Marketing decisions need to come from a mix of data, experience, observation, and a slew of other factors. I wrote about the importance of making data-driven decisions recently, and interviewed quite a few marketers to figure out how they did it.
But what happens when you don’t have reliable data, because your custom-built SaaS app doesn’t track everything you need? Or if there are different data sets you need to resolve, without any source of truth?
What about when you don’t have the clearance at your company to see all the details of how your high-profile clients interact with your tool or service? Or if you can put in a request, but know it will take 6 months to get a response?
If you’re in charge of any growth area in your company (for example, acquisition and activation rates), you need information to guide your decisions. You need to be able to figure out what tasks in the backlog get bumped to “in progress,” what to highlight in your marketing communications, and what channels to prioritize.
So, if you are stuck waiting on access to data that may never arrive, what should you do in the meantime?
You could throw the social media pasta against the wall and hope it sticks (don’t do this), or you can dig up your own insights.
Where to find actionable data when you aren’t a data analyst
Sometimes it’s hard to access company data when you aren’t specifically in charge of it. That’s okay, there are plenty of other places you can look to gather data points — many of them are public.
The pieces of information you’ll be looking for here will be largely qualitative, such as quotes and observations. However, you can organize those to discover qualitative insights, such as how many customers complained about the lack of X feature.
Let’s kick off with where to start looking.
1) Website metrics
Even if you don’t have access to the admin panel of a Google Analytics account, there are many creative ways to find or stipulate website traffic per page. For example, SimilarWeb can show you the top referring sources of your website, and Ubersuggest can show you how many backlinks a particular page has (a good indicator of popularity).
How to apply it
When you know which pages are most popular on your website, you know which ones to optimize for conversion. If you have a blog that gets 100,000 hits per month, you want to add CTAs and links to other webpages on your site to keep that traffic on your website.
You can pair this with your internal data to improve site-wide conversion rates. For example, if you can see which pages convert to sign ups at the highest percentage (ex. Pricing page, the solutions overview page), you can divert the traffic from your most viewed webpages and blogs to those high-converting pages to optimize your funnel.
2) On-site tools
You can add heatmaps to your website to see where people are looking, clicking, and skipping on each page. This allows you to see which pages are more interesting to visitors, which elements of a page catch the most attention, and how much page space you have to convince the average visitor to sign up before they leave.
Tools like FullStory allow you to track different user journeys across your website. You’ll be able to click onto an IP address (or customer, if they are signed up) and follow them as they click on menu items, scroll down pages, and revisit blogs.
How to apply it
There are many different applications for this, depending on the behavior you observe.
Did you notice a higher percentage of visitors watching the intro video on one service page, versus another? This might indicate it’s a more complicated service, and visitors want more information about how it works at your company.
Or did you see multiple user paths enter from one of your most popular blogs, follow a CTA to a certain services page, and then exit without signing up? Perhaps the CTA works (since it was followed), but the destination wasn’t relevant. In this case, you may want to build a custom landing page, taking highlights from that blog visitors are coming from.
3) Online reviews
Look through all the online reviews of your company, both good and bad. Mine those reviews for quotes and information, such as comments on customer service, how well the product works, and any misconceptions about what your company would do.
You’ll want to collect useful quotes, ignoring the unhelpful ones like “great product” or “they suck.” For example, the review above reveals an important feature this tool could add to provide a better user experience.
Tip: Don’t forget to add a quick hyperlink to where you found each review, in case you need to hunt them down again.
How to apply it
An actionable review could be someone saying “this app will break your store and you will lose customers after installing this app, like what happened to us.” If you can track down this customer and find out how your app broke their store, you might be able to improve your help center documentation to cover this issue. If it happened because of a missed setup step, you can add a checklist to your onboarding that makes sure the mistake doesn’t happen again.
Did you notice multiple reviews complaining about the lack of a certain feature, or angry that your product didn’t work a certain way? There may be something in your marketing or your onboarding flow that implies you can do something you cannot.
4) Internal feedback
Your company is likely already collecting loads of customer feedback internally, with no one collecting and tagging it.
For example, customer support tickets provide a wealth of insight into what your users are struggling with right now, and what’s important to them. However, the support team is likely focused on resolving those tickets, not collecting and tagging quotes categorically.
Similarly, if you have an NPS survey in your app, newsletter, website, or at the bottom of every support ticket, you can follow certain responses up with a question around why they chose that number. This will give your customers a chance to send feedback you can collect and organize for your analysis.
You can also set up a box upon sign up or registration that asks “where did you find us” to get information about your best acquisition channels. This can reveal channels to invest in, and which to stop investing in.
How to apply it
Look through all your internal data, and compile the quotes, rankings, and channels mentioned.
If there’s a sudden influx of customer support tickets asking about a certain topic, you know it’s present in your audience’s minds. Consider writing an article or hosting a webinar about it.
If someone gives your company a 10 on their NPS survey and says “your team is all so helpful and friendly,” you can highlight that as one of your top benefits in your one-pager.
If more people find you with SEO than social media, but you’re investing heavily in social media ads, it’s time to switch over to search ads.
5) Previous company publications
Look through everything your company already has, such as surveys, case studies, and internal analyses. Ask what they did to prove market fit in the beginning, or how they decided which features to prioritize in the product roadmap, and if you can see those items.
Many of those items may have aged out (such as a pre-launch survey to figure out whether there was an interest in the product or service), but you can still find plenty of useful quotes and other insights.
How to apply it
One example of what you might uncover include the use cases of your product or service in a case study. SaaS tools particularly might have multiple different uses. Think about customers who use Trello to manage external agencies, and others who use it for wedding planning.
Looking through the different case studies, how many use cases come up, and how many times? Can you discover new use cases that were previously overlooked, which you can add to your services pages?
6) A general industry survey
You can send out or invest in an externally managed survey to uncover industry insights. For example, Shogun’s State of Direct-to-Consumer Buying Report was created using a survey prepared by Method Research and distributed by Dynata.
They asked around 2,000 consumers in the USA who have purchased something online within the last 6 months a series of questions about their buying habits, and discovered insights like more than half of Americans expect better online shopping experiences from brands after the pandemic.
This data point is incredibly relevant to their business, as they create lightning fast web pages with their Shogun Frontend product.
How to apply it
Think about the assumptions you have about your company; what features customers want to prevent churn, what channels to use to reach your target audience, and what tools they use alongside your product or business. You can use a survey to verify them, or disprove them and discover the truth.
For example, you might be putting on a virtual eCommerce event, and want to sponsor an industry newsletter to get the word out. One of your survey questions can be “where do you get your eCommerce news?” and see whether they say newsletters, podcasts, masterminds, LinkedIn, or something else. It might turn out your audience doesn’t read newsletters because their inboxes are so full.
Or, you might be doing some partnership research to determine who to approach for co-marketing, or to build an integration. If you’re a loyalty app that can create programs and rewards for Shopify merchants, you can add a question that asks “what Shopify plugins do you use in your store?” Then, include a multi-select list of the most popular apps, and the apps you identified that would make good marketing or integration partners. You’ll be able to see whether you should remove some from your list (building an integration takes a lot of effort and you should make sure it’ll be used before building it), or prioritize (there might be a completely new tool that comes up half the time that wasn’t on your radar previously).
Tip: Always include an “other” option when using multiple or single-select answer options. That way, even if you didn’t list out a respondent’s answer, they can type it in themselves (and perhaps teach you something along the way).
7) Industry research
Industry insights aren’t as focused as company-specific insights, but they are still valuable for making marketing decisions. You can look to external sources like reports from similar companies, or even industry-adjacent companies to get a better feel of how things are moving and changing around your company and target audience.
For example, the Shopify Plus Future of Ecommerce report used both internal surveys of Shopify Plus merchants. However, they also included third-party data from Statista, IBM, Deloitte, Accenture, Gartner, McKinsey, Forrester, Nielsen, and more. They sourced consumer insights from quarterly earnings calls of other companies in the industry like Target, UPS, Salesforce, and others.
How to apply it
It’s time to get your research hat on, and look at the information that’s already available online and relevant to your company and ICP. If you have a specific topic in mind, and a company you think might have some data on it, you can run a Google search on it — such as site:[website.com] “[topic you’re looking for]” to see what they’ve published.
Tip: Create a Google Alert around your competitors, industry, and keywords defining your product or service to stay on top of the trends and get notified whenever new information is published.
8) Customer conversations
One of the best ways to learn about your customers is to hop on a call or a Google Meet and talk to them. Reach out to a few customers with a calendar link, so they can schedule some time, and explain
One template you might try is:
Subject: Would love to chat about your experience with RGO -Rachel
This is Rachel, marketing director from RGO. I’d love to hear about your experience with us so far — the good, bad, and ugly. We’re looking to understand more about our customers and the people who trust us with their acquisition marketing.
If you have 15-30 minutes in the next few weeks, it would mean the world if I could meet you in Google Hangouts! You can book whatever time is convenient for you here – [CALENDAR LINK].
I’ll be asking questions around what’s happening in your company right now, what’s your biggest priority (doesn’t have to relate to RGO at all), what you’d like to learn about next, and the like.
Hope to speak soon!
If your company doesn’t want you calling customers, you can resort to listening to any recorded sales calls or customer service consults and compiling useful quotes from there.
However, this isn’t ideal. When you’re on a sales call, the goal is to sell. When you’re on a support call, the goal is to resolve problems. If you’re a founder or from the product team, the inclination is often to defend your product or service from criticism.
When you’re doing an exploratory call, you approach those calls neutrally, with the intent to learn. It’s clear from the onset that you aren’t there to upsell or resolve anything, but to figure out what’s going on in your customers’ lives and companies at the moment.
How to apply it
The questions you ask on your call will largely determine how you can apply what you learn. If you want to figure out how to improve your acquisition efforts, learn how they first discovered you and what their buying triggers were. If you want to improve your product marketing, learn how they use your product and the frustrations that pop up.
Some seed questions you might want to ask on the call include:
- Tell me a little about your role, and what do you do at your company?
- What’s your biggest priority within your role right now?
- What does your typical day look like?
- What’s your favorite learning resource in the industry, and who do you enjoy listening to?
- What other tools or software and services do you use?
- What’s happening in your company right now? What’s new, and what’s your biggest priority as a company?
- What was going on in your life when you signed up? How were you feeling before you found our product?
- Why did you choose our product? Who were the other contenders?
- What did you think about our product when you first signed up? Has that evolved over time?
- How do you use our product? Tell me about your experiences with our company.
- What is your favorite thing about the product/company?
- What are the top 2 most frustrating things about the product?
- How long have you been using the product/company, and how often do you use us?
- How can we better serve you?
- Who do you think is the best fit customer for our product?
- Anything else I should know?
9) Your marketing newsletter
Don’t underestimate the power of a simple ask on your marketing newsletter. Add a simple question, highlight how much their voice would be appreciated, and make it easy for them to just hit reply and email in a quick response.
You can utilize the point above, and put out a call to chat in your general marketing newsletter. This depends on how your newsletter is segmented and whether you want to talk to customers only or customers and leads.
How to apply it
You can change this question up regularly, depending on what you’re trying to learn at the time.
For example, you can use any of the following asks:
- What feature release are you most excited about? Hit reply and let me know!
- What do you want to learn about next? Reply to this email and we may choose it as the topic for our next webinar!
- Our co-founder is doing an AMA live on Reddit this Tuesday. Reply with your questions and we’ll add it to his list!
10) Events and webinars
Last but not least, your events and webinars are goldmines for customer insights you can turn into data points. You can host AMAs, Q&As with the product team, partner webinars, panels, or industry updates.
During these events, send out polls and observe what people are dropping into the Q&A section. Let attendees ask questions and be sure to record and catalog their questions and comments after every event — from personal experience I know they can pile up and get overwhelming.
How to apply it
Look at the type of event you’re hosting, first. Is it a top-of-funnel event, where your audience isn’t too familiar with you yet? You probably don’t want to ask “what’s stopping you from signing up today” in a live poll.
Compile the different questions that come in and look for trends. One of my most successful articles (in terms of CPA and revenue) was born because I noticed the same question come up multiple times across multiple webinars, without any good resource out there already created.
How to organize qualitative data for quantitative analysis
Once you have all of your insights, think of each one as a piece of data that hasn’t been matched with its category. There are different ways to slice your information, so consider which use would be best for your purposes.
Some questions you want to ask while categorizing your data revolve around deal stage, ICP, acquisition funnel, and team relevance. Take your quotes, observations, and notes and pool them all under different organizational headings.
1) What deal stage are the respondents?
You can separate your gathered qualitative data points by relationship with your company. Are the respondents strangers, leads, or current customers?
If they are customers, are they:
- New customers (signed up within the last X days)
- Active customers (requested services or used software within the last X months)
- Loyal customers (having been an active customer for X years)
- Key customers (part of X tier subscription or hit $X in monthly spend)
You may have limited insight into this, based on how much access you have to your company’s full customer database and deal stage. If you don’t, the point below should help.
2) What channel did the information come from?
Look at what channels you got your information from to group your data by respondent status.
For example, if you got feedback from a response to your marketing newsletter, they are a lead, but may not be a customer. The same goes for someone who asks “can [product] do X for me?” in a top-funnel webinar.
If you find a complaint in your customer support team’s inbox, they are an active customer. Any answers to a registration or sign up question would come from a new customer. If you’re pulling a quote from a published case study, they are likely a key customer.
3) How does the data relate to different areas of your ideal customer profile?
You also want to organize your different quotes based on your ICP documents. These resources should already break down the most important aspects of your target audience in clear categories.
Adrienne Barnes of Best Buyer Persona recommends splitting out persona data into sections like roles, responsibilities, relationships, rituals, buying triggers, frustrations, aspirations, and more. You can view a sample persona she put together on her Twitter.
4) What is the emotion or sentiment behind the information?
You might also categorize the feedback under different emotions, such as anger, disappointment, delight, indifference, or appreciation.
These can give you an idea of what problems to fix first, and which features your customers love so you can highlight them on your website (in the same words your customers use).
5) What internal team is the data most relevant to?
Look at which teams your information would be relevant to.
Is most of the data you gathered complaints about how the product works?
Did you notice that 90% of your new clients found you via your blog (SEO), whereas you’re investing heavily in social media ads?
Filter the information by the relevant team so you know who to send those insights to for action.
6) Which stage of your funnel is this information important for?
Another way to look at your data is by tying your data points to specific stages of your acquisition funnel or user journey.
For example, in growth acquisition, you might have:
- Top funnel, which is where your users first discover you. It can consist of paid and organic acquisition channels like SEO, social ads, and referrals. Feedback points here might be something like “I found you when X mentioned you on her YouTube channel.”
- Mid funnel, which is where you get a chance to turn top-funnel visitors into interested parties. This can be your website and landing pages, and your blog articles. Important data for this stage might be something like a heatmap revealing a high click rate on a logo that isn’t hyperlinked.
- Bottom funnel, which is where you want to nurture and convert leads. This stage is where you give your leads that extra push through things like webinars, email newsletters, and retargeting ads. Useful feedback here would be someone on a webinar commenting “I’m waiting for X feature to go live before I sign up.”
Wrapping up – Organize qualitative data to get quantitative results
Not having access to the numbers in your organization is not a great situation, but it doesn’t have to mean marketing failure, or that you’re doomed to waste time and money. Resourceful marketers can search through multiple channels to figure out other data points to guide their decisions, then turn their qualitative research into quantitative summaries with organization and categorizing.