Why You Need Customer Research with Ryan Paul Gibson

Lauren Volpi's headshot on a blue background

Ryan Paul Gibson is the Founder and CEO at Content Lift, where he helps marketers do customer research. In his career, he has interviewed over 1600 people and accrued 20 years of marketing miles. Ryan even took a small detour in his career, working for CBC as a TV & Radio reporter – and has produced short films and documentaries.

Here are a few of the topics we’ll discuss on this episode of Long Story Short:

 

  • Common signs that your organization needs research
  • How customer research will tangibly impact your business growth
  • Tactics you can use today to get started with customer research
  • How to understand the pain points and priorities of your target market
  • The dangers of being uncertain about your ideal customer

 

Resources:

How to Win podcast

Nudge podcast

 

Connect with Ryan:

LinkedIn

 

Connect with the Host:

Jeff Sirkin on LinkedIn

 

Connect with Sirkin Research:

Website

Twitter

Instagram

LinkedIn

Jeff Sirkin:
Hello and welcome back to another episode of Long Story Short, the podcast about storytelling and connection. I’m your host, Jeff Sirkin. On this show, we talk to people making a difference as marketers, entrepreneurs, and social impact advocates. We dig into actionable strategies and tactics to help you connect with your audience and keep your finger on the pulse of your market.

Jeff Sirkin:
My guest this week is Ryan Paul Gibson. He is the founder and CEO of Content Lift, where he helps marketers do customer research. In his career, he has interviewed over 1,600 people and has accrued 20 years of marketing miles. Ryan even took a small detour in his career, working for CBC as a TV and radio reporter, and has produced short films and documentaries.

Jeff Sirkin:
Ryan and I do very similar work and we went deep into customer research. We talked about when to do it, common signs the organization is in need of research, and how it can tangibly impact your business’ growth. And of course, we dug into tactics that you can use today to get started. Without further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Ryan Paul Gibson. Hi, Ryan. Thanks for coming on Long Story Short.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Thank you for having me.

Jeff Sirkin:
The theme today is all about customer research. And so, I’d love to start. Can you tell us what your world looks like today at Content Lift?

Ryan Paul Gibson:
I focus on one aspect of research, and there’s a lot. Maybe to start, there’s different parts of business that you can research and different methodologies you can use to research those parts of the business. Where I focus is … Primary customer research is what they would call it, which is really just a lot of interacting directly with a buyer or a customer.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
I do it solely through one-on-one customer interviews. There’s different ways of doing it. Observational, focus groups, surveys. You can do live surveys. I just do one-on-one interviews. That’s what I do. I hope that would answer the question, but that’s my day.

Jeff Sirkin:
Totally.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
I just speak to buyers all day about how and why they buy.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s great. That’s a great perspective. You’re right. We do more quantitative research and more of the survey work. But it’s a great point. I think I get caught where it’s not one and the same. To your point, there are different goals. But one thing I think is really interesting. You and I focus in the same general area around marketing and things like that.

Jeff Sirkin:
I’m curious. From a big picture perspective, what are some of the common threads you see? What are the challenges that organizations are in, when they’re in need of customer research? When they’re coming to you or when you’re starting a project. What are some of the challenges they’re trying to solve for?

Ryan Paul Gibson:
It’s funny. I was just mentioning this today, because that’s actually one that comes up quite a bit. I find it falls into a few buckets.

Jeff Sirkin:
Okay.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Let’s just say there’s four of them. The first one is they’ve never done it before, and they have no idea how to get started, which is common for a lot of B2B companies.

Jeff Sirkin:
Totally.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
I think a lot of marketers who are really savvy may be even surprised at how prevalent that is. That’s the first one. The second one is they’ve done it before and they didn’t get anything out of it. Either that was because the research wasn’t done well, because they didn’t know how to do it properly. There wasn’t a lot of rigor around it. Or they didn’t know how to use it, which is a big one I find now.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Whereas, there’s a lot of people who do research for marketing and sales functions, but they drop off the report like any consultant would for anything, and then they ride off into the sunset. It could be really great insights. But now what?

Jeff Sirkin:
Right.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
They struggle with that. The third one is they actually have someone that does it, they’re okay at it, and they need some help. Often, it’s either, “Fish for me,” or, “Teach me how to fish.” Those are the buckets I see. Actually, what I find is, once it gets to a certain threshold … I don’t know what your experience is.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
But I find once it gets to about a 400 or 500 head count, research is now a thing. Legit inside a company. In whatever capacity that is. It may not be everything that you and I would do and other researchers, but there is some type of research function. That’s usually how I see it all play out. The challenges though are the three other ones that I saw.

Jeff Sirkin:
I think that makes a ton of sense. And so, I want to take a step even higher than that and say, what are some of the organizational challenges? What are some of the sticking points within the organization that would lead somebody to say, “We need research.” What are some of the things, from a business perspective, that they’re saying, “You know what? We’re struggling with X or Y.”

Jeff Sirkin:
What are some of the common things? We’ll get into the value of it and what it can really help do. But what is it that would make somebody say to themselves, “Hey. You know what I think? I think research would be really beneficial for us.”

Ryan Paul Gibson:
There’s a lot. When I first talk with people, a lot of times it’s because they are just starting. They’re not really sure how they want to get into a market and win in a market. For a marketing reason.

Jeff Sirkin:
Right. Right.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Even sales to some extent. But I think some of the challenges that I hear are they aren’t necessarily sure about who their best customer is and why they’re buying.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yes.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
They maybe want some clarity around that, because maybe they’ve had a few different pockets of a prospective buyer, but they’re not sure who to lean into. They’re not sure how to maybe influence the buying journey earlier on. A lot of it is very performance marketing based or very much at a sales motion level. They want to know how they can influence things further upfield.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Maybe they’ve been doing a lot of marketing and it’s not landing. That’s a big one. They’re just doing a bunch of stuff. Nothing is landing. And the forecast for either revenue or pipeline are not where they anticipate them or where they want them to be or why. Politics is a big one. People fight over who they should be selling to, who the customer should be.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
I’ve been in those conversations as a marketing leader. Maybe the sales and marketing don’t align. There’s all these things. Those are all various reasons. I just did one recently, it’s on my website at contentlift.io, with this SaaS company. They had an acquisition.

Jeff Sirkin:
Right.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
It wasn’t tracking and they couldn’t figure out why. Because they already had a sales and marketing engine. The theory should be, “We just bought a thing. It’s like other things. Let’s plug it into the machine and here comes the money.” Well, it didn’t. Well, why not?

Ryan Paul Gibson:
There’s all these reasons. I usually tell people, “If you’re not sure, just look at your annual operating plan.” If you aren’t where you thought you would be after a few quarters, you probably need to understand why.

Jeff Sirkin:
I think that’s a great perspective. The things that I would say, which are very similar to a few that you mentioned is … The one that we see a lot is that growth has leveled off. Companies that came out of the gate really strong, they had this growth, and then it tapered off and no one’s really sure why. They had gotten all excited internally and kept saying, “Well, we doubled last year. We should do it again.”

Jeff Sirkin:
About the same in the next year, “Well, we can double again.” And so, the growth has leveled off. I think the biggest thing that we hear even within that … Especially now, in this crazy overcrowded digital world. The content just isn’t resonating. Things aren’t landing. But I think the biggest thing that you really touched on is really that uncertainty from a marketing perspective.

Jeff Sirkin:
It’s not even just that growth has leveled off. It’s that we’re not sure what works anymore. We’re not sure how to actually get the attention of our market. We don’t know how to drive demand. And so, a lot of these things that we see. We fully believe that not understanding your ideal customers is really the root of all of that problem.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
I would even go further now, where I start to talk about resourcing. How do you know who should be on your team? There’s only so much money to go around in a budget for any of the disciplines in a business. It doesn’t matter if it’s marketing. There’s only so much time and budget. You have to compete. How do you know where to strategically place your bets? And if you’re not trying to understand that with research, it’s going to be much harder to figure out where to place the bets.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yep. I couldn’t agree more. Our perspective is that there’s essentially somewhat of a bullseye. And so, what that means is the more in detail that you actually know your ideal customer, the more effective you’re messaging, you’re positioning. It will affect everything within the organization, but you have to get super close. And then, there’s a lot of organizations too.

Jeff Sirkin:
We actually found this with one client, where they had two main personas that they were selling to throughout the buying cycle. What happened was they had this one umbrella message that wasn’t resonating with either of them. And so, what the research really helped them uncover was the fact that there are very specific needs that each of those different personas needs to hear that are different. Frankly, what they realized was that their message wasn’t really resonating with anybody.

Jeff Sirkin:
And so, now that they can go back to the workshop a little bit and say, “Now, we know each of these two personas, these segments really well.” And then, they develop differentiated messaging. That was the kind of thing that you wouldn’t have uncovered without actually doing real research. To know that, “Actually, they have very different needs.” Saying the one thing to both of them is not going to work.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
You might get there.

Jeff Sirkin:
Right.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
But how much runway do you have? How much time? Especially, if you’re a VC-backed company, where the pressure is so intense. You don’t have the time to try and figure it out.

Jeff Sirkin:
No. I think that’s a great point.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
It’s sort of ad hoc.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s it. To your point, obviously, VC private equity creates that environment. Even now, the pressure on marketers, and you said this up at the top, to keep delivering. Frankly, today, especially … You and I have both been doing this long enough that I remember, back in the day, when lead volume was the game.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Absolutely.

Jeff Sirkin:
“We just need a thousand MQLs and whatever.” And then, you get there. Now, you say, “Well, we get there, but we had such a low conversion rate that they’re not converting the revenue.” And so, now it’s, “No. Lead volume is not the problem.” These days, there’s almost too many ways that you can get names in your database.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
That’s true.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s not necessarily going to move the needle. And if marketers are not impacting revenue, then, again, the pressure just keeps building.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
You can buy a list now pretty easily.

Jeff Sirkin:
Right. Right.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
But is that going to be the way?

Jeff Sirkin:
And the answer is, “Almost never.” Almost never. I want to talk about, in terms of your work, how you’ve seen it impact organizations specifically. What would you say are some of the key benefits that you typically drive towards in terms of the use case for how they can most effectively leverage your research?

Ryan Paul Gibson:
It often depends on what the objective is. I’m sure that you probably deal with that too. For me, that sets the tone and the stage of what you eventually do. I still focus on buyer journey discovery. “Lean into jobs to be done,” type of stuff. But it can vary based on what you want to understand.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
That said, I think at it’s most basic, we influence messaging positioning and how you need to talk about your product. So that the perspective buyers or ideal buyer see themselves in your marketing, which is a common thing that marketers will talk about forever. You want to have that reflection in your marketing. Now, if the customers are using their own words to talk about why and how they bought, which they often call Voice of the Customer work, then that’s a great way to figure out that part of it.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
It also helps with understanding. What are the actual triggers that are causing them to seek a solution out in the first place? I don’t necessarily mean that part just before they talk to sales. I try to start as early as possible in a buying journey around, “Walk me through what was happening, even before you started looking. Why was this a problem in the first place? Why does this even exist?”

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Because if you can understand that part of it, and then systematically figure out every choice they made and every action they took to finally get to your product, over all the things they could have done … You’ll now understand how you can influence that decision process much earlier on. Actually, even if it’s product-led. You understand that these are all the things that are happening on average for them to think about buying our solution. How can I impact each of those stages?

Ryan Paul Gibson:
If you can have that, that totally changes the game for marketing. Because then, you know communities you can be in. You know types of content you need to help influence those different points. Things they’re struggling with on the way to your product. That is a big one that comes out of it.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
And then, even things like new service, new product lines, features. If it’s a service company, new services that you can provide. There’s all different ways that it’s going to influence the business. And then, you can help identify what attributes of your customer makes sense.

Jeff Sirkin:
One of the things you mentioned that’s so critical. You mentioned that it’s helping to uncover what happened before somebody got in touch with sales. I think this is the piece that a lot of organizations miss. When we think about it, I think we’ve all seen some version of this stat. A potential buyer is 65%, 70% of the way through their buyer’s journey before they get in touch.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
It’s higher now.

Jeff Sirkin:
Exactly. And that’s going to keep going up. Especially, now, with all of the information that’s freely available online and product-led growth. That number is going to keep going up. But part of it is that organizations then see what data they have, which is typically in their CRM, which only starts from the time that buyer raises their hand and gets in touch with them.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Absolutely.

Jeff Sirkin:
But that’s not when the need began. I think you just hit the nail on the head. To me, the most important point is, “What was it that actually triggered them to recognize that they had the need, and that they’re interested in searching for a solution?” At this point, they’re already raising their hand.

Jeff Sirkin:
But if you want to impact your marketing, if you want to influence how you actually grow real demand, it’s that. You need to understand what those buying triggers are, what the things are that are helping people recognize that they have a problem. Because they’re happening before they get in touch with you.

Jeff Sirkin:
Recognize that everything in your CRM is after somebody’s realized they’ve had a problem, and as they’re in the process of saying, “Well, what’s the best solution that can help me?”

Ryan Paul Gibson:
And then, the challenge is … That’s just good to know. It’s important to know. But that’s not what marketing typically is.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s right.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
It lands there eventually, because sales needs help. They want to have someone that’s a very well-informed buyer when they get into that sales motion. Whatever that is. But it doesn’t start there.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s right.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
People don’t wake up and want to buy a thing, typically, for a complex product. Right?

Jeff Sirkin:
Right.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Especially, in B2B. Even for some of the lower average contract value products, that’s usually not a three-day turnaround. Or what happened was they felt the pain for a while, and they just happened to find the thing. The pain now was just so acute, it got them at the right time.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
I’ve talked to buyers who’ve been problem-aware and solution-aware for years. The common logic is, “Well, if I show them the pain and how I solve it, they should buy it.” There’s a lot of reasons they don’t buy right away. Sometimes, years.

Jeff Sirkin:
Of course.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
You need to figure out why. What’s happening in that three years? Say it’s like a year. What’s happening in that year? Why am I not a priority?

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s such a great point. Again, I think some of this is the fact that we as marketers want to feel that we have some control. Some sense of control. Frankly, I think part of it goes to the way we do reporting on it and we visualize it, which is this linear funnel. As if there is some process that somebody is just going about these steps. And so, all you need to do is put the next step in front of them.

Jeff Sirkin:
To your point, they may go through steps one through three within the first two or three days of becoming problem aware, and then maybe sit on it for a year. And that’s the point where it’s, “No. The reality is this is so much.” To me, I always come back to the fact that that’s why they call it the buyer’s journey. It’s their journey. We as marketers are here to be able to support in any way that we can. But for us to think that we have ultimate control over that process?

Jeff Sirkin:
One of the things I think a lot about is 10, 15, 20 years ago. We used to refer to it more as the sales cycle. Now, I think we’ve all collectively come to call it the buyer’s journey. It’s a really small thing in terms of terminology, but I think it speaks volumes in terms of where the control lies. I’d argue that 10, 15 years ago, you had to go through a sales rep to learn a lot of the information about the product, about the solution.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
You did.

Jeff Sirkin:
I think that’s part of what it was. You held the key to everything. There really weren’t the opportunities today between communities and review sites. There weren’t all these other places to go for credible information. As a result, you essentially just had to raise your hand, go through the vendors, and see what it was all about. But I think that control has just purely shifted now. We just all need to come to realize it is the buyer’s journey. Whether we like it or not.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
I was that buyer.

Jeff Sirkin:
There you go.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
When I started in B2B, I was actually in the operations side of things. I actually started for a franchise chain. I sold franchises. Bakery, coffee shop franchises. I was actually selling businesses to entrepreneurs, which is such a …

Jeff Sirkin:
A vendetta thing.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Absolutely. But to what you just said. We were small and scrappy. I’m up in Canada. We were a medium-sized chain, which was about 120 units. In the United States, that’s maybe one chain in one state.

Jeff Sirkin:
Exactly.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
We were small and scrappy in the context of Canada. But I had to rely on the vendors for all my data and information. That was actually where I really started my research journey. Because if I needed data like you provide in the quantitative side, I actually had to … My vendors would casually take it from their own decks and stuff they paid for and slip it to me via email.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Thank goodness. Because it was so expensive. It was tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Because these were massive research firms. And then, the qualitative side, I did it myself. I would go to the stores, start talking to the customers. I would go into the stores of competitors, pretend I was a customer, and started casually chatting up their own customers.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
I asked them why they bought there. People thought I was out of my mind, but I needed to understand why they were choosing them over us. That actually gave me some insights on where we were better. But I say that because I had to rely on the vendor.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s right.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
They were really good at it. The ones who would give me those things … Guess who had my business over and over again? I would renew with them. Sometimes the price wasn’t an issue. It was what I got in addition to what I needed to get done.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s right.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Nowadays, I don’t need them for that stuff. Although, I still might choose a vendor that has good a relationship and gives me additional value. That’s still a reality. I think there’s less of that now. Especially, in the digital world.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s such a great point. One thing I just want to come back to, from my perspective, and the thing I get really excited about. You kind of talked about this. You brought up the politics within the organization. From our perspective, when we see organizations after the fact, after we’ve worked with them, that buyer insight really becomes the foundation.

Jeff Sirkin:
Typically, the beginning of our projects, we bring in stakeholders from across marketing, sales, product, customer success, support, the executives. And so, to your point, it really does help solve some of that political debate. Our whole perspective is, “Listen, we’re not here to tell you who’s right or wrong. We’re going to take all of these as hypotheses and we’re going to let your buyers tell us.”

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Exactly.

Jeff Sirkin:
And then, when you do this effectively, that research itself becomes cornerstone content. It helps you enable your sales teams more effectively. As we talked about a little earlier, it enables you to align your positioning and messaging to each individual audience segment and persona. Again, when you recognize that there is more than one.

Jeff Sirkin:
The trick is here, and I’ve seen this over and over, is that when you nail the positioning and when you nail and you can create relevant content messaging, it flips a switch. It creates really this rising tide of new demand. And that, from our perspective, is really how you get that coming back again. And then, all of a sudden, prospects are coming to you instead of you chasing them down.

Jeff Sirkin:
It’s been such a powerful experience for us. Because understanding your ideal customers … If you solve that, it becomes the thing that solves all of those other problems. You now know what content to create. You know what products to develop. You know what matters most to them. You know why they’re choosing their competitors or you. You understand better what parts of your unique selling proposition resonate best. Obviously, I think we’re both biased here, but I think what research can enable organizations to do is really powerful.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
You’re not going to get an argument from me there.

Jeff Sirkin:
I’m curious, then. You and I have both been doing this a long time. Marketers and business leaders. How have you seen their perspective on wanting to do research? Or even understanding that research is a problem or a solution potentially to some of their problems? How have you seen that change over time?

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Interesting. It has and it hasn’t. The last 10 years of my career, I’ve worked mostly with early stage. Series B, let’s call it. Just to draw a line somewhere. When I first started working with them, there wasn’t a ton of that mindset. There was around the initial ideation of a business idea still. Some people might be familiar with the Steve Blank and the Lean Canvas model. The customer discovery.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
That’s a lot of what they teach in the incubators. Jobs would be done. They’re starting to replace a bit of that now I find. But if you start there, it’s all about validating, “Is this something someone’s going to give me money for?” They would do a pretty decent job there. But then, once they got into an environment where they had to build sales and marketing functions, that is where it often fell apart. Most early stage companies, the founders will be the first sales person.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Right.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
More often than not. They typically do a good job, because they’re a subject matter expert. They’re typically a technical founder. They can talk the talk and walk the walk and all that stuff. But then, when they need to start building acumen into influencing a market, again, they struggle.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Because what they think is, “What I’ve done now with some early adopters is now going to translate to the larger part of the market.” I should say, quantitative in your side has been stronger.

Jeff Sirkin:
Right.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
I think when all the tech came in, you definitely got more quantitative data, which even I would’ve loved back in my day. What a godsend. And then, I think we over indexed into it, thinking it would be gospel. And then, people who grew up with those things didn’t understand there was other ways to look at research. I think the pendulum is swinging back around now. I say that anecdotally.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
But also, it just seems to be more discussions around, “How can you build a more holistic approach to how you’re researching the customer?” Marketers now … It goes back to what I said at the beginning. Those scenarios where I find more people realize they need to do it. One of the challenges though, in your case, probably they’re just data overwhelmed. They don’t know how to parse it into something that tells a narrative about actions they should take.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Or for me, they think often it’s just opening up a video call like this and just talking. Then, we’re going to get to a sense of what the insight should be. Well, in some ways, yes. But for me, qualitative data is there’s still rigor around it and a process you need to have, to get what you need to drive insights that then marry with what you do, which is the formative side.

Jeff Sirkin:
Exactly.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
They all blend together. And then, you start there. There’s more embracing of it, but it’s still a big gap.

Jeff Sirkin:
I couldn’t agree more. I will say, from my perspective … This is probably true more with larger organizations, more established organizations. Quantitative research used to be seen as a, “Nice to have.” Or frankly, it almost became a necessary thing, but it was almost like where it was relegated to within the organization was not necessarily fundamental to sales and marketing.

Jeff Sirkin:
It lived in some research organization. Or maybe in product. It was for very specific purposes, but it wasn’t really seen. To me, this has been one of the exciting things as the buyer’s journey has shifted so much more digitally. We’re all coming to realize that. Especially, with these overcrowded channels. How are you going to break through the noise?

Jeff Sirkin:
And so, there really has been a ground swell from my perspective of leaders saying, echoing our messages, “The only way is to understand your customer. Period.” That’s the only way to break through the noise. That’s the only way. Especially, now. Again, back to control. It used to be that they had to go through you to get information. Now, they don’t.

Jeff Sirkin:
Now, you need to you need to be able to get their attention. That’s become the much harder thing. And so, I think some of the things that research helps most have really just become more forefront. I’ve certainly seen the narrative change around business leaders and especially marketers saying, “This is something we need.”

Ryan Paul Gibson:
It’s still a gap though.

Jeff Sirkin:
I couldn’t agree more.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
When I was doing my own due diligence around Content Lift, I actually spoke to some agencies that’d been around for a while and some other researchers. I don’t know if this has been your experience, but it’s historically been the hardest part to get people to invest in. The commodity side of marketing, people seem to understand.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
It’s very binary. They can understand, “I want a blog. I need SEO. Give me some ads. You need a website.” This part of it seems to be a struggle for people overall, but I can feel the winds shifting. I think other researchers that probably you and I both follow on social media seem to sense the same shift.

Jeff Sirkin:
You’re right. I have conversations about this all the time. Just to your point, what’s happened is marketing has gotten more complex with all of the different channels and all of the different specialties. Especially, in large organizations. We have to do all of them. Part of the issue is, marketers are saying, “Well, we’re not hitting our …” To your point, “The model’s not working out. We got our 1,000 MQLs, but it’s not driving the revenue we need. We need more.”

Jeff Sirkin:
And so, then what happens is we can’t stop the plane. The plane is in motion. And if we turn anything off, if we take a step back, we’re at risk of going even lower than we are. We can’t do that. We have to keep doing everything all the time. Again, this is why I always say research becomes the one thing that unlocks all of the others.

Jeff Sirkin:
If you actually, again, I don’t even want to say paused. Partially, this is why … Either if you have an internal organization, or if you have additional bandwidth, or if you bring in third-party organizations like either of ours. It enables you to do this while you’re not stopping the plane from flying. But now, it makes everything you do better.

Jeff Sirkin:
There was a company I remember from when I was growing up. I don’t even know if it’s still around anymore. I remember their commercials. It was called BASF. And so, their commercials were, “We don’t make a lot of the things you buy. We make a lot of the things you buy better.” That’s the thing. Research is the common thread. It will make your ads better. But to your point, I think we’ve over-relied on distribution.

Jeff Sirkin:
What we’ve gotten to a place of is marketers blaming the channel to some extent. “We must not be resonating because we’re not on TikTok. Or because we’re not doing this effectively.” No. I would say, at a baseline level, you’re not going to find a 5X or 10X lift by going into a new channel. More often than not, it’s just that your content isn’t resonating.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
They’re not relevant.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s it. That’s it. But that’s the piece that they never really stop to question. That’s hopefully where … I think that’s still where the gap lives today, to your point. That’s it.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
They don’t know.

Jeff Sirkin:
They don’t know what they don’t know. We’re starting to come around on that. I’m excited, hopefully over the next couple years, that even continues to flourish.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
They just don’t understand how to even be relevant in some ways.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s it.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
You have to have the context of why you exist in the first place. I actually think they don’t need to do everything. I’m going to be a little different there.

Jeff Sirkin:
Sure.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
But that’s probably a function of who I work with. When your early stages to a Series A, you can’t do everything.

Jeff Sirkin:
Right. Right.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
You have to very specific with what you’re going to do and why. What I find is they almost start to do everything because they think one thing is not working. It’s similar to what you just said. “Might as well go into TikTok now.” Well, maybe. But what are you going to say there? Why? How do you know that’s the thing you should say?

Jeff Sirkin:
Yes.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
That’s the part where they fall down. Because then, they fall back on the standard, “Promote the product.” Or, “Hey. Look, we hired another person. Come work for us.” That’s the stuff you see. The reality is, that might have worked even a few years ago. But if you look at social, the context of social now is that’s how people consume most information. You stay within platform. They’re still using Google, but not as much. You’re getting exposed to things in a passive way. It’s not a high-intent thing until I see something that resonates.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s it.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
And then, I might follow you on social. And then, I’ll start noticing your stuff for a bit. “You know what? Jeff really knows what he’s talking about here. I should go visit his website and see if there’s anything good.” That’s how that stuff works.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s it.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
But to get their attention, what in the world are you going to talk about? Because if you just talk about your product, no one is going to care. Unless, you hit them at that exact moment where that pain is ripe. They’re ready to, “That’s the thing I need.” But the odds of that are so low.

Jeff Sirkin:
The way I think about it is, listen, they’re on this journey. They’re on this quest to solve a particular problem for them. If you’re out there talking about you, they’re saying, “No, thanks.”

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Exactly.

Jeff Sirkin:
Again, start with them. They want to hear a story about them. That’s why, again, if you start with the pain point that you do help solve for them, you’re at least giving yourself a much better chance. To your point. But if you’re saying, “We added this new feature. We hired this new person.” Again, they’re just going to ignore it. Not intentionally. Their brain is saying, “Not for me.”

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Exactly.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s nice that you’re patting yourself on the back over there, but I’m not sure how that’s going to help me.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Exactly.

Jeff Sirkin:
I’d love to get your perspective. Obviously, you and I do some form of larger scale projects and things like that. But one thing that would be really beneficial is … Marketers and people within inside organizations. What are some ways that they could get started tapping into some of this now? What are some of the things they could be doing inside their own organization?

Ryan Paul Gibson:
I’ll be frank with people. If you have a culture that is not embracing this, it’s going to be a tough sell in the beginning. Because you have to think of it as, you’ll say to whoever you report to, “I want to spend the next few weeks talking to customers, and not do the other things you’ve just asked me to do for the next quarter or two quarters.”

Ryan Paul Gibson:
It’s not an easy sell for a culture that hasn’t done this work. But what you can do is some small things to build towards it. Like anything else. What can you do? The first one is, I was always a big fan, when I was working in various organizations … Work across the company. Go talk to sales, customer success, the product team. Book weekly chats, sit on some meetings, jump on sales calls or listen to prerecorded ones.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
That’s a really good first step. Because even though it only covers that part we discussed, which is where their intent is the highest and they’re looking to purchase, you’ll start to get a sense of things. What I always tell people about this work is a salesperson might help you become better at marketing through a conversation, but they won’t think necessarily like a marketer.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yes.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
You are the one that writes content for X. Or puts ads together here. You’ll start to filter those answers through those things that you’re trying to do. If that makes sense? You will start to latch onto things that the sales team won’t necessarily know to pick up on.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
That’s the first step. Then, look outside the company. Go to communities where your prospective buyers hang out. Go into things like Quora. Reddit is a good one. Reddit is where I always tell people, “You can read the reviews for something on G2 or Trustpilot. And then, you can go to Reddit for the real reviews.”

Jeff Sirkin:
I love that.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Because people are very honest on Reddit in that community. Find how people are talking about problems that you might be in the universe of solving. Just follow people on social media that are your perspective buyer.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
What are they talking about? What do they care about? Those are some really easy ways to get some quick wins in research. Because what you and I do are deep dives. But you don’t always have that luxury. That’s a way to really build some valuable intel quickly.

Jeff Sirkin:
I just want to echo some of those. Certainly, listening to sales calls is the first thing I recommend again. Whether pre-recorded or not. Ultimately, to me, what I think you want to be listening for is … What are the pain points? What are they struggling with? Even slightly deeper than that, listen for the language. How are they describing the problem? Because so often, it comes down to language and phrasing.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Oh, man.

Jeff Sirkin:
The fact that the way we as marketers talk about things is not the way our buyers think about them.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Let me give you an example of that. If I may?

Jeff Sirkin:
Please. Please.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
I work a lot with a company called Rewind. They do SaaS backups. They got their first home run in Shopify’s app store as a backup tool. A backup software tool for the Shopify stores. What was so fascinating was Rewind … You look into their H1 at the time. Backups for your store. Sorry. Backups for your data. Backup your data.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
When I would go and talk to the eCommerce merchants, they never said the word, “Data,” once. Ever. They would say things like, “SKUs. Product listings. My store.” Whatever. Yes, you have a sense of what your product might be. They might use totally different language to talk about it.

Jeff Sirkin:
And I think people don’t recognize that. Again, even if they’re synonyms. Even if you think you’re saying the same thing, they’re not seeing it that way.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
No. They aren’t.

Jeff Sirkin:
And so, it’s so critical. Look. Fundamentally, we do mostly quantitative. But this is, to me, the value of qualitative. The perfect world is a combination.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Absolutely.

Jeff Sirkin:
Getting the language very specifically really only comes out of the qualitative. Listen to the sales calls. The other thing is, similarly, if you have a customer success organization, talk to customers if you’re able to. Not just any customers. Talk to your best customers. Here’s why. If you want to listen to the pain points of people that are potentially buying, you want to listen to what people have found.

Jeff Sirkin:
Your best customers. The ones that pay on time, don’t ask for discounts, that seem to love you. They’d write a testimonial anytime you’d ask. Those are the people that have clearly found something. They’ve found a great benefit of your solution. Ask them to describe what it’s meant for them. What’s the problem it’s solved for them? What has it allowed them to do?

Jeff Sirkin:
Because a lot of times, the benefit that they’ve stumbled into is sort of like a black box. They’ve found this magic that you’re probably not leading your marketing messaging with. To your point with Rewind, some people may have said, “It allows me to back up my store.”

Jeff Sirkin:
It’s like, “Wait a second. We’re not saying that.” It allows you to uncover what are the benefits that real users and the people that really like what you do have found. And so, how do you then take that black box and package it up for everybody?

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Exactly.

Jeff Sirkin:
The other one, again, I couldn’t agree more is communities. And so, this is one that I would say, it does not mean start your own community. You can. If you have the skill.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
It’s so tough to do that though.

Jeff Sirkin:
Right. Frankly, I’d even argue, especially early on, it’s less about even participating and more just to see what the conversation is.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
It’s observational work.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s it. That’s it. What are people saying?

Ryan Paul Gibson:
I used to do it when I was a researcher. When I started researching in the stores, I just watched people in the queue. It’s almost the same mindset. What are they doing out in this world, where it’s all the same people who share same functions and same responsibilities, talking about?

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s it. We had a podcast episode a couple of months ago. Camille Trent, who’s wonderful. She used a term I really liked. She called it, “Method marketing.” If you don’t sell to marketers, if you are not part of your own ideal customer profile, which is 95% of marketers, then you need to essentially go to where your buyers are.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Exactly.

Jeff Sirkin:
You need to essentially try on and act as your buyers. Find the water coolers. The digital water coolers they’re hanging out at. What’s the conversation like? What competitors are they comparing? How are they discussing? What things are really driving them?

Jeff Sirkin:
To your point, you mentioned price earlier. You may think internally, “It’s all about price and this and that.” And if you go to these communities, you probably won’t see price mentioned at all. It just really helps you understand that, if you want to better understand that buyer, then go inhabit their world.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
I would caution marketers. If it’s not their domain, don’t engage freely.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s it.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Because you actually might say the wrong thing and look the fool. But it’s going to be more prevalent. Because the idea of having a subject matter in-house, which is probably similar to what a sales engineer would’ve been. Or something to that effect.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Where if it’s a high-intent conversation, you have someone that has the subject matter expertise come in and talk about the product to add validity. That’s probably going to happen more in the market before a journey. The challenge is those people are going to be harder and harder to find.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s it.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Especially, for early stage companies. You need to find ways where you can understand what’s happening now to that environment. What are the trends and patterns you see? Don’t always engage if you don’t know the answer.

Jeff Sirkin:
Right. Again, you’re not there so that you can leave a product pitch or something like that. To your point.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
No. No.

Jeff Sirkin:
You’re there to observe. You’re there to observe. I love that. Are you ready for a couple of not-so-rapid-fire questions?

Ryan Paul Gibson:
I guess so. I’m so bad at these, but I will do my best.

Jeff Sirkin:
Well, if you’re listening, it means we didn’t cut that out. Let’s start with, what would you say is the most overrated marketing activity?

Ryan Paul Gibson:
I’m going to say cold email. But I think there is no overrated activity. This is why I’ll say that. I think anything can work. You just have to understand how to use it. I even think cold outreach can work. The problem is we just take a shotgun approach to it.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
I think skywriting can work, but you need to understand. How can I use it and why? But I think we over-rely on that. I think about this a lot. I’ve never seen someone produce a case study around cold email, where they show me revenue. They talk a lot about booking meetings.

Jeff Sirkin:
Meetings. Right.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
The percentages, though. I think this would be an interesting study. Maybe you should tackle this? The percentages of meetings booked seem to align around the percentage of a market that’s ready to buy.

Jeff Sirkin:
Right. Right.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
You know what I mean?

Jeff Sirkin:
Totally.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
I always caution people about cold email, but caveat, it could work if you actually know what to talk about in that environment.

Jeff Sirkin:
The thing I want to just expand on a little bit there, which I think you touched on really well, is the fact that … Earlier, we were talking about marketers. Especially, at larger companies that are doing everything. But I think what happens is they do the one thing, and then they just plaster it across channels.

Jeff Sirkin:
I think, to your point, you need to be very mindful of how to most effectively do that thing. To your point, it isn’t that cold email works or doesn’t work. It’s that you need to know how to use it most effectively.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Absolutely.

Jeff Sirkin:
Even for a lot of us that personal brand wise are on LinkedIn and Twitter. It’s not necessarily one and the same. And so, a lot of people will just take their content from one and copy it over to the other. Most will find that doesn’t work either. It’s sort of the same thing.

Jeff Sirkin:
Understanding that there is a real nuance and there is a real skill to each of those tactics. And so, just be mindful of which you’re using. Are you doing it in an effective way?

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Okay.

Jeff Sirkin:
Then, let’s spin it on the positive side. What would you say is the most underrated marketing activity that marketers should be doing more of?

Ryan Paul Gibson:
To me, it’s a toss-up of the community stuff we talked about and organic social. But I’m going to say organic social for B2B. Because I still don’t see enough people using it in a way that makes sense for how a business probably should use it. What I already touched on a little bit.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
People now will stay in a platform and they won’t leave it. They’re just looking for interesting things that are relevant to them. If you can switch your mindset around that self-promotional to a cadence of providing. If you just took all the 10,000 blogs that most companies have that’s just sitting there on a website.

Jeff Sirkin:
Of course.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
There wasn’t a lot of maybe search intent behind it. Truncate those and put them just on LinkedIn. One a day, over the course of a full year. I think you’d be very surprised. Just for a month. I think you’d be very surprised about the uptick you’d get in engagement.

Jeff Sirkin:
Because I think, to your point, it’s using it in a way that you’re focused on, “How can you help your buyers?” I promise, if you help your buyers, it will result in sales.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Oh, man. Yes.

Jeff Sirkin:
But the point is, I don’t think you need to go in with the explicit intent of, “I’m going to go pitch my product there.” No. It’s more, “How can I help my buyers?” I think the other thing that you touched on is people buy from people. Leveraging people within your organization to actually be those thought leaders. Because when you see a company saying something, versus when you see a person saying it, it just resonates differently.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Well, think about the example I gave. When I was the buyer, they would send me all the market data. I would even get things from sales, account executives. “Hey. I saw this article. Thought of you.” This is just a natural extension of that, but it’s just social media. That’s it. It’s not different. It’s just in a different context. A different format and environment. You have to understand how to use these channels in the context of how people are systematically making decisions about something.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yep. I couldn’t agree more. And then, finally, if you’re thinking about especially earlier in your career. What would you say is the most important skill or skills that a marketer can possess to be successful?

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Early in your career, if you’re going to be in B2B, learn about business. I know everyone talks about psychology.

Jeff Sirkin:
Of course.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
All that stuff is important, but you’re still working in a business. How do they make money? How do you compete? How do you understand how to compete in a market? I sort of live in a weird … I find I’m a little different than a lot of the marketers. I find I’m more of a biz dev sales person that loves marketing.

Jeff Sirkin:
Right.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
It’s just the nature of who I am maybe, but also how my career has unfolded. But I think that’s a key one. Learn the business. And then, the second one I have is listening. Active listening and maybe patience. It’s just the ability to listen.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Because I think, as a marketer, if you can just sit back and absorb and listen, which isn’t always easy. Often, you just want to get things done. The ability to listen to either your stakeholders, your peers, your customers really helps enrich how you approach your work.

Jeff Sirkin:
I love that. I want to just echo the, “Understanding business.” As we talked about earlier, marketing has become so specialized. But to me, what that has now led to is that there’s even more benefit to understanding how all the dots connect. You may come in and be an expert in SEO or be an expert in writing Facebook ads.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s all well and good. But for me, it’s understanding, “What are we actually trying to do? Who is the potential buyer? What are we trying to get them to do?” But again, to your point, I think more generally in terms of marketing. Marketing is a piece of business, but we need to think like business people that happen to be marketers. I love that perspective.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Well, it’s marketing at the end of the day. It’s trying to influence a market.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s exactly right. A go-to-market strategy.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Yeah. We forget about that part sometimes.

Jeff Sirkin:
And then, what resources, books, blogs, podcasts? Is there anything? Newsletters that you would recommend to our audience?

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Books, I’m bad at. I’ve never really been in the book club or in business books. A lot of them are great. It’s just never really where I’ve gravitated. Two podcasts that I usually put on quite a bit, for where I am, and the things that I want to focus on.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
One is, I like Peep Laja. How to Win. I like Peep because he thinks similar to me, I find. He’s a little controversial at times, which is what I like, but I think he owns some of that. Also, he thinks about what we just talked about. How are you going to win in a market?

Jeff Sirkin:
Right.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Strategically and tactically. He interviews really interesting business leaders about that. I like that. But that aligns with where I like to live and breathe in marketing. The other one I like is Phil Agnew, who has a podcast called Nudge. That is actually the psychology side of things. He used to work for Hotjar. He works for Buffer now. His whole thing is focusing on how companies have used psychology and neuroscience in marketing, which I think is so fascinating.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
I just talked about psychology. I was tongue in cheek about it, but it is important. I think that just comes a little later, as you get a little more experienced in marketing. Because if you don’t know the foundational pieces, it’s hard to apply psychology. Those are the two that I like. What I do say to people though, when they ask me that question, “Who should you listen to?”

Ryan Paul Gibson:
I said, “Think about where you are now, what you want to do in your career or in your business, and find people who are in similar positions.” And if they have content that is helping you, those are the people. Because it’s so hard to discern, when we get exposed to different thought leaders, whether they’re relevant for us sometimes.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s it. I love the perspective of, “Find somebody who’s achieved what you’re trying to achieve.” There’s no shortage. Thankfully, with communities like LinkedIn especially, there is no shortage of people that are out there sharing their story. Sharing the things they’ve learned.

Jeff Sirkin:
And so, find somebody, to your point, specifically who has achieved … Whether it’s owning SEO. Whether it’s running your own business and they’ve reached some threshold. Whatever it is, find somebody who’s achieved something you want to achieve. They’re likely to be giving away their secret sauce.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Absolutely.

Jeff Sirkin:
And then, finally, where can people find and connect with you on social media?

Ryan Paul Gibson:
LinkedIn is where I live. That’s it. It’s such a great platform. I know some people don’t like it. I think it’s fantastic. I’m very active there. I know you are as well.

Jeff Sirkin:
Yep.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
People can just DM me. I’m always pretty good at responding. Or they can just hop on my website contentlift.io and just check out what I do. I just talked to someone today who’s thinking of going into research.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s awesome.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Just giving them some thoughts. I talk to a lot of companies too about just how they can approach it. Similar to what you said. How can they get started? If they can’t work with me, how can they get started? Because I’m happy to help with that too.

Jeff Sirkin:
That’s great. Well, Ryan, thank you so much. This has been amazing. I feel like we could do this for hours.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
We definitely could.

Jeff Sirkin:
Thank you for coming on and thanks for sharing your story with us.

Ryan Paul Gibson:
Well, thank you for having me. It’s been great.

Jeff Sirkin:
I really enjoyed my conversation with Ryan. I love his perspective on the current state of marketing that signals the need for research. It’s all around the uncertainty they feel, not being sure who their ideal customer is, and ultimately, not sure how to get into a market and win.

Jeff Sirkin:
If you want to learn more about the resources mentioned in the episode, you can find them in our show notes. In addition, we’re publishing the full text transcripts of the episodes on our website at sirkinresearch.com/podcast. Thank you for listening. I hope you’ll join us for a new story next week on Long Story Short.

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