In a recent podcast interview with Jen Spencer from Smart Bug Media, we had a great conversation about inbound marketing and how it has shifted the power away from the salesperson and into the hands of customers. During our discussion we talked about personas and how creating them was a foundational step in developing a successful inbound marketing campaign. She offered some great advice and recommended marketers interview three to five current or prospective customers to research and understand them better; including how they operate and what’s important to them. She then went on to say, “When you’re starting a company, you always have a ton of ideas. It’s important to prioritize these ideas to determine if they’re inline with your buyer personas and what impact they will have.” If I didn’t know better I’d think Jen was on on the product team rather than the marketing team (and to be fair Jen is incredibly talented and has worked for multiple SaaS companies).

Always on the lookout for an opportunity to increase productivity and alignment, this seemed like one of those moments when founders could easily kill two birds with one stone. In the startup world, hours run long, time runs short, and todo lists are ever growing monsters peeping their head out from under your bed always reminding you that idle hands are the devil’s playground. So it only makes sense to take the little time you have in the early stages of your startup  to make your interviews with customers and prospects as productive as possible. In addition to that, you may have a hard time getting time on your interviewees’ calendars so combining your product and marketing research into one session makes a lot of sense and automatically builds alignment across multiple departments.

Marketing Research

In their blog post, “How to Create Detailed Buyer Personas for Your Business” Hubspot does a fantastic job (and even gives you a downloadable template) of describing how you should do persona research, how to find good candidates, and even lists 20 questions you should ask during your interview. The author, Pamela Vaughan, describes personas as “…fictional, generalized representations of your ideal customers. Personas help us all — in marketing, sales, product, and services — internalize the ideal customer we’re trying to attract, and relate to our customers as real humans.”

The list of questions Pamela outlines are divided into seven categories: Role, Company, Goals, Challenges, Watering Holes, Personal Background and Shopping Preferences. Some of her questions are very marketing focused but others align very well with traditional product research. Questions like, “What are your biggest challenges?” and “How is your job measured?” are two great cross-over questions that should be a part of every product interview.

Product Research

Transitioning to the product portion of the interview should feel seamless. Examining the list of questions from Predictable Profits blog post, “The 10 Most Powerful Question to Ask When Developing a New Product of Service,” you will see these questions have a very similar tone and often sound a lot like the same questions marketing was asking. Questions like, “how will you use a product like this,” and “what major problems could a product like this help you solve,” are great starting points. Pulling from another podcast interview with Lois Lewis, she stresses asking question that get to the true pain the user is feeling and how can you solve that. Pain is a significant driver in making a buying decision so if you can focus on that from the moment you start product development you will truly delight your customers…and your salespeople.


At the end of the day, starting a new SaaS company is hard and I’m up for any opportunity we can find to make it easier. In this post we looked at how one interview could result in great research for both your product and marketing teams. But I would also recommend this that this type of research should be shared with every team member you employ. Make it part of your on boarding process.

If I move a few departments down the SFM Framework, sales and client success could greatly benefit from research like this. In fact, the Sandler organization created a diagram for their sales training program called the “pain funnel” in an effort to remind salespeople how effective of an emotion pain is when trying to make a sale. Imagine the delight when you hire your first director of sales or outsourced marketing agency and confidently hand them a stack of customer research showing just how your product solves your customers’ pain. In their eyes, and hopefully you’re customers, you’ve just gained rock star status!

My final thought is that it’s very important to remember that while you may be in love with your product idea, if no one is willing to pay money for it then you’ll experience your own pain in short order. Doing the appropriate research and building a unique product that improves the lives of your users should always be the goal. Accomplish that and the money will follow.  

Bonus: For another great list of question, check out John Cutler’s post, “50 Interview Questions For B2B SaaS Customer Research.”