Being successful in a competitive landscape hinges on a critical element: keeping your customers’ needs and wants front and center.

That’s why making the voice of the customer the North Star of your marketing process is key to not just understanding how prospective customers are evaluating your product but also to knowing what you need to do to nail each and every part of their exploration process.

With four discrete stages in the exploration process or journey—awareness, consideration, decision, and retention & advocacy—it’s important to capture customer voice at each step. You’ll discover what customers are thinking as they go through each stage and what your business will have to do to stay competitive and address barriers to purchase.

Customer Lifestage: Awareness

This is the earliest stage in the brand or product journey where a prospective customer has just starting learning about your product. They likely do not fully know what your product does, let alone what problems or needs it aims to address.

Business Goals: At the awareness stage, you want to solidify brand awareness and brand recognition. This means building stronger associations between your product and the needs it addresses. It also means generating positive sentiment behind what your product does.

Awareness Strategy Research: What’s it going to take to start building these associations? It takes knowing what’s impeding the associations from happening in the first place!

Take time to interview individuals that are considering products in your category. You’ll be able to gauge the extent to which they know about you and your competitors, how they differentiate products in the category, and the language they use talk about you, competitors, and the category in general.

Here are some questions to use at this stage:

  • How did you first come to learn about [Brand / Competitor Brand]?
  • What are the first thoughts that come to mind when you think about [Brand / Competitor Brand]?
  • What led you to check out [Brand / Competitor Brand]?
  • What other products or processes did you use to try and solve this first?
  • What sources do you usually go to to learn more about this type of issue or category?
  • What information would be helpful to you to explore more and see if it’s a good fit for you and your needs?

Customer Lifestage: Consideration

Prospects are showing more active engagement at the consideration stage. They have better identified the problem and are also actively exploring ways to solve it.

Business Goals: You want to be where your prospective customers are looking for information. This means building up your marketing engine to make sure you’re present in all of the right marketing channels.

Consideration Strategy Research: Learn where your customers are going for information, and what they want to learn.

Interview individuals that are actively exploring products in your category and proactively ask about their exploration and investigation process. While doing so, dig deep to unearth what information they wanted to collect and who or what they use to collect it.

Here are some questions to leverage at this stage:

  • Was there an event or issue that made you start actively looking for alternative solutions?
  • Was anyone else involved in your exploration process?
  • Were there any websites, blogs, or other online sources that helped you learn about products that solve your challenge?
  • Are there any ratings or reviews sites that you looked at? Which ones were helpful, and why?
  • What information was especially valuable to you as you were looking at different options?
  • Were there any videos, case studies, or other tangible examples that make you really excited about a product and what it could do?

Customer Lifestage: Decision

This is the critical stage where customers are deciding not just if they will buy but what they will buy. Depending on the type of business, this can be as simple as entering a credit card or as lengthy as a month’s long process with multiple steps.

Business Goals: You want to be the product prospects choose, not just because it’s the best product out there but also because it’s the easiest one to buy.

Decision Strategy Research: What’s it going to take to get prospects over that final hurdle? This is where it’s key to learn what your customers expect in terms of price, purchase process, and purchase experience

Make a point of talking to customers who recently purchased as well as active prospects that chose not to purchase. Seek to understand what went well and what could be better.

Here are some questions to use at this stage:

  • If you had to name one thing that made you choose this product over others, what was it?
  • [If trial is available] What did you learn during the trial process? Was there one or two things in particular that made you want to buy or not buy?
  • What did you think of the price point? What makes you say that? What were the prices of other products you looked at?
  • Let’s walk through the process it takes to buy the product. What’s confusing?  [Visuals may be helpful if you’re walking anyone through an actual purchase process].
  • What do you think of the payment methods being offered? Are there ones you use that aren’t here?
  • Were there any questions you had during the purchase process? How did you get them answered?
  • Was there anything that caused you to stop and re-consider your purchase?
  • Was there information that would have been helpful to have just after you purchased?

Customer Lifestage: Retention & Advocacy

You’ve gotten prospects over the purchasing hurdle. Now, it’s time to keep them coming back for more by making sure they’re satisfied with what they bought.

Business Goals: You want your customers to be completely satisfied and, hopefully, be advocates for your business. This means making sure that their experiences align with expectations and making it easy to talk about your product with friends and colleagues.

Retention & Advocacy Strategy Research: Start talking to both recent customers as well as those that have had time to use your product for a while. You’ll want to assess their overall satisfaction with your product, if they are generating regular value from using it, and if there is anything impeding their likelihood to recommend it.

Here are some questions to use at this stage:

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is completely unsatisfied and 10 is completely satisfied, how would you rate your overall satisfaction with using the product? Why?
  • Tell me about how you’re using the product on a daily or weekly basis.
  • Think about the reasons you initially purchased the product. Are you able to effectively use the product to meet those needs?
  • Are there other challenges you’re now able to solve with the product?
  • [If there is onboarding] What were your expectations of the onboarding process? How did the actual experience match to that?
  • How satisfied are you with support or help you’ve received since making your purchase? Why?
  • Is this a product you would buy again? Why?
  • If you were to change one existing feature, what would it be? Why?
  • If there were one additional feature you could add on, what would it be? Why?
  • Would you recommend this product to friends or colleagues? Why?