If you’re a product marketer starting a job with a new product in a new company, it’s important to remember why you do your work every day: you’re there to drive growth for the product.
There are several elements that make up this foundation. After all, you can’t help a product or a business grow unless you really get to know the ins and outs of how it works.
Here’s how you get started when helping a business grow:
- First, you understand the product they’re selling.
- Then, understand the competition and how you’re positioned against them.
- Most importantly, work to understand your buyers.
I’d even say the hardest part is to acquire expertise from your buyers.
That’s why you work to understand your product and how your competition operates. Once you understand the last two, it’s easier to narrow down your research. You can get to know your audience and the behaviors related to your product category, and specifically to your product.
Last but not least, acquiring and making sense of buyer insights is one of the strongest skills you bring to the table when you talk to product managers, the development team, the designers, or the customer success team.
Why you should acquire expertise on buyers
"Talk to your users."
"Break down your organizational silos."
"The people who use your product aren’t in your office."
If you’ve heard one of these sayings, you’ve probably also heard several variations on them.
Buyer expertise is the result of talking to users, gathering market insights, and putting together all the organizational wisdom gathered in the different teams of your startup.
But your job doesn’t stop there.
Being a product marketer puts you in a position where you’re sitting on a trove of gold regarding buyer expertise. But at the same time, you have little authority to direct the product’s direction unless you have the right people skills.
It helps you build credibility in front of internal stakeholders to help them understand what “the reality” of the buyers is and what the market looks like. It helps even more if you can take insights, put them into context, and help the team weigh their importance based on sample size, frequency, or impact on users or the business.
When you have the right buyer expertise on hand and get it to the team at the right moment, you’re helping everyone succeed.
You can help the product manager with insights that will help them plan the best roadmap for the product.
You can work together with the Product Development team to help them understand their insights on product usage with the help of market insights.
You can help the Customer Success team better understand the context of the buyers’ goals and jobs to be done so they have a better overview of how to prioritize and empathize with any user’s struggles.
Last but not least, you can feed the stream of insights on buyers back into the growth team, whether that’s marketing or sales, to help them drive acquisition and sales.
How to acquire buyer expertise for a new product
As you can tell, there’s a lot of opportunity in how to use the expertise you gather on buyers when you’re building a new product or preparing to launch one. So let’s go through the process of gaining that expertise in broad strokes.
Engage with your team
Your first source of information, especially if you’re new to the team, is the organization itself. Dig into existing documentation. Whether the product is still being softly released or already on a growth path, the team will have done some forms of validation work.
Set up calls with everyone relevant in the company:
- Growth team leads
- Sales reps
- The product manager(s)
- Design team members
- Development team members
- Customer success team members.
In short, put on your researcher hat and talk to everyone. See how they perceive the product, what insights they’re aware of, what’s based on actual data and what’s based on their personal experience. Try to understand how they understand their work, where they feel there are friction points.
Be upfront about why you’re talking to them, but keep an open and non-judgemental attitude throughout the conversation. It will help you draw better conclusions if you separate the ‘data gathering’ process from the actual ‘drafting and comparing notes to draw conclusions’ part.
Do your desk research
Early from your understanding of the product’s positioning and the team’s organisational wisdom, you’ll want to dig in further to see how your startup’s experience compares to what’s happening in the market.
This is where desk research comes in. You can turn to several sources to understand both the market, your startup’s vertical, or your audience segment.
Here are the main ones:
- Reports and white papers from market intelligence companies
- academic papers (e.g. studies and reports)
- statistics from national or international offices
- more granular statistics from think tanks and private companies
- Press coverage from industry experts (e.g. interviews)
Refine your goals
Once you have a general overview of the startup and what insights there are on the market, it’s time to refine your goals. Buyer expertise doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Any knowledge you have (or don’t) needs to be put in the context of where your product is and what its short - and long-term goals are.
If you’re looking to expand your audience segments, getting more insights about the new audience you’re targeting might be one of your goals.
If you’re looking into building a new core feature to increase revenue, understanding how the product is currently used and what’s missing in the context of the user’s day-to-day goals may help.
If you’re looking to drive up subscriptions, building knowledge on how buyers perceive the value of your product might help here.
The point is that you only realize what kind of insights you’re missing when you have a specific goal in mind. That’s the moment where you and your team want to make evidence-based decisions as much as possible, only to realize they’re missing some evidence.
Fill in the data gaps
This is the point where you’ll come with some knowledge, a specific goal in mind, and a list of insights you're missing to feel confident in the expertise you have on your buyers. That’s why this is also the point where you’ll roll up your sleeves and do some research.
Plan the research
Put in a brief your research goals, the team members able to help you and in what capacity, and the actual research plan to gain the insights.
The latter should include:
- What research methods you’ll be using
- How many participants you’ll need
- What profile those participants need to have, and how you’ll source them
- Who and how you will do the analysis
- How you’ll wrap up the project.
Diving into all the research methods available to you would take another article, but here are a few pointers to get you started:
- You can use research methods you’ve learned from various fields, like sociology or anthropology. Turn to your fellow UX designers for some pointers, or turn to data analysts to work with larger quantities of data.
- Qualitative methods are useful to understand why and how things happen; quantitative methods help you identify frequency and severity.
- Using more methods or a more complex method doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get better results. Work with what you know best, and work with what suits your goals best.
Get the work done
Once you have buy-in on your plan and have the team in place, doing the work will become an average part of your workday. Whether it’s screening participants, running interviews and surveys, or doing the painstaking work of documenting and analyzing your results, a potential turning point is the moment you sit down with the first conclusions.
That’s when you’ll have to draw a line between your initial research goals and the results you’ve gotten. Have you answered the questions your team had? If not, is it a matter of gathering more data? Or is it a matter of needing to adapt your plan and research methods?
Share the insights
When you get to the point where you’ve gathered the insights you were looking for, and you’ve managed to put them together in a summary document, it’s time to share your findings with the team.
Of course, this isn’t always as simple a process as getting them all in a room (or a Zoom call) and presenting them the data. Avoid this, especially if your findings may shake up some previous assumptions.
Here are some tips for managing expectations:
- Share the work you’re doing as you make progress, especially with decision-makers who are directly affected by the insights you’re gathering. In this way, you’re avoiding surprising anyone with your discoveries and will have allies when you present your findings to a larger audience.
- Numbers and raw data may be what we use to measure what’s happening in the world and reflect the users’ reality, but your team, like all humans, needs human stories to build empathy to what’s behind those numbers. So add quotes, recordings, and contextual descriptions to help your team see the people behind the users.
To wrap up, remember that acquiring buyer expertise has to be guided by the business’s goals and, more specifically, your team’s goals.
As a whole, the principles of a research process are similar, no matter what your questions are. Most projects differ in scale or complexity. In fact, the need to increase your knowledge of buyers will often reflect the growth of the product itself.
How to grow expertise on buyers as your product scales
It makes sense that the larger the product, the more data you will be gathering. I’d even say that the most common struggle isn’t missing information or that your team isn’t data-driven, it’s that you might have a hard time putting all that information into context. This is where your expertise in juggling knowledge on buyers and putting that into practice makes itself known. So to keep your skills sharp, keep in mind these guiding principles that will help your entire team.
Research with purpose
Just as we’ve described in the research process guidelines, insights are helpful when they’re used to make decisions. That’s why you should direct your efforts towards keeping track of where your product is, where it’s headed, what information your team has used to decide that trajectory. This makes it easier to see the gaps and decide on additional research projects that will help your team make better decisions in the future as well.
Nurture a culture that rewards curiosity
Building expertise on buyers isn’t a one-person show. Encourage all teams to ask questions about why users are behaving in a certain way. Have them reach out across departments with questions, insights, and initiatives. Most of the time, the person closest to the problem to notice it isn’t also in a position to fix it at the source. It’s only by working together as a team that issues can be contextualized and solved.
Remember, it’s all about iterations
Last but not least, remember that your expertise has its fair share of uncertainty and nuance. Every research cycle will make you want to ask more questions, just like every product update will generate new feedback. It’s up to the entire team to pace themselves in ways that make sense for your business goals.
One of the critical skills of a product marketer is the ability to acquire expertise on the buyers who use the startup’s product.
On the one hand, you’ve got the day-to-day work of keeping up to date through desk research and staying in touch with the internal team. Then there’s planning, implementing, or contributing to internal research initiatives that will fill in any insight gaps you may have in your organization.
On the other hand, you’ve got the more challenging work of making sure the expertise you acquire, the insights you gather, are shared with the team and put to good use. One part of this is straightforward sharing of what you find out. The more complex, more relevant part is contextualizing new insights for your team members and helping them understand how the new evidence changes current assumptions.
You can learn something new about your product’s buyers every day, and it will always be rewarding. In the same way, you can have conversations with your team about the insights you acquire every week, and some of them will be the most rewarding talks you’ll ever have. As long as you focus on building a shared understanding of the reality of what buyers experience, you’re setting up your product to grow.