Ask Your Customers This One Question

When I start a new project the first action I take is research.

“Research … boring!”

Alright alright, yes some parts of research can be boring but so’s dinner with your in-laws—but some things you just gotta do.

Good research consists of two parts: finding out ‘where’ there are problems (through your website analytics) and finding out ‘why’ these problems are happening (talking to customers and visitors).

For this post, I’m focusing on the ‘why’ part.

You probably already know you should be talking to your customers, for example by using surveys, polls, interviews, etc.

But where it’s easy to go awry is asking the wrong questions to the wrong people at the wrong time.

So, here’s the question you want to ask your customers:

"What nearly stopped you buying from us?"

You ask this question to your customers, not to the people who didn't buy from you.

This might sound counter-intuitive. Surely, you might think, if Jane buys one of your AMCE products and Bob doesn't, it's Bob's opinions that you need to hear.

But non-buyers like Bob are a mixed bunch—some of them will be qualified to buy from you but many won't. If you ask Bob why he didn't buy, he’ll probaby complain about price.

Jane, on the other hand, is (by definition) a qualified prospect. And you'd like more of them.

Your customers have been through the entire sales funnel and your non-buyers haven't. Your customers have been through the buying process where at some point they weighed the pros and cons of buying from you.

They paid enough attention to make a decision, so they’re in position to answer your question.

A non-buyer, on the other hand, may have bailed after only a few seconds. His or her opinion—however strong—is much less likely to be accurate. When your buyers criticize you, they’re likely to be right.

Even though your customers overcame every barrier when buying from you, they weren't oblivious to the barriers. When you ask Jane, "What nearly stopped you buying from us?", she’ll still remember the biggest barriers.

And for every Jane who successfully overcame these barriers, you'll almost certainly find there were several people who gave up. When you remove these barriers, sales increase.

Ideally you’ll also segment your customers into those who have bought from you already, and first time buyers. First time buyers are your target.

Depending on what your company does, the wording of the question can be modified. It could end with "...from using us," or "...from signing up," depending on the nature of your business.

Ways to ask your question

There’s a number of options available in asking your question. For example:

  • Embed a survey on your website's thank-you page (shown after the customer purchases/signs up).
  • Email the customer a link to the survey.
  • Use a tool like Hotjar or GetSiteControl to add popups surveys to your website.
  • Face-to-face or on the phone with your customers.

Case study

A colleague Emils and I were working on increasing paid memberships for a SaaS website. After completing a survey (where we asked our question), we found a majority of the respondents were not sure if the membership featured everything they needed.

We decided to offer a free trial so that visitors could try the service for themselves and alleviate their fears.

The results were impressive with a 120.7% increase in revenue:

Now, this is nothing revolutionary (free trials are a common practice) and the owner of the site had been contemplating this idea for some time but wasn’t sure it was worth the effort (he’d offered a 100% money back guarantee before this).

The survey confirmed his suspicions and gave him the confidence to test the free trial offer.

How to do it

In the case study above we used Hotjar which is an amazing service with additional tools like heatmaps and mouse tracking. GetSiteControl is also a great alternative.

Aren’t popups annoying?

Yes they can be, but done right the information gathered is worth annoying the occasional person (and it’s not like people spend that much time on the thank you pages anyway).

How do you separate first-time buyers vs repeat customers? Some tools will allow you to do this automatically but if you don’t have that option just ask the following yes/no question at the beginning of the survey:

“Are you a returning customer?”

Then follow with your question:

"What nearly stopped you buying from us?"

Once you have 100–300 replies, it’ll show you a clear picture of what’s potentially stopping other visitors from becoming your customers.

Now, stop reading and go create your first survey …

Go on.

Work with me