How to find out what your customers really want

By  •  Updated: 12/28/22 •  3 min read

Today I’m at that stage between Christmas and New Year where my brain is recovered enough to start firing with new ideas.

It can be pretty dangerous. 

Lots of shiny objects. Exciting, but untested plans sprout up from nowhere. So here’s my safety rail against doing something stupid…

The end of each year is great for looking back, as well as forwards, so I take a moment to remember things that have worked for me in the past, and see whether I’m still doing them.

Here’s an example of something that, on a long timeline, made a bunch of millionaires.

It’s using welcome email series to gather data, but doing it the profitable way.

When I did mostly affiliate marketing, I ran a big list – 2 million names – and at that size your offers can get pretty diverse. You also end up running generic, mass-market promotions like prize-draws to get people to sign up to your list in the first place.

So our challenge was that we had to send the right offers to the right names before they got bored of us and unsubscribed.

Being good little “professional” marketers, brainwashed by college degrees and “consultants” we asked our list what they wanted.

We added a short, optional survey to the sign-up process that asked people what they wanted to hear about, and we tailored the first emails based on what people said they wanted.

I made a bit of difference, but barely enough to justify the work.

That’s no good enough for me. 

I’m “strategically lazy” which means I want a lot of return on my efforts.

“Hard work” is for donkeys. We’re better than that.

There’s 2 ways this mindset works.

First look for high leverage points to work on – like welcome emails that everyone sees.

The second is, if you don’t get the results, see what you can do to reduce the effort.

I decided to just bang out all our recent top offers in the first email and watch what people clicked on and bought.

Then I sat back and looked at the results.

Let me give you a tip. If anyone tells you to survey your customers about anything they might do in the future, just show them the door.

I’ve seen a few people try it since this story began and they all follow the same pattern.

The offers people said they wanted, bore no relation to what they actually acted on.

The biggest mismatch were the casino offers. 97% of the people who took up the casino signup offers (which were basically free), had said in the survey that they weren’t interested in them.

The pattern went all the way down. 

(The only thing people agreed on was that they wanted free stuff, but there’s not many businesses you can build on that.)

So, here’s my tip for this week.

Don’t ask. Watch.

Don’t ask your audience what they want. Give them options and watch what they do.

There’s more to this story though.

I’m taking my kid ice skating now so I’m going to tell it tomorrow.

Look out for an email with the subject line “The 30 Day Bank Robber Strategy”. 

Yes, I’m going full guru subject line on this one.

See you tomorrow.

Stephen Pratley

I build email lists, that grow into one-man businesses.