3 Types Of Feedback That Will Grow Your Business Much, Much Faster
Newborns are harder than hard work.
The toughest thing that my wife and I ever did was becoming parents to our first child. The first few weeks felt like running a daily marathon mixed with sleep deprivation, hourly baby feeding and nappy changing.
Amongst the chaos, however, we had to work out why our daughter was crying.
Was it food, an illness, or just because she felt like letting off steam? If only you could run newborn cries through Google Translate.
And now we have the twins arriving soon, it’s going to be double-trouble.
That’s twice the cries that need to be understood, twice the nappies, twice the bottles that need sterilising, twice the clothes.
We'll need to learn quickly what the twins’ feedback means if we want to get through it all.
When they cry, we’ll need to get good at understanding what the difference is between a hunger cry, a tired cry, an “I’m bored of lying here” cry or an “I’m in pain” cry.
90% of the time, it’s to do with food.
Yes, it’s easy to think that their cries are about something more – something more dreadful even - but it’s often because they’re hungry and want milk. However, we do need to listen out for what their different cries mean and respond to their feedback.
Just like growing a newborn, when we grow our business, it’s more than sensible to seek regular feedback from customers, however tough the thought of getting feedback is. That might sound obvious to say, but the reality is that many business owners or people in charge of marketing are reluctant to seek the feedback they need.
Hiding away is easier.
It feels easier in the short term to not ask for feedback. We don’t want to feel criticised. We don’t want to change things because it means slowing down. Just the thought of re-doing our website or re-developing that new app fills us with dread.
We’ve spent hours getting ready to sell something, we’ve invested money in a web designer or a copywriter, we become highly reluctant to change. We just want to get on and get customers buying, right?
However, without proper feedback, we can’t possibly make our product, services or marketing any better. We’re always just stabbing in the dark.
It’s not just small businesses that don’t seek proper feedback.
I have worked for large businesses who said things like “we don’t have time” or “we don’t have money”. Or worst of all a cardinal marketing sin is committed. The arrogant words: “we know our customer already” leave their mouths. Ugh. It’s no surprise that some marketing turns out to be pretty unmemorable when no customer was spoken to before it went live.
Yet, the reality is that slowing down by asking for and listening to feedback speeds up business.
When we take a little time out to find out what’s working and what’s not, selling our product becomes much easier, and customers buy from us quicker, and enjoy doing so.
Think of a wave.
As a wave goes forward, it goes back at the same time. Stand on the beach, and watch the waves splash forward. Look at the bottom of the wave too, and you'll notice that water is also going backwards. It’s this simultaneous motion of going backwards and going forwards that propels it forward.
Feedback has the same effect.
It pulls us backwards by slowing things down, but the truth is that the feedback propels us forward because our product or service becomes sharper, and more enticing because you get clear about how to make it better.
The truth is that ‘tough feedback’ is a gift wrapped in pain.
It doesn’t feel nice to hear negative feedback, it hurts. It gets us ranting, it makes us feel dejected, but that is only for a little while. After a few hours, we have the knowledge, the insight, to make things even better. And that’s why feedback is a gift.
When we ask for feedback, however, there are three specific ways of getting ‘tough feedback’:
Feedback from your target audience (well, obviously)
Feedback from experts (people who will be able to cut to the chase quickly)
Feedback from outsiders (like your mum or your best mate who’s never really understood what you do for work)
Without these three perspectives, it’s hard to get the depth of feedback that you need.
So, let’s start with the first one: feedback from your target audience.
An ad for the telly takes a lot of time and money to make. Telly ads are a risk because they might bomb and make a brand or company look a bit silly. That’s why they round up groups of customers to see what they think of them.
Yes, long before a director, actors and post-production studios are hired, a market researcher will turn up with a lot of pictures of the proposed ad pasted on A3 boards. The researcher will show them these boards or even a computer animation of the ad, and ask customers what they think.
Do they like them?
Are they a bit pants?
What needs to be improved?
In short, will this ad work for you, or not?
I used to be a researcher, doing jobs like this, and it’s one of the most fascinating jobs you can do.
Customers tell you there and then what works and what doesn’t. There’s no double-guessing. There’s just honest feedback based on what’s in front of them. Even though a single focus group can cost a business a thousand or two dollars or pounds to set up, they can be extremely valuable when done well. They give you an invaluable perspective that might drastically increase your sales and the consideration of your business.
And research doesn’t need to be about asking customers about TV ads either.
You can ask your customers about your social media posts, your homepage copy, your new business idea. And it needn’t cost you thousands of pounds either.
In fact, it can be completely free.
If you’ve got a small business or startup, the odds are that you don’t need to spend thousands on focus groups.
Instead, let’s look at some handy tactics that will get the customer feedback you need without hammering your bank account:
Google Forms: it’s free to create a survey and share it on your Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram walls. Asking people to share your survey too via Facebook or email is a useful idea.
Write an article for a publication and then including a survey at the end (I tried this once and I got 400 responses to my survey saving me hundreds of pounds or dollars).
Posting a question on a community where you customers are.
Calling a few existing or prospective customers.
Meeting a few existing or prospective customers and buying them a coffee or drink.
Once you get maybe 5 to 7 points of view, I often find that the feedback becomes similar. And when you start getting similar feedback, you know that you have the foundation of the feedback that you need.
There are three main questions that I ask to get the feedback that I need about my idea:
What do you like?
What don’t you like?
Describe the type of person who would respond well to this?
The first two questions (what do you like, what don’t you like) sound obvious, but are important.
Yet, the final question is extremely important.
The final question (‘what type of person would respond well to this and why?’) forces the customer to think outside of herself or himself and think about who your marketing is really speaking to. If the impression is that your marketing idea is not for them, then something is wrong.
If the customer identifies him or herself with it, then bingo! You’ve hit the jackpot. Yes, you could ask directly ‘does this idea work for you?’, but people tend to be nice and waffle around if they don’t like something that you’ve created.
If you ask an unexpected question like ‘Describe the type of person who would respond well to this?’, then they don’t have to nice or waffle, and can be honest instead – which is far more useful.
You can of course (and should) add more questions to the three above.
But view these three questions as a skeleton around which you can create other more specific questions.
You mustn’t skip this stage of talking to customers either
Their views are critical. However, there is one other type of feedback that will give you a perspective that even a customer can’t.
Which is our second way of getting feedback…
2). Talk to an expert!
The reason I buy Apple computers is that if anything goes wrong, Apple has a team of experts who are there 24/7 to help sort things out (and, yes, they really know their stuff). I wouldn’t dare try to fix my own Apple, otherwise it would, in all probability, crash and I’d end up deleting the internet by accident.
That’s why we need experts when it comes to judging our marketing efforts.
An expert is someone who can spot the nuances of whether you marketing ideas are weak, strong or simply tepid. If you have a new website, ask an expert in web design or user experience. If you’re writing a newsletter, ask someone who is a copywriter. If you’re planning content for the year, find someone who is a content marketer.
When you find someone who has expertise in these areas, you get someone who is like a good antique dealer. Someone who examines it in detail and can spot all the glitches that non-experts can’t.
Their feedback will tell you precisely what to change.
They’ll explain why customers don’t like something. They can tell you which phrases of your sales page to change and what to change them to. They should give you the specific direction about what to fix and how to fix it.
Yet, not everybody knows a marketing expert.
Experts are hard to find and when you find one, they cost a lot of money! And that’s a potential problem unless you do two things: ask a favour or join a community. Let’s look first and why we should ask for a favour.
Asking a favour can save big fees.
Maybe we know somebody who is an expert. Maybe we have to write something on our Facebook or LinkedIn wall to see if anyone knows anyone who is an expert and can help. Maybe we ask friends or friends of friends if they know anybody who we might ply with coffee and a slice of cake, a lunch or even an Amazon voucher for their expert views.
It is worth going out of your way and even paying for a little advice if you simply can’t find it for free because a little expert advice can take your marketing a loooong way. What’s the value of spending $50 of a copywriter’s time once only to judge your sales copy when your customers will be reading that same copy? The answer should be clear.
We also live in a small world.
Over seven billion people live on this planet and marketing is a popular profession. The odds are that friends and family might also know somebody who works in marketing. Just ask.
Yet, there’s a problem with this: it takes time.
And sometimes a lot of time, which isn’t helpful when you have a business to run and a pile of dirty washing at home that’s the height of small church. That’s where online marketing communities come in.
If you’re lucky, you can find an online community where you get feedback not just from other members, but also from experts who run the show. The expert should be the person running the community – so if it’s a good community – you should get the owner feeding back to your questions and marketing ideas at least within a week.
If the expert isn’t there to help you, however, then other community members are handy at giving feedback.
They might not have the expertise as the owner, but they do have the ability to sniff out a good idea from a bad one, even if they can’t express it as well.
And, yes, The Brain Wheel’s community is built around giving specific ‘thoughtful feedback’ on marketing ideas and content. I am there almost every day giving specific feedback in text, video and audio form so all members get an expert point of view.
And if, for whatever reason, I am away on holiday or unwell, then there is a ‘feedback’ audit process in place that lets any member judge an idea through. Yes, in our community, we have a checklist that is simple for all members to judge other’s work, and their work, so their feedback can be as precise and helpful as possible.
Yes, experts, and customers giving you feedback are like a crime fighting duo, like Batman and Robin.
But what if we could add a third crime-fighting partner to the mix? What if we could make it a trio? That’s where our third and final source of feedback comes in…
3). Feedback from outsiders.
A while back, my mother-in-law gave me some feedback on website.
Before I launched my website, she said: “The white font on a yellow background is hard to read” (why I thought white font on a yellow background was a good idea, I don’t know!). Then my father said, "There are too many bullet points on your homepage, I don’t have time to read all of them.” Neither is going to be a customer, but they were right. And my website looked better for it.
Outsiders are people who aren’t your customers.
They're people like your mum, your wife, a close friend – anybody who is never going to buy your product. Yet, why is feedback from outsiders important if they’re never going to buy from you?
The wisdom of ignorance is a powerful thing.
If you can show a tagline, a pitch proposal or a new product to someone who doesn’t know much about what you do, and they can understand exactly what you are trying to say, then you have reached a very good place. It means that you’re able to simplify things to a simple level, where you can articulate an idea simply without having to hide behind jargon.
And as any copywriter will tell you, writing that’s filled with jargon is not a good idea.
This is why an outsider can work well because they just need your idea put simply. An outsider might raise an eyebrow if he or she is confused. They might smile and get it immediately, but they are a useful barometer.
Yes, your marketing doesn’t only need to work for your audience.
Instead, it should be understandable by someone who isn’t your customer and knows little-to-nothing about your business. And when you can write it well, your marketing becomes simple enough for any human to understand immediately.
You might only need to talk to one to three people, but testing it on your mum or best mate to see if it makes sense can be a good idea.
When the writer Malcolm Gladwell has an article to write, he’ll sit down with a friend and run the idea by him or her.
Malcolm will judge which parts of an idea for an article they respond to, and which they don’t. There might be a hidden nugget or phrase that Malcolm may have overlooked but for his friend, it is the essence of the article itself. And this comes from a person who might not be the intended audience for the article.
Yes, outsiders seem like they can only help you so much, but they really can add an extra layer of clarity
We have covered outsiders, experts and your customers as your winning trio of ‘feedback sources’.
However, too much asking of the same people can be a bad thing, which is why we must remember to avoid the curse of ‘feedback fatigue’!
‘Feedback fatigue’ is when you ask the same people too often to feedback too much.
You can tell that you’ve overused them because they don’t reply quickly to your emails like the used to and your burning desire for their feedback becomes their lowest priority. It’s easy to push your luck and end up annoying people by asking for too much.
I leave one to two months at least between asking for feedback from the same person.
Yes, we need to respect other people’s time, but we also need to find new people, who won’t be fatigued by your feedback. And that's a good thing.
Fresh minds people are always useful to find too.
If you ask the same people too often, they get to know you too well, and their feedback can feel a little predictable and feel a little stale. Mixing it up with fresh brains gives you ‘fertile feedback’. A bit like adding fresh compost to your flowerbed.
’Fertile feedback’ is easy to spot.
You just know when you have good quality, fertile feedback. You’ll see it in the words people use: lovely emotive words, and long juicy descriptions about what they like or don’t like. And you’ll probably even feel a little bit disappointed when they don’t like it. And you’ll rejoice when they do.
Infertile feedback is easy to spot too.
If you get short one liners without emotion or a flat tone of voice like a moody teenager, your feedback is not fertile enough. If it doesn’t challenge you like the sounds of a newborn or make you feel happy when they do like it, then you probably need to talk to someone else.
Yes, keep your pool fresh as a daisy, when mixing up which customers, experts and outsiders that you ask.
You need their energy and focus, and keeping things fresh is important. Without feedback a business goes nowhere fast, and asking for people’s views on an ongoing basis becomes the lifeblood for improving your business.
Okay, that’s a lot of talk about feedback.
I have work to finish and kids to put to bed and, hopefully, they won’t kick off and cry because I am doing it wrong. I am sure they’ll tell me though if I do.
PS. If you enjoyed this, why not read our eBook The Wasp Trap about how to create the first five lines of a sales page that will get customers staying on your site, and not bouncing away. Click here to read.
PPS. Yes, The Brain Wheel has its own close-knit community too, and it a community that prides itself on ‘thoughtful feedback’ on your marketing ideas and content. If you’d like to join or want to learn more, contact me email@example.com.