Getting inside your customers’ heads (w/ Pat Flynn)

I looked my prospect square in the eye. “So, if I created a course on how to write more compelling copy, would you buy it?”

He gulped down the last of his coffee and cleared his throat. I wasn’t ready for him to answer yet.

“Actually, would you pay $1,000 for it? What if those payments were split up into, I dunno, like, 10 monthly installments?” My gut muscles squeezed tight as I hoped (and prayed) for an affirmative response. If I can just get my first pre-order right here, right now… I saw visions of Cadillacs dancing in my head.

“Yeah, sure I would,” he said. “Sounds good.”

YES!!! I’d just made the sale! He was totally going to buy! Who cares that he bobbed his head from side to side…this guy was my new best friend and very first pre-sale customer!

I took him at his word (all 6 of them, TBH) and bid him farewell, knowing full well that this was the year of my breakthrough! Woot-woot!

I’d nailed this market research thing, and I knew it.

But then a funny thing happened. The dude never got back with me. Never returned my e-mails or calls. No fair! Isn’t that how market research is done? I knew I executed perfectly, so it was the prospect’s fault. He just sucked! Right?

And then…I met Pat Flynn.

And from just one tiny thing he told me, I realized I couldn’t have effed up that conversation with the pre-order prospect more if I’d prepared a script ahead of time with intent to do so.

Here’s the scoop. I was in Columbus with my buddy Ray Gooch from Pat was in town to meet with his project management crew and offered to meet up with a few of us readers for a cup o’ joe and good conversation before his meetings.

Before we review what made Pat’s lesson on market research so remarkable, I first want to point out that he never once said he would be conducting research or that he would tell me how to do so. Instead, he showed me.

Remember my pre-order pitch blunder? See, I learned at university that high quality “customer development and market analysis” (the fancy-pants term for market research according to my old textbooks) allows you to determine how successful a product launch will be by marketing BEFORE selling. In principle, that’s awesome; Chris Guillebeau‘s The $100 Startup details phenomenal case studies on people who’ve done this successfully. Unfortunately, genius me totally missed it. “Sell before you market, huh? Sounds logical. Guess I better run some tests here, let’s see…” I proceeded to jot down the following questions as material for my pre-sale pitch/market research:

  • Would you buy a course that teaches X?
  • How much would you pay for a program that shows you how to do Y?
  • If I created an info product that fixes Z problem that you’re having, would you use it?

Big. Mis. Take.

Notice what word I used 3 times? Would. Their answers therefore were purely hypothetical. “Would” has to do with the future; heck, a hypothetical future at that! My efforts were a thinly veiled attempt at validating MY idea so I could sell MY crap. The prospects’ actual needs, concerns, problems, fears, obstacles, and burning pains be darned! This biz was all about me!

Hence my #EpicFail story at the beginning of this post. Not a face big enough nor a palm wide enough for that one.

Back to Pat.

To the other folks at the coffee shop getting high on caffeine before hitting the daily grind, our chat probably seemed like anything but exciting. Strategic planning, podcasting software, product launches, scaling up in service businesses, etc. Total business nerd-speak.

But *I* heard something amazing. Pat sat encircled by some of his most dedicated readers and listeners, yet he hardly said a word. Sure, he chimed in from time to time, but for the most part, he was all ears. So when he did speak, I listened. And what I heard blew my  mind.

  • Have you guys bought courses that teach X?
  • How much have you guys paid for programs that show you how to do Y?
  • What problems have you guys had in Z area of your businesses?

Holy sh*t. He was immersing himself into our minds with us barely realizing it. Our dreams, our plans, our fears…he was drawing it all out of us. Those questions above aren’t word for word the exact ones he asked, but they’re pretty darn close. The point is, he asked us about where we were in our businesses and lives, as well as where we had been. No hypothetical “would you?” stuff.

To any aspiring business owner, that list of questions probably isn’t the greatest thing since LED faucet lights.

Here was this guy who’s built incredible businesses (look at his monthly income reports), and he’s a fan favorite in the experts industry. Yet here he was, just listening. Enjoying his coffee, of course, but still. Listening.

Here’s the killer key I observed in the conversations Pat facilitated—he did not rely on himself to ask mind-blowing questions. Instead, he relied on a friendly tone, open-ended questions, and our own stories to get the right answers. The “right answers” being, of course, a deep understanding of his followers’ businesses, the struggles we faced, the next steps we wished we could take, etc.

He drew nuggets of insight from us such as, “I wish I had X for my business, Pat. I’ve looked into buying something like that, but there’s nobody offering what I need. I’ve been struggling with Y for years now. Every time I try to start up Z project again, that voice in the back of my head tells me I have no clue what I’m doing, so I just give up now rather than be super disappointed in myself later.”

All PURE GOLD from a market research perspective. Can you spot 3 or 4 ideas for a product, service, or program in just that last paragraph?

Now let’s bring it home to you and your business. You may not be able to get a room full of potential clients together (or heck, maybe you can), but you can still IMMERSE yourself into their minds by building rapport, asking open-ended friendly questions focused on THEM (not about you and your product), and then just LISTENING!

Here’s an example. Soon after the chat with Pat, I reformed my ways. When I was in the early stages of developing a new one-on-one mentoring program in my business for aspiring freelancers and solopreneurs, I did not go around asking every other person if they liked my idea, were interested in joining, if they knew someone who’d be willing to pay, etc. Instead, I called up several old acquaintances (yes, you can do that) and invited them each out for coffee (see what I did there?).

So, there I was sitting at Winan’s Coffee House with Rebecca, a gal who’s really struggling with breaking into the world of freelance writing. Like Pat, I started the conversation with a “so what got you started in this business?” type of question to keep things relaxed, informal, and friendly. And I did not whip out a tape recorder or notepad (NOTE: Please never do that. I tried that once; the guy looked at me like I was a used vacuum cleaner salesman trying to sell him a timeshare condo in Dubai).

Back to Rebecca. Once she shared some of her story (notice the emotional, qualitative aspect of all this), I asked her follow-up questions to go even deeper. Things like:

  • What’s been the hardest part about finding clients who’ll pay you what you want? Why do you feel like you’re worth that hourly rate in the first place?
  • What have you done to market your services? Why do you think that didn’t work?
  • What frustrates you about trying to make a real living through freelancing?

You get the idea. It wasn’t until after our 20 or so minute chat that I jotted down the insights Rebecca knowingly/unknowingly shared. I spent another five minutes digesting this experience as a whole, asking myself why she felt how she felt and said what she said. I didn’t have an answer on hand immediately, but over the dozen conversations with other potential clients that followed, I learned things about my ideal clients that have been worth thousands of dollars in just a few short months.

Your turn! How have *you* used market research in the past to engineer your own business breakthroughs? Do you have a template or formula to interview customers, or do you just wing it? Post a comment below or reply via e-mail. I read every single message. Cheers!

4 comments on “Getting inside your customers’ heads (w/ Pat Flynn)

  1. Great post! I’ve got some gears turning in my head. I’m always hearing about the importance of sitting down for coffee, but I never understood what happens after the coffee. I haven’t gotten into market research yet, and it’s still something that seems overwhelming to me. I think it’s because I’m still choosing a market to target.

    And, how does one find prospects to interview one-on-one? Are these people who have already expressed interest, or approached you looking for help? What are they expecting to get out of the meeting?

    And you got to go to coffee with Pat Flynn. Peanut butter and jealous, I am.

    • Hey Lindsay,

      Welcome back! Usually, after the coffee…well…you drink it. 🙂 Ok, seriously, glad those gears be turnin’ now. Choosing the right audience is THE challenge. Ask yourself this: “Who is both willing AND able to pay for my services?” I wasted 12+ months on a series of marketing campaigns because I never asked myself that. Let me know what answers you turn up for yourself.

      About finding prospects to interview, I am going to be crafting an article on how to do *exactly* that. On a series of cold emails I sent out to potential interviewees for a recent service launch, I saw over 75% response rates (HINT: it’s all in the subject line). I’ll keep everybody posted on the deets of its release.

      White, wheat, or rye?

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