Six surefire ways to zero in on your customers’ pains

Want to move someone to action? Identify one of their “pain points” and tell them how you’ll solve it.

Let’s take a literal example: back pain.

Get back pain? Does it interfere with the way you enjoy life? Chances are pretty good this ad would motivate you to go to grab some Aleve from the medicine cabinet or, if you’re out, go buy some. The commercial brings to life the physical, social and emotional discomfort that pain brings.

You can do the same thing with whatever you’re selling.

But to do it persuasively, you’ve got to know what words, feelings, ideas and images people associate with the pain your product or service relieves.

You need to learn your prospects’ “language of pain.”

If you have the pain in question yourself because you’re part of the prospective customer group, than you may start out with some insight on this. Many of us would be able to sympathize with old Saint Nick in the Aleve ad.

But if you’re a marketing manager trying to sell corporate financial management software to chief financial officers, you probably don’t have an intuitive, first-hand grasp of how CFOs talk, feel and think about the pain points around accounting software. After all, you’re a marketer, not a finance pro.

So how do you learn the language of pain for CFOs, or anyone else? Here are six ways to zero in on this vocabulary of discomfort.

  1. Mine keyword data. Using tools such as Google’s free keyword tool, you can see what terms people are using when searching for solutions or answers to particular problems. This will give you a sense for the words people actually use. (Google has tutorials on how to use this tool.)
  2. Monitor social media. By finding communities of your target customer group and listening to what they say and how they say it, you can often discover how your prospects talk about and feel about the pain in question. LinkedIn groups are a good place to start for B2B marketers, as are any specialized social media sites in your industry. There are lots of tools you can use to search broadly; one good free one is Social Mention. You should also read industry blogs (and their comments) for insights.
  3. Interviews and focus groups. In-depth conversations with even a small number of people can provide you access to the language they use and feelings they have about the problem you’re offering a solution for.
  4. Trade shows. Interviews and focus groups are formal ways to tap into the language of pain, but attending trade shows and conferences and simply striking up conversations with your target audience can lead to insights, too. Listen carefully, especially to what people say when they’ve had a few drinks and have loosened up a bit – they may get less polite, but more honest. Honesty is what you need.
  5. Your sales and customer service staff. The sales and customer service teams usually have a lot of direct contact with your target audience (if they don’t, you have another problem). Talk to them to understand how your prospects think, feel and talk about their problems. You can also go along on sales meetings and listen to customer service calls.
  6. Media coverage. If the problem you’re solving has been covered in the media the language used by reporters in stories, quotes in those stories and words used in editorials and op-ed pieces can offer important clues. Trade publications are a great place to look for B2B products and services. In addition to the publications you already have in your office, you might want to cast your net wider. Yahoo has a directory. But don’t stop with one source. There are thousands of trade publications out there.

Obviously, as you go through the research process you should, at a minimum, take a lot of notes. If you compile a large amount of raw text – interview transcripts and social media conversation, for example, you could also dump it into a tool such as Wordle, which produces “word clouds” that show you graphically which words are used more often.

What tips do you have for understanding how customers think, feel and talk? Please share in the comments below.

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