The Least Sexy, Most Powerful Way to Get Better Copy
by Joel K

Most businesses aren’t putting their mouths where the money is.


Yeah, you read that right.

No, it’s not as clever as I hoped, and it sounds vaguely sexual… but let’s roll with it.

What I mean is…

Most companies still don’t understand the value of customer research.

Y’know, talking to customers.

Oof. Did you grimace?

When people talk about customer research, they usually mean heat mapping, analytics funnels and usability testing. Those are important, but they don’t do much to guide your copywriting.

For that, you need our ol’ pal “qualitative data” – but that leaves us with important questions:

  • What does this kind of customer research look like?
  • How do you collect it?
  • How do you make sure the feedback is MEANINGFUL?
  • Does it have to be an exhaustive, $100,000 undertaking?
  • Isn’t “research” just busywork CROs do to pad up their rates?

I’m going to share one simple way to get great customer feedback that I think every business should be doing, because it’s so damn powerful.

The method I’m going to share is brain-dead simple : Customer interviews and surveys.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Oh, that’s it? Let me just reach for the “X” button and close this stupid post for good.”

But I’ll be bold and say I can’t think of any conversion or copy-focused activities that you can derive more value from in a shorter period of time – IF you do them right. 

Most businesses ask the wrong questions, get the wrong feedback and miss opportunities to learn.

I’m not talking about the fluffy “take your customer for a beer” type of interview that so many well-intentioned bloggers who have never run a business in their lives like to write about.

I’m talking about carefully structured feedback that will help you…

  • Better define your own UVP
  • Get an incredible case study
  • Get persuasive testimonials
  • Understand why people buy from you
  • See the REAL buyer’s journey instead of the one you invented alone in a boardroom somewhere.


Here’s how to design a survey or interview that gets the results you need:

The first place businesses go wrong is by asking binary “yes/no” questions or focusing on what the customer thinks they want. 

To get great, detailed feedback, you need to ask the customer about their experience.

We’re interested in the what, when, how and why; you want to frame all that in the customers’ specific context.

To structure your survey, meet your new best friends: Before, During and After.

Using this format you get a story that leads can relate to in the customers’ own words.

You can then use these words to sell, persuade and convince, and they’re ultra-effective, because they came  straight from a buyer.

1. “Before” questions focus on three primary things:

  • The nature of the customers’ problem/pain
  • The other solutions they’ve tried
  • The factors that brought them to you

Questions you could use include…

  • Can you describe the problem you were trying to solve?
  • What made you aware that this was a problem?
  • What’s the most difficult part of ________? (Problem/activity/task), or
  • What are the top 3 challenges when trying to ____________ (activity or outcome)
  • What made that so frustrating?
  • Can you tell me about the last time that happened?
  • Who else is involved in this process/has a stake in solving the problem?

You might learn that the problem you THINK you’re solving and the problem you’re actually solving are different.

You’ll also be gathering invaluable intel on how the customers describe their problems, pains and frustrations.

Next, you need to dig into their quest for a solution, using questions like…

  • What else (if anything) have you tried to solve the problem?
  • Can you explain that process/approach?
  • What didn’t you love about the solutions you’ve tried?

Here, you’re getting them to spell out what they saw as your unique value proposition.

You can use these shortcomings of other solutions to shape the messaging of your own.

Finally, it’s time to ask about your own solution and the customers’ journey to using it:

  • When you were considering trying ________, what hesitations did you have?
  • What intrigued you, or seemed most compelling about ________?
  • What questions did you have about ________ that you needed answers to?
  • Was there anyone else you had to convince to buy in?

Now you’re drilling into the context surrounding where that customer came from and what intrigued them.


(Trust me, your clients will be less bored than that guy looks.)

2. The “During” stage focuses on the customers’ early experience with your product.

Some questions to be asked…

  • Tell me about your early experience with ________ – what were your first impressions?
  • What was surprising about ________? (Your company/solution)
  • What was frustrating or unexpected about ________? (Your company/solution)
  • What did you find challenging about ________? (Your company/solution)
  • What affirmed that  ________ was the right solution for you?
  • What early feedback or pushback did you get from _________ (stakeholder)?

The doors are wide open, and if possible (like on a live call), follow where the customer leads. Ask WHY something was challenging or surprising.

3. The “After” stage zeroes in on the customers’ ongoing experience while helping to define the outcomes they’ve achieved.

This is where you get those amazing impact statements for testimonials and case studies.

Questions might include…

  • What is your favorite part of ________ so far? Why?
  • What can you do now that you couldn’t do before?
  • What would you say has been the biggest benefit?
  • What’s impressed your boss most about _________?
  • If you had to sum up your experience for someone considering ________, what would you tell them?
  • How does this solution compare to others? Why?
  • What questions do you still have about ________________?
  • If you could improve anything about ________________, what would that be?
  • Once you’ve solved/accomplished ________________, what do you do next?

Asking the same question two different ways can yield very different responses.

With your questions designed, it’s time to get in touch with customers.

This post is already pushin’ 1,200 words, so I’ll save the outreach portion for another time.

For now, I’ll sum it up this way:

  • Frame it as feedback. Let clients know you want their honesty – not their praise. This takes the pressure off.
  • Call whenever you can. You can explore far more on a call than you can with a static survey, and peoples’ language tends to be more authentic.
  • Be persistent, but not pesky. People will ignore surveys the first time they show up.
  • Consider incentivizing survey feedback… but if you do, make it clear that you want honest responses.
  • Don’t just do this once. The more feedback you get, the more you can spot trends and validate hypotheses.

Oh – and if you need customer interviews done and case studies written up, email me.

I’m launching a done-for-you service where you set up the call and we take care of everything else.  I’m offering a cost discount to a few lucky companies willing to give us the social proof we need for launch.

Klettke out!

Photo Credits:
sjrankin via Compfight cc
MsSaraKelly via Compfight cc
kellyannedalton via Compfight cc

  1. Melanie Sazegar says:

    Love how you gave examples of questions to ask, when to ask them, and how these questions will help more than the other kind of questions asked. The only issue I see with this method is response rate – outside of a couple people, I imagine that you need to offer respondents a bigger incentive to get them to complete a survey they have to think this much about. So my question for you is two-fold:

    1) How many questions should you include in each survey to balance time stress on the participant and value for the business?
    2) What kind of incentives do you offer so people will take the time to complete the survey?

    • Joel K says:

      Here’s the thing – you probably don’t NEED a massive response rate, and you can save yourself (and your clients) a lot of time by approaching a few of them directly for a phone call. Surveys tend to put people off, whereas conversations don’t. It’s not something you can scale to an enormous level right out of the gate, but because of the depth you’re getting, you don’t really need to.

      That said, I hear your concern, and I think (or thought, anyways) I had mentioned incentivizing the survey in the last little bit of the post. On that, we agree – and persistence is going to be pretty key. You can also just make this a standard part of your process – a yearly call from sales to check in and see how things are going and how you can improve. All in how you frame it.

      In any case…
      1. You can reduce this down to just a few core questions, and have a box where people can check if they’re OK with you following up. I’d try to keep it to 10 questions or less, but that’s a pretty arbitrary number. Honestly? Test it.
      2. Totally depends on who you are. Could be a discount, could be a gift, could be a prize. Whatever the inventive, it has to align with what the customer actually wants – so a chance to win an iPad is probably a stupid idea, whereas a free month of your SaaS or a reduced rate on “X” is probably a fair trade for the value of the info you get. Remember – you can write up a case study based on their responses, and that’s a massive sales tool that will generate more business, so it’s worth investing in.

  2. Alex Dealy says:

    These are great questions and all very insightful. But it also feels like this is really grilling your customer and/or really trying to squeeze them dry.

    A lot of our customers are super busy and couldn’t really get through all of these questions. Any that you’d prioritize above the rest? Maybe ones you can float into an email if you’re like us and you’ve got clients far away.

    • Joel K says:

      These are questions you COULD use – not that you MUST use. There’s really no need to ask them all – ever.

      It should feel a lot more like a conversation that flows naturally; like they’re telling their own story. People like talking about themselves.

      The ones you choose to ask will depend on your situation, and obviously, you’ll need to feel out a customer on the call. Best advice?
      Test ’em. But if you have to prioritize, focus on those that expose the customers’ pain points and dissatisfaction with past solutions (why they chose YOU).

      I’d avoid just emailing. People are decidedly more brief because typing takes effort. Call them if you can. There’s phones, Skype, Google Hangouts… I find that “our clients are too busy” is often an excuse people make when they just don’t want to try. A client who really loves and wants to support your business will make time.

  3. […] If you want to see a really good buyer persona interview, take a look at Joel Klettke’s approach. […]

  4. Priyanka says:


    Can someone list down the most relevant 10 questions that can be asked over call or email, also it’s easier for the client to fill in. The answers to the same will be sufficient to get necessary information from the client and create a strong case study.

    • Joel K says:

      Nope; the questions you ask are better done on a phone call, as you have context to dig deeper that you would not have on an email. The same 10 questions will not apply to all types of clients or scenarios. It’s a case by case thing; you’ll have to think critically.

  5. Dick Wooden says:

    Very helpful yet entertaining article. Well done

  6. David Clark says:

    Love the question stage format for structure. Thanks for the help.

  7. Nick Raineri says:

    Nice article Joel and great advice for producing more powerful content. Thanks for sharing.

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