Four Things I Learned From Asking My Customers

Photo by Eleaf is a tool that helps you edge into customer development. It’s a free tool put together by Sean Ellis and Hiten Shah as a way for product owners to easily survey their customers using pre-written questions.

You enter your product name and voila – 8 questions that Sean Ellis has used many times to achieve his massive successes with companies like DropBox, Xobni, LogMeIn and Lookout.

I’ve had this on my to-do list for DotNetInvoice since launched, but wanted to wait until our QuickBooks integration launched, which finally happened last month. I was further spurred into action at MicroConf; one of the key takeaways from the conference was that I need to be talking more to my customers.

So two weeks ago I dove in head first and emailed the survey to all of our customers. The results were surprising…

The survey consists of 8 questions covering how people found out about DotNetInvoice, how they would feel if they could no longer use it, what they would use as an alternative if DotNetInvoice were no longer available, and several others.

The idea behind the survey is two-fold: to determine if you have a core group of users who really need your product, and then find out the most important features for them, what other features they want, etc…

The problem with traditional surveys asking “What should we build next?” is you might get 40 feature suggestions, but you have no idea which ones are going to cater to your core group of customers, and thus hopefully result in more sales to customers like them who really need your product.

I’m not going to run through the details of every question, but rather share some insights I took away from the survey and how it will shape the future of DotNetInvoice. Keep in mind these are specific to DotNetInvoice and may or may not apply to your product (I recommend using to find out for yourself).

Insight #1: SEO Traffic Converts Extremely Well
Of people who responded to the survey, 85% of people originally found us through Google. Since the survey was only sent to existing customers, this number blew my mind. Search engines account for less than 40% of our overall traffic, but they appear to have a much larger impact on sales.

I should know this information. I have Google Analytics setup to track goals. But Analytics tells me that that only 37% of our sales come from search engine traffic. But I’ve always known that Google Analytics is a victim of the “last click problem” whereby it assigns the conversion to the last thing a user clicked, rather than how they originally found out about your product.

But I didn’t realize it was off by this much.

I had attempted to use KISSmetrics last year to avoid the last click problem, but I ran into problems with the tracking. But the first thing I’m going to do is get it going again to figure out which of these numbers is correct.

If it’s really 85% I know where I’m investing my time over the next 6-12 months.

Insight #2: We Appear to Have Product-Market Fit
According to Sean Ellis, there is a good chance you have product-market fit if more than 40% of customers would be very disappointed if they could no longer use your product. We are at 48%, followed by 33% who would be somewhat disappointed.

While I would like the “very disappointed” number to be in at least the 60% range, I do find some salvation in the fact that we seem to have found a core group of users who really need our application.

It also appears that the majority of “very disappointed” respondents operate within one or two related verticals. This is great news not only for the future of our marketing, but for our product development. We’re now looking to focus our efforts on specific features that should increase sales in these two niches, even at the expense of sales in others.

Insight #3: We Have Competition I Didn’t Know Existed
We’ve been aware of Freshbooks for years, and 37% of respondents indicated if they could no longer use DotNetInvoice that they would go there. However, the shocking stats are as follows:

  • 26% of respondents said they would write their own if DotNetInvoice were no longer available
  • 22% said they would use no alternative at all, which I think means MS Excel or MS Word

The key action item here is to update our marketing messages to properly capitalize on our previously unknown competitors.

Our home page will soon include verbiage along the lines of: “Stop using Word and Excel, save time and get paid faster with DotNetInvoice.”

The headline on our developer landing page will likely change to: “Don’t start from scratch, start with DotNetInvoice.”

Insight #4: Our Primary Benefit is Not What I’d Thought
For years I’ve thought our #1 competitor was Freshbooks, and so have geared some of our marketing on our key advantages over them: you stay in control of your data, and source code is included so you can customize as much as you need.

However, it had not occurred to me that the following would come back as our primary benefits:

  1. Automated invoices and reminders
  2. Easy/Simple to use

Perhaps retaining control of your data and having source code is an expected feature for our customers, so they didn’t bother to mention it? Because while we currently tout automated invoicing and our simplicity, these are not our #1 marketing message, since the competition essentially has both of these features as well.

So I don’t expect to make any changes to our messaging based on this realization, but I am pleased to now have a mental list of the top 4 reasons people are most likely to buy DotNetInvoice.

For 15 minutes of setup and 90 minutes parsing results, this was one of the most fruitful 105 minutes I’ve spent in some time. The findings above, along with a few others are going to shape the direction of DotNetInvoice for the next year or more.

As an aside, I’ve started an email newsletter where I’ll be publishing a more detailed look at my results in the future, along with several unpublished marketing screencasts and other techniques I don’t talk about on the blog. If this sounds interesting, you can sign up at the top of my sidebar.

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#1 Adnan Siddiqi on 07.15.11 at 4:46 pm

Great Insights Rob. Thanks again

Would you recommend surveys before starting a product/idea? if yes then how different it would be?


Rob Reply:

This particular survey is designed for people who have already using your product. But if you have an audience or email list of prospects, asking them questions about what they are looking for can be a great source of info.

Even better is to try to figure out who on your list is in highest need of your product and then discuss with them one on one (phone or email) about the features they need. This is one of the aspects of customer development that I think works really well.

#2 Bill Seitz on 07.15.11 at 9:16 pm

Should you be looking at segments rather than overall-stats?

For instance, that Word/Excel segment might not be aware of Freshbooks, and they might be the exact people talking about “easy to use” as a key feature…

Rob Reply:

I focused a lot on the segment that would be “very disappointed” if they could no longer use DotNetInvoice. Those are the folks we want to focus on in the long-term.

Let’s say I did figure out that the Word/Excel people aren’t aware of Freshbooks and are talking about the ease of use…how do you think I could use that information to improve our product/marketing?

Bill Seitz Reply:

Well, you stated above your home page will have “Stop using Word and Excel, save time and get paid faster with DotNetInvoice”.

But if, for the currently-word-and-excel segment, if “simple/easy” is their key value, then maybe you should change that home page verbiage to emphasize simple/easy instead of “save time and get paid faster”. (Though maybe for your market, those two things are synonymous…)

#3 Eoin on 07.19.11 at 4:39 am

That dang “last click” problem with Google Analytics. It’s a problem that’s addressed by KISSmetrics, but they’re out of my price range. That would almost lead me to set up my own cookie system.