Customer research that doesn’t suck.

5th June 2023

According to a recent edition of Forbes, “If you’re armed with actual customer data from your research, you are empowered to make smarter choices, which can ultimately lead to better initial customer attraction, stronger click-through rates and conversions, and increased loyalty and retention.”

With this in mind, we interviewed Ryan Paul Gibson, a B2B marketer who teaches people how to run customer interviews that, in his words, ‘don’t suck’.

With an investigative journalism background, Gibson started doing customer research 20 years ago, while working in operations for a chain of coffee shops in Canada. “We couldn’t afford proper quantitative or qualitative research- we were scrappy and I had to do it myself. I would do ‘man on the street interviews’, walk around with a clipboard and talk to consumers.”

Gibson spoke about how he’d observe consumers using a product, both in his own shops and in those of competitors. “I’d talk to people about why they bought there. And back then, (20 years ago) people thought I was out of my mind.”

Why customer research?

Gibson wanted to understand the driving force that triggers a customer to choose a product.

“If we break down what a business is, it’s a bet. There’s no guarantee the business will last. I think that’s why I like this work. Because customer research is one of the best ways to avoid wasting money. And it’s one of the best ways to increase the chances of receiving more budget and demonstrating success.”

One of the key skills he brought to his customer research was his previous work as an investigative journalist. During that role he interviewed about 1K people, which taught him the skills he uses in marketing today.

“To promote, I have to attract. I have to understand how to talk about what I’m doing in relation to everyone else.”

Gibson interviews about 100 B2B buyers a year because, in his words, “To give them the information they need to make a really sound decision, I have to understand their buying journey beginning to end.”

Understanding the buying journey

He learns about the buyer journey through a series of questions.

“I take them through the narrative and learn how a specific buyer makes decisions from start to finish. Then I’ll conduct that same interview with a sample size of similar, ideal client profiles. And then I’ll pull out the themes and patterns.”

Gibson’s recent work for a well-known client trying to sell upmarket reinforced the importance of customer research. “When I mapped out what they were doing in marketing and sales, they were doing zero to attract a particular customer. Nothing they were showing resonated with the buyers they wanted to attract. So we had a high risk situation that was completely solvable.”

To Ryan, understanding what attracts the right customers through research is vital, because it enables you to be relevant to your target audience and to stay relevant, while consistently uncovering new information to make better business choices.

“If I know 800 people signed up for something that’s great. But if I know why 800 people signed up for something that’s great and valuable. And you can’t get that information through a survey or a dashboard.  That’s a worthwhile investment.”