

That’s. A. Lot. Of. Messages. Substantially more than consumers saw 10 – or even 20 years ago.

As demonstrated in the story above, too many choices can be daunting and intimidating to otherwise eager, interested consumers.

And considering the surplus of ad messaging being force fed into consumers’ eyes and ears these days, it’s more important than ever to find ways to distinguish your brand and set yourself apart from the competition.

Otherwise, you risk becoming lost in the crowd. Or worse – forgotten altogether.

So how do you make sure it’s your brand’s messaging that people remember the 4,999 other ads they see every day?

You find out what makes them tick.

People have been studying consumer behavior for decades. And while it isn’t an exact science, there are definitely patterns that emerge, indicating why any given consumer will choose one product, brand, or company over another.

We can learn more about these patterns (and how to uncover them) by taking a look into basic psychology behind consumer behavior.

What you can learn from 1950’s psychology…

Even back in the day when people had far less ad messaging infiltrating their daily lives, psychology was still a huge influencer of consumer behavior.

It mattered enough for people to start studying it – as early as the 1950’s – under the term motivation research.

What these early researchers learned was (and is) pretty interesting – and still applies to what we know about consumer behavior today.

It was then that researcher Martineau discovered that gas station cleanliness was the most important determinant of whether drivers would stop there, and that instant coffee was even consumed by coffee connoisseurs who were in a hurry.

These findings (and many others) showed a strong relationship between psychology and consumer behavior – a relationship that a committee convened by the American Marketing Association in 1950 recognized as being too powerful to ignore, stating that:

“Motivational research is so important to the development of the  applied science of marketing that a constant effort should be made to see that the truest insights of the  other social sciences be made available to marketing in a form in which they can be made to bear on marketing problems” (Woodward,. 1950).

But perhaps the most fundamental truth to motivation research that still heavily applies to consumer behavior today is summed up in this quote by Martineau,

“In an intelligent, normal person, virtually everything is motivated by subtle reference to the person’s self-ideal—the kind of character ideal he wants to become. …In this yearning for self-expression, we reach for products, for brands, for institutions which will be compatible with our schemes of what we are or want to be” (Martineau, 1957, pp. 45-46).

Here’s why understanding consumer behavior gets you better results 
understanding customer behavior

“Okay, I get it,” you may be thinking. “Psychology influences consumer behavior. But what does that mean exactly?”

It means that (most of the time for longer sales processes) there are real, clear-cut reasons for why people make the choices they do. And the more brands can learn and understand about these reasons, the better they can market (and sell) to their target audience.

Trying to take into account all of the factors that motivate consumers to buy can be overwhelming. But at the heart of it all, consumers today are no different than they were back in the 1950’s.

They still want to be a part of something.

They have visions, goals, and aspirations of who they want to become.

They’re drawn to brands that bring them closer to those ideals. And they have MUCH better access to open information (so you can no longer bullshit them).

For this reason, it’s vital to understand who your customers are, where they’re at in the buying cycle, and what their “next step” is. Once you have this information, then you can create and shape the entire online — from promotional messaging to how they navigate and interact with your website to find things.

Once you have this information, then you can create and shape the entire customer experience online — from promotional messaging to how they navigate and interact with your website to find things.

And you start to make insightful, informed decisions about how a website should look, act, feel and function.

This small stuff is the extra effort that creates the difference between another failed redesign or finding a way to thrive in today’s super-saturated market.

In the next installment of this series, we’re going to tackle practical ways to apply this information about your target audience in order to benefit your business (and bottom line).

Six simple customer research tools to improve your website 
research tools to improve your website

If you don’t know everything about your customers (like their roles, their characteristics, and their personalities), then your business will struggle, and there’s no amount of promotional marketing or advertising tricks that will save you.

We recently discussed why customer research matters for marketing.

And then we uncovered the ways in which psychology is (and always has been) impacting the sales cycle.

In the words of 1950’s researcher Martineau,

“In an intelligent, normal person, virtually everything is motivated by subtle reference to the person’s self-ideal—the kind of character ideal he wants to become. …In this yearning for self-expression, we reach for products, for brands, for institutions which will be compatible with our schemes of what we are or want to be” (Martineau, 1957, pp. 45-46).

With this in mind, you can gather information that will tell you more about your customers’ wants and desires. And once that’s pretty well dialed-in, THEN you can begin to successfully market your products/services to these individuals.

The next 6 customer research tools will help you drastically improve your website and marketing results.

Tip #1: Gather emails for insights

Despite the popularity of social media, statistically, email marketing is still the best way to reach people (and ultimately get them to buy).

Because if someone is willing to give you their email address, they’re probably either already a customer or about to become one.

We spend so much time and money on acquiring NEW people, but many times we neglect to foster the connection you already have with your existing ones.

Focus on what you already know about these people based on your past interactions and further the relationship accordingly.

For example, mine your own email database for new insights based on what these individuals like, love, or hate.

Once you do, you’ll be amazed at how powerful the simple act of gathering an email address will be in the long run.

Example: HubSpot


Hubspot eample

(Image Source)

Email marketing data on it’s own is only slightly helpful.

But if you start to combine it with a rich profile of WHO the customer is, and WHAT they’re looking for, then you can begin to glean incredible insight.

Marketing automation software, like HubSpot, can help you take the raw data further and turn it into something more actionable that can guide your next promotional moves.

Tip #2: Get consistent, qualitative feedback

Once people are better acquainted with your company, you can begin running short and informal surveys on a fairly frequent basis.

But let’s be honest – you’re probably not going to get a number of responses you’re hoping for.

No one likes filling out surveys.

Most of them are too long, boring, and focused on things that the consumer couldn’t care less about.

So instead of asking questions that directly relate to your brand, focus on subjects that your customers actually care about.

For example, you might want to know how well your service offerings are matching up with your customers’ needs. Instead of asking, “On a scale of 1 – 10, how would you rate the variety of our service offerings?”

You should instead ask questions like, “What are your business goals and objectives for the next year? Why haven’t you reached those goals already?”

From there, it’s up to you to figure out how to connect those dots.

Example: Qualaroo

qualaroo survey example

(Image Source)

Qualaroo is a simple tool that prompts visitors to answer a relevant question while looking at a specific page.

You can also use it to tailor questions based on that visitor’s individual history.

Like with HubSpot above, whenever you can ask the right question, to the right person, at the right time, your performance will skyrocket.

Qualaroo also offers sophisticated branching logic to gather information in the least obtrusive way possible.

Tip #3: Use proper messaging

Once you have a pretty good idea of who your customers are and what they want, focus on creating promotional messages that will appeal to them.

That doesn’t mean just talking about your products or brand.

By developing compelling, “unbranded” content that focuses on developing a need (and demonstrating how it can be fulfilled), consumers will be far more likely to find you earlier in the buying cycle (before they start price shopping).

One of the best frameworks we use is the Problem, Agitate, Solution formula.

Every blog post, Twitter update, or advertisement needs to start with (a) identifying the problem or root cause, then (b) explaining various pain points and symptoms of those problems, while finally (c) providing a simple solution for people to take action.

We start with focusing on the problem because that’s what truly resonates with people and gets their attention.

And many times, we don’t even mention the brand as the “Solution”, because the way it’s positioned makes it obvious.

Example: Ubersuggest


Type in a basic, open-ended phrase into Ubersuggest and it will provide hundreds of related topic ideas to choose from.

Take the exact words or phrasing from your customers to see what other pain points or symptoms might be relevant.

Or you can use your own hypotheses and quickly validate which areas of interest have the most demand or “need awareness” from the customer’s point of view.

Tip #4: Shore up website ‘leaks’

95% of the people who land on your website will leave within only a few seconds, never to return again.

The majority of people “bounce” (or leave your site quickly) because your site doesn’t match their expectations.

This decision (usually made in less than a minute) is often based on things that may seem superficial or inconsequential.

What’s also interesting, is that companies and prospects look at a website from completely different angles.

Companies tend to obsess over things like color schemes, images, etc. While prospects are often more concerned with form and function.

With the right information, you can create a site that jives well with the interests and personality of your target audience.

And when every aspect of your site corresponds to what you know about them, a substantially greater number of people will stick around long enough to give you a chance.

The best advice?

Observe how people are using your site, and then mimic their behavior to uncover issues.

Then test, test, test.

Tool Example: CrazyEgg

(Image Source)

CrazyEgg is a simple tool that can help you figure out how people are interacting with your web pages.

For example, you can view a Scrollmap to see if people are consuming all of the content on a page. This can help you figure out if you’re providing enough information for people on a particular topic, or if you should make it shorter and more to-the-point.

Their heatmap feature will also help you to see how people are interacting with different elements of your site, and if there is anything causing confusion or distracting them from the ultimate goal.

Tip #5: Connect search + social

No matter what your business is, there’s a social media network that it will fit into perfectly.

But here’s the thing… forget networks like Facebook and Twitter for a second, and broaden your horizons to other “social” communities that have a HUGE impact on whether people buy from you or not. (We like to call these influential, 3rd party websites and marketplaces “satellites”.)

For example, TripAdvisor for hotels or Yelp for local businesses.

While Twitter and Facebook are great for new brand awareness or retention, these other sites will have a MUCH bigger impact on your bottom line.

Because people use these things specifically to evaluate alternatives directly before purchasing.

One of the best ways to use social media to influence sales is to optimize your presence on these influential satellites to improve (a) visibility, (b) discoverability and (c) integration. Not sure how? Start here and here

Example: Open Site Explorer

moz backlink research tool

Open Site Explorer provides link data for websites (i.e. people linking to your website and individual web pages).

You can use it to quickly identify the top referring websites (and specifically, how they’re referring traffic to you). Or you can also use it to “spy” on your competitors and see which websites are the most important to their success.

Then you can reverse engineer what they’re doing and come up with ways to combine tactics to benchmark and eventually outperform.

Tip #6. Avoid generic

Websites (and marketing in general) suffer when they’re too generic, vague, and vanilla.

The best results come when you’re SPECIFICALLY targeting customer personas with elements that appeal directly to their wants, needs, desires, and fears.

Take advantage of the plethora of simple tools available to help you gather the necessary insight.

So then all you’ll have to focus on is taking action.

Customer Research: How to #FAIL-proof your online marketing research 
customer research insight

Last week I wanted to use the latin expression “et al.” in a client report.

However I, after all, don’t speak latin.

So before sending it over, I decided to double check both usage and spelling to be 100% sure it was going to be used properly.

After pulling up the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, I found comments too “R-Rated” to share.


Nice, value-adding comments.

I bet adding social comments sounded like a good, “trendy” idea in some stodgy boardroom.

But now Merriam Webster’s complete lack of forethought comes back to haunt them, offend readers, and ruin an already-questionable user experience.

The best part? This is completely avoidable. It should have never happened.

Tip #7. Avoid the danger of “meatball sundaes”

Waaaaaaaay back in December of 2007, Seth Godin published a book called Meatball Sundae to describe how well-intentioned organizations are their own worst enemies when it comes to new marketing tools and tactics.

The premise explains how in the face of declining or eroding the effectiveness of “old marketing” promotional methods, companies are obviously racing to embrace new forms of promotion and communication that their customers and clients have long ago adopted.

The trouble comes about when these said companies make poor decisions — largely due to an “old marketing mindset” — without a proper strategy and framework guiding their tactical choices.

In effect, they chase trends and do some things without truly thinking through the problem and having proper objectives.

This is one of the most common ways companies kill themselves in the long run.

But in my experience, mistakes like these mostly come down to not understanding exactly who they’re trying to reach.

Years ago, GE Capital had to pay “$225 million in relief to consumers harmed by illegal and discriminatory credit card practices”.

Wait a second… a finance company defrauding and manipulating people for their own personal greed?

Say it ain’t so!

However, that’s not the main point in this case.

No, the part that caught my eye was this:

GE Capital did not extend these offers to any customer who indicated that they preferred to communicate in Spanish or had a mailing address in Puerto Rico, even if the customer met the promotion’s qualifications.

Obviously, any form of discrimination is absurd and deplorable in this day and age.


If we look at this through a marketing lens (and ignore the ugly discriminatory side of this issue), then we can make an interesting, albeit controversial, observation.

Should race influence your promotional, marketing and sales decisions?


Tip #8. Don’t guess. React.

The biggest reason companies — likeMerriam-Webster — fail in marketing is because they don’t know who their customer is.

And that’s why Meatball Sundaes are still happening YEARS after Seth originally popularized the issue.

Who your customer is, and why they buy, should influence what you do to reach them.

Not trends. And not HiPPO’s.

For example, should you use a pop-up on your website to increase email subscribers?

Depends… are your visitors highly educated? If so, then those types of tactics typically won’t work.

How many times should you tweet?

What kind of stuff should you tweet?

Should you even be on Twitter at all?

Depends… Are your customer’s there? Are they young, urban, early adopters?

Everything in marketing “depends”. It’s both an art, and a science (an imperfect one at that).

The success of every tactical idea depends on the context surrounding the initial hypothesis, the proposed timing, and of course, the execution.

But most importantly, it depends on who your customer is.

General demographic information will provide a good overview of who you’re trying to reach.

You’ll want to master the basics like age, race, education, and family profiles of your top customer segments or personas like the back of your hand.

These essentials will help you figure out their peer groups, where they hang out and how they’re influenced.

Which in turn, will help you identify appropriate promotional channels like specific media blogs to target or which advertising mediums to invest.

But once you have the basics covered, you’ll want to begin figuring out exactly why they do, or don’t, buy from you.

The driving reasons behind their motivations and behaviors.

The answers to all of your problems are literally staring you in the face. But companies can’t get out of their own way because they HEAR customers and clients talk, but don’t LISTEN to what they’re truly saying.

There’s one simple, effective way to learn more about who your customers are and understand what motivates them to purchase.

Ask them.

But don’t ask them about your industry, company, or products and services first.

They — like most people — don’t care about those things.

When most people buy a drill, they’re not actually purchasing a drill.

They’re purchasing holes, or more specifically a new shelf or whatever it is that the drill provides for them.

You have to start with their goals, aspirations, and problems first.

Then you reverse-engineer your way back to how your products or services solve those issues for them.

Begin with running frequent, short, informal surveys. Then do follow-up discussions and interviews to glean more insight.

For example, if you’re selling to business people (B2B), then you should start with questions like:

  1. What are your business goals and objectives for the next (quarter, year, 5 years)?
  2. Why haven’t you reached those goals already?
  3. What’s currently preventing you from achieving those goals?
  4. What specific business problems are you currently struggling with?
  5. What pain points or symptoms are manifestations of these problems?
  6. How are you going to overcome these pain points and problems? (I.e. what solutions are they going to use to overcome their pain points and problem.)

For example, you might think that all your customers care about is the lowest price.

But do they really? Why?

Are they really only interested in the lowest price?

Or do they not understand how the value you deliver to them is superior to your competitors (and thus don’t understand why you’re more expensive then they are).

Or are they getting internal, political pressure inside the office to make a faster decision so they’re simply trying to choose the most basic option available?

In this case, ONE assumption has MANY different possible root causes.

The answer to that — and the path to more profits — all starts and ends with actually talking with your customers and uncovering the nuanced reasons behind why the do what they do.

Tip #9. Don’t be afraid to polarize your audience

Recently, I was discussing this topic with another client and they went on to tell me that primarily two or three specific races buy their products, while another two almost never purchase.

Anecdotal and far from scientific.

But that type of knowledge helped us turn around and get more specific in HOW we were going to reach new prospects, and also pinpoint exactly WHAT we were going to say to them.

Without this information, we would have had to settle for another bland, generic campaign that delivered more bland, generic results.

Is using race to our advantage, discriminatory?

No. It’s good business.

It might be a touchy subject, but polarization is good for creating strong brands.

Most companies have limited resources, so you need to focus your efforts to generate the biggest returns.

If you’re unclear on the tactics you should be using right now, then it’s because you haven’t thought through the strategy and objectives.

And if you’re unclear on the strategy and objectives, then it’s because you’re unclear on exactly WHO your target customer is.

Get long-term ROI.

We help you grow through expertise, strategy, and the best content on the web.