Audience Research: 5 Expert Tips to Know Your Buyers, Fix Your Messaging, and Grow Sales

By Ben Putano

The proof is in the data: SaaS and technology companies are struggling to connect with prospects.

According to HubSpot, sales email volume is up 111% from pre-Covid benchmarks, but response rates are down 30%.


hubspot data on sales email: Email sends are up 111% while response rates are down 30%


What’s the disconnect?

It’s clear that many companies and their prospects are no longer speaking the same language. Priorities and expectations are misaligned. The company’s strategic messaging is outdated.

When the world shifts, our messaging must shift too. That requires new insights from audience research.

“You need to put messages into the marketplace that resonate with the customers you want more of,” said John Tyreman, Research Director at Silverback Strategies in Washington, D.C.

John has conducted over 100 audience research projects for B2B clients. This research has been critical to building strategic messaging frameworks that grow sales.

I recently talked to John about building a deeper understanding of your customers. Here are five tactics that will immediately improve your audience research:

1. Turn your SDRs into strategists

When your target audience changes, sales development representatives (SDRs) are often the first to know. Too often, though, we ignore these goldmines of insight.

“SDRs are one of the most underutilized sources of research inside any company,” said John, “They are on the front lines every day, talking with customers and learning about their lives.

How can you systematically turn this information into action? First, set the right expectations with your SDRs: They aren’t just sales reps, but strategists. They must be on the lookout for information that could alter the company’s strategy.

Second, ask them to keep track of any conversations that deviate from the norm. Are customers facing new, unexpected challenges? Is a competitor encroaching on your turf?

Finally review this research with your SDRs on a regular basis. As a company, the goal isn’t to react to every single outlier, but to identify patterns.

“Companies don’t look at things in aggregate enough,” said John. “They only talk in anecdotes. ‘Oh, I had this ONE conversation with a prospect and they said this.’ How representative is that of the entire audience? You don’t really know.”

SDRs have more customer conversations than anyone. Maximize their potential by empowering them to be strategists as well as sales reps.

2. Get to know your individual buyers

Too many companies fail to develop a deep understanding of their buyers. They treat customers like statistics, looking at only demographics and firmographic information instead of trying to understand them as humans.

For the companies that do go beyond basic research, the rewards can be massive.

“By understanding the characteristics of your best customers, you can go out and find more of those types of customers, even if they are in different industries,” said John.

John and his team dig deep to get to know the individual buyers. They don’t just look at their job responsibilities, but their personal and emotional lives.

“What are the specific pain points that affect that individual? What emotional benefits are gained from working with us, and what are the tangible business criteria for making a decision?” said John. “There’s also that inherent sense of personal fulfillment from selecting the right vendor or making a decision that helps the company.”

Don’t settle for information anyone can find on LinkedIn. To achieve outstanding results, you need to dig deep to understand your buyers.

3. Demystify the decision-making process

For most SaaS and B2B products, purchasing isn’t done by a single person, but a committee. Understanding the dynamics of the decision-making process is just as important as understanding the individual buyer.

“You have to have an understanding of who the decision maker is, and how decisions are made in that organization,” said John. “What roles have influence over those decisions, and ultimately, who has the final decision-making authority?

Mapping out the decision-making process within an organization can help you develop specific strategies for each individual. You can then create tailored messages for the C-level, finance director, manager, and end-user. This approach is much more effective than a generic sales pitch.

4. HOW you ask is just as important as WHAT you ask

Unfortunately, audience research isn’t as simple as asking buyers what they want. HOW you ask questions is just as important as WHAT you ask.

“Conducting your own audience research is tough because you inherently introduce bias into the process,” said John.

However, there are some things you can do to mitigate that bias. First, write down specific learning objectives for your research. What questions are you trying to answer?

Next, carefully choose the types of questions to use, such as multiple choice, sliding scale, or open text fields.

“All types of questions have their benefits and drawbacks,” said John. “It really depends on what you’re trying to achieve, who your audience is, and what topic you’re researching.”

Sound research design is crucial to getting reliable data on your audience. This is where the help of a research professional can be well-worth the investment.

5. Consistency is key

Our world is changing faster than ever, which means your audience research needs to be up-to-date. In fact, outdated research can be more harmful than no research at all.

Don’t look at audience research as a one-time expense, but a regular investment.

“I like to think about the insights gleaned from research in dimensions,” said John. “Do research once and you have a one-dimensional snapshot of buyer behavior. Do it twice, and you can measure some difference over time. Do audience research consistently over time, and you will be able to anticipate change before it happens.”

Not only does consistent audience research keep your messaging up to date — it’s also a powerful source of marketing materials, like white papers and webinars. Many companies have become pillars of their industry by publishing yearly reports, including HubSpot and Cox Automotive.

Grow sales with better audience research

Like any meaningful relationship, it takes time and effort to really understand your audience — especially after a major life shift. Now more than ever, companies need audience research.

Audience research helps you create impactful messaging which, in turn, has a direct impact on your pipeline and sales growth.

It takes just one insight to transform a business. Make transformational insights a habit by investing in audience research.

Tags: Messaging, Audience Research