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  • Writer's pictureSarah Colley

Audience Research: In-Depth Methods For Learning Pain Points

How do you create content that your audience actually NEEDS?

What about content that will convince your audience that you're the solution for them?

Not just any clients either, but the RIGHT clients.

Frankly, nearly every marketer out there has provided the answer already: know your audience.

But everyone's idea of knowing an audience is a little different.

It could be as simple as: we serve law firms only. Or, most of our clients are medium-sized companies with a lot of clients themselves, so like marketing agencies, law firms, and architects.

Some companies go the extra mile and create an ideal customer profile- a little sheet that shows the customer's demographics and job title, almost like a resume.

In my experience, even the profile is a mock-up of who the company thinks are their average customers, rather than their ideal customer- the one person they should be targeting.

Below, I'm going to break down my method of forming an ideal client and getting to know them well enough to create compelling content for them.

An ideal client is who you want to work with more often.

Not necessarily who you're most commonly working with already.

A client of mine once approached me because her company was receiving a ton of calls from people that didn't fit her business.

She runs a home-building and renovation firm for multi-million dollar homes, with most of her clients owning these properties as second homes.

Almost all of their work was either building a home from scratch, utilizing their in-house architects, or doing a complete restoration of a home.

The calls she was receiving though, were along the lines of:

"Hi, can you install my toilet?"

"I'm looking to renovate my downstairs bathroom"

This was a sign that there was something off with her messaging. Her website and content didn't speak to the caliber clients she normally pulls in through word-of-mouth marketing.

This isn't an uncommon problem.

Nor is it uncommon for businesses to continually work with their less than ideal clients because they run with the belief that it's better than no clients at all.

Narrowing your focus to your ideal clients helps acquire more of those ideal clients because you'll create content specifically for them.

How to Identify your Ideal Client:

Think back to all the clients you've ever had, and ask yourself this simple question:

"Which ones were your favorite?"

It might seem wrong to narrow your audience down in such a way, and you're probably even thinking that not every client is going to be great to work with. That's just the way it is, right?

Right, but wouldn't you like more great clients?

So narrow them down.

Favorite might be throwing you off. What I mean is...

  • Which clients were the least difficult to work with?

  • Paid the most?

  • Provided testimonials or referrals?

  • Were great communicators?

It's likely you already have a few clients in mind.

If you don't work directly with clients, ask your team or any of your client-facing employees. if you record calls, consider listening in on a few.

What you need to know about your ideal clients:


Okay, that's a little much.

You do need to know quite a bit more than you might think, though.

Most companies take a surface-level approach, knowing the demographics of their audience and even their job titles, but that's it.

Sure, that helps you identify some of the language you might need to use in your copy, and the angle you should take in copy, but that's where it stops.

Demographics won't tell you what a client's pain points are.

Here's what you need to know:

  • What industries do your clients work in?

  • What kind of companies? (startups, enterprises...)

  • Who is your usual point of contact at these companies (their job title)?

  • Where does this point of contact usually hang out online?

  • What kind of content do they consume and share?

  • What communities do they interact in?

  • What are the biggest pain points across their industry as a whole, as well as their specific business?

  • What solution did they come to you for?

The way I do this is rather simple- a spreadsheet.

This is what the template looks like:

As I look into the companies and the individual points of contact, I may add details such as site traffic, revenue, number of employees, significant company news, etc.

Once I have a clear picture of the audience, I dive DEEP to determine their pain points, concerns, questions, and so much more.

Discovering Pain Points of your Target Audience

People read articles for information and/or entertainment. Plain and simple. Give them neither and you've completely lost them. They'll skim right past you again and again because you're not really speaking to them.

To get them to click AND read, you have to answer their questions, solve their problems, give them a path to something they desire.

Pain point SEO has a long history in marketing, but if you've tried to solve any problem with a Google search, you've probably noticed that only a few select names pop up again and again.

There are a few reasons content gets left in the lurch:

But there is one major issue keeping your content lost in the search trenches (and keeping those articles from generating leads):

Your content doesn't solve anything.

Methods for discovering pain points of your clients:

This section reminds me of a recent conversation I had with a content marketer I highly respect. I've been reaching out to my fellow marketers stationed in-house (unlike me), to ask their biggest challenges when it comes to marketing for the company they work for.

Many of the answers weren't surprising (and you'll see new content popping up in the next few months based on their answers) but this one did.

She'd said that the biggest challenge they're facing is:

"learning what in the world affiliate marketers want to see in content"

She'd stated it was a new audience for them, and they were still figuring everything out.

To be honest, I kind of thought she already knew the answer.

In fact, I believe she was already engaging in ways to find out what this new audience wants, but I'd still made a suggestion:

Find blogs that use affiliate links, and reach out to them- ask them what they want to know.

I even pointed out that it was exactly what I was doing by reaching out to her to ask what her biggest challenges are.

I build my content strategies based on what my prospective audience needs to hear, and to learn what they need, I ask.

Now, simply reaching out to a few dozen members of your audience won't work for every business.

With that said, let's dive into the vague and mysterious methods behind pain point audience research...

Method 1: Ask your clients directly

This is one of those "uh, duh" moments, where you're either slapping you're head thinking "why didn't I think of that" OR... "oh, boy, why didn't I think of that" said in a sarcastic voice.

But even for those that think it obvious, asking customers what they want isn't that common.

I mean, think about it... how often are you, as an individual, asked about what you want to read? What your biggest challenges are? What you're hoping to solve?

I don't know, maybe it happens to you often, but not for me.

I'm asked for feedback... That happens. But feedback and questions about your challenges are not the same thing.

With this method, you actually have to talk to your clients. Here's how to go about it:

(P.s... This method best applies to B2B companies with clients they already communicate with on some level.)

  1. If you've done your research and have figured out your "ideal clients" based on past and existing clients, you should already have a list of clients to look at. Pull that out now.

  2. On this list, you should have a point of contact that you've regularly communicated with. Are they the decision-maker? The one that chose to work with you? You need that person.

  3. Speak to your point of contact to either set up an interview with them, or the decision-maker. You can use this interview as a case-study or simply slip questions into a regular check up with them. OR... just state that you're trying to work out ways to serve them better and would like to chat about it.

  4. During the interview, ask them questions about their business. (What did they come to you to solve? What do they wish they knew about your business now and before working with you? What do they wish you'd do better? What do they not know about your business- other services? What they want to know about certain topics... etc.)

  5. Record the interview and take notes and use it to make a list of the biggest challenges your clients are facing, what their questions are, and what they don't know about your service.

  6. Start creating content based on their collected responses.

You may consider this "feedback" as well, but it isn't, really. Sure, if you're asking "how are we doing?" that's asking for feedback.

By asking what you've solved, and what they came to you for, you can better understand the challenges of clients just like them.

You really want to get to the heart of their challenges. Interviews are one of the best ways to do this.

(P.s.s...I've also simply messaged my past and existing clients about their challenges, and it's always yielded insightful responses)

Method 2: Ask the people you WANT to be your clients

I like to go around on LinkedIn asking people in and out of my network about the biggest challenges they face in marketing.

Now, these are just simple messages to people I actually communicate with regularly on LinkedIn. It's much easier to ask these kinds of questions with people you already have a rapport with.

It's not an interview, but it did provide me exactly what I needed to know about people that I truly do want to work with in the future.

You don't have to know people in the companies you want to work with to ask questions. It's very easy to send emails to people within companies to ask them about their challenges.

A simple format like this works:

Hello [name],

Your company keeps popping up in my feed, since I work with a lot of companies just like yours (and I like to stay in-the-know), and well, I'm facing a bit of a conundrum.

We're trying to create content that actually serves our clients, and for that, we're hoping to figure out some of the biggest challenges companies like yours are facing and the questions you may have about a tool [or service] like ours.

Got a second to shoot us a few insights?

I like informal emails that speak directly to a company or to the person I'm speaking to, so I always alter emails.

Responses are hit or miss, and it depends entirely on your approach, who you are, how busy the person is that you're reaching out to, etc.

Personally, I feel it's better to use social media to ask these kinds of questions. BUT I'm also a freelancer, not a company.

To find the people you WANT as your clients to approach with these questions...

Use directories to find companies within your clients' industries.

Conduct a LinkedIn search for people with the title you'd most likely connect with in a company.

It doesn't have to be a challenge, and it doesn't have to be very formal. Just connect with people, and dive into conversations.

Method 3: Ask client-facing employees

Can't ask your clients directly, or want a broader sense of what your audience wants (I know, asking each client individually can take a lot of time)?

The next best thing is to ask the employees that speak to your clients on a daily basis.

This may include:

  • Sales teams

  • Customer service

  • Tech support

  • Onboarding

  • Account management

If your team is small, meet with them as a whole to go over customer pain points (give them time to prepare for the meeting and bring notes).

If your team is large, or you have multiple departments that speak to clients regularly, meet with the managers of each department (after giving them time to speak to their teams).

Ask them the most common questions they hear from clients.

Ask them what clients most often come to them for.

Ask as many questions as you can until you can get a sense of what the client is trying to solve and the biggest questions they have- especially when it comes to your solution or solutions like yours.

If you can't meet with your team, consider:

  • Listing to recorded calls with clients

  • Hopping on calls with clients as they call in (as if you were an employee of that department)

  • Sending out emails to members of the department to ask for their input.

When I worked with Memory AI, I'd asked my point of contact to connect me with a few members of their sales team.

They ended up creating a whole slack channel specifically for me to ask questions about clients.

The company was founded in Norway, but the entire team is remote, so a Slack channel was the best and easiest way to connect (and to keep the thread going).

Sadly, I don't have screenshots or access to the channel anymore for examples.

Method 4: Check reviews

Every other method I mention in the rest of this article cannot compare to direct client insights, but I can't fail to mention them because they still yield merit.

Reviews are the next step down from speaking with your departments.

They're still directly from the client, but you aren't able to ask questions. You can only go off of what they provide.

If you can spot it, there should still be gems within these reviews.

Let's look at some examples:

All of these "reviews" were on Product Hunt, where there's a little more discussion between the product makers and the people testing them out- so questions are a little more forthcoming.

But, you can see that clients have questions that everyone else may be wondering as well.

The team answered these questions in Product Hunt, replying directly to the asker, but you can see the potential for content creation.

For other review site (and of course, depending on the product/service), you're going to get a lot of feedback rather than direct questions.

If you pay attention though, you can spot the pain points. Here are a few examples from my clients:

Maybe they are missing something. This feedback may be helpful for making changes to the website and how a user interacts with it.

But, it would also be a good piece of content because it would answer the question directly.

Think of how many times you've gone onto google to figure out how to do something within an app or site.

Sometiems you get helpful articles or forum threads, but the sites you trust the most for the information is the app or site itself.

You should make it exceptionally easy for your clients/ customers to navigate your website, but having instructions for them is also an instrumental way to retain them.

"I'll take availability and price any time..."

They're telling you a pain and a desire.

They want this thing you're offering, but they want it at a price that's good for them.

Sure, you can work on fixing the price, especially if what you're offering is "the best deals on...".

But if you can't alter the prices, you need to highlight other aspects of your platform. What are they getting by working with you over the competition?

"No unique advantage"...

They're telling you what they want to see. Help them see it.

Method 5: Monitor social media

I always recommend brands to stay connected with their audience through social media, and I don't just mean posting daily. Instead, all brands should engage in real conversations and weigh in on discussions already happening.

When you do, you're likely to spot trends in conversations, pains, questions...

For instance, Kaleigh Moore, e-commerce writer and freelancer coach (and influencer), contracted me to promote her existing content to increase brand awareness.

I had already been engaging in freelancer groups across Facebook, and was connected to dozens of freelancers through Twitter and LinkedIn.

My previous engagement simply clued me into the the types of groups I should be sharing with, and made it easier to comment without raising so many flags.

While it was instrumental for promotion, it was just as helpful for letting Kaleigh know what type of content to create moving forward.

I noticed that nearly every post in these freelancing groups had questions about pricing and managing clients.

These are pain points and questions.

Though it wasn't a part of my job, I collected posts like these to send to Kaleigh at the end of the month to help her with content strategy.

Start doing the same for your own brand.

Method 6: Check Quora

Quora is loaded with inspiration for content.

There is a caveat though.

Not all of the questions on quora qualify as good content ideas for your audience.

You have to consider who is asking the question, what "spaces" these questions are asked in, and how important they are to YOUR audience.

Also consider how vital these questions really are.

Tools like Q-stats show how many visitors there are to the question/ answers each month.

The higher the number of average monthly views, the greater the number of people wondering the same thing.

Method 7: Surveys

Just the other day, I added a poll to my feed on the most common challenges marketing professionals face.

The poll is still out, but the results kind of surprised me a little.

I knew that these were top challenges, thanks to my discussions with other professionals and my clients, but I definitely thought lead generation would win out.

Anyway... this poll represents just one way to reach your audience and ask what they want.

Other potentials are:

  • A survey to your email list

  • A survey to your client list

  • A survey in your newsletter

  • A feedback pop up on articles

  • A form on your website or landing page

It doesn't have to be complicated or fancy. It can be as simple as a single line or question and a few A, B, C choices.

Now, go talk to your clients

Well, there you have it folks.

Seven different methods for learning the pain points of your clients.

Now it's time to implement one... or a few... into your own content strategy.

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