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Quit Guessing: How to Do Market Research

A tactical five-step guide to conducting marketing research, designed to help you take guesswork out of decision making.

Making informed—and profitable—business decisions starts with having the right research in hand. Not only does marketing research help you take a data-driven approach to identifying the right opportunities, but it also helps you evaluate past, present, and future decisions so you can keep an eye on the moving target of marketing.

Bonus: Free Goal Planning Worksheet

Use this worksheet to stay organized and aware of your goals when conducting market research. You’ll get an example plan, a template for your notes, and areas to consider, like high-level goals, potential challenges, and key milestones. P.S. It’s a Google Doc! No downloading necessary.

Ready to access the template? All you have to do is fill out the form.

Goal Planning Worksheet
Chapter 1

Defining the Focus of Your Marketing Research

To kick off the marketing research process, you need to define what your problem actually is, lest you dive into research and analysis blindly and never solve a problem at all.
The 5 Step Marketing Research Process_Chapter 1

But what is marketing research? It’s more than a specific method or strategy—it’s about understanding your target buyers, their needs, pain points, problems, behaviors, preferences, and more. The marketing research process involves collecting and analyzing data about your buyers and figuring out why they do what they do so you can market to them better in order to grow your revenue and business.

Unfortunately, marketing research is often one of the first things on the chopping block when budget concerns crop up. Why? Marketing research requires a heavy investment of time—and money. You need the right technology and tools, human resources, and plenty of time to do your research right. 

But doing it right doesn’t have to feel like an overwhelming and costly chore. And in truth, if you don’t know who you’re selling to and why, then you’re basically just throwing money into an echo chamber anyway. 

We’re here to help you do your marketing research right the first time, every time, with our tried-and-tested five-step approach.

To kick off the marketing research process, you need to define what your problem actually is, lest you dive into research and analysis blindly and never solve a problem at all. 

Engage Your Internal Team to Define Your Problem

illustration of four headshotsStart by speaking with your sales and marketing teams to pinpoint the major problem areas that need to be investigated and addressed.

Your marketing research will likely answer one or several of these common questions: 

  • Does my solution actually solve a common customer problem?
  • Which content (related to which pain points) is the most effective for moving customers through the Buyer’s Journey? 
  • What questions do potential customers have while researching a solution like ours? 
  • How are prospects finding and engaging with our website? 
  • Which piece of our content is the most read and engaged with?
  • Which content is helping drive sales enablement in the right direction?
  • Is paid traffic working? What are the costs of clicks and conversions?
  • Which e-book download button color results in the most conversions? 
  • What is our most profitable product/service?
  • Do customer testimonials convert more prospects into leads? What about product/service awards and accolades?
  • What is our most profitable product/service? 
  • Do white papers, case studies, or e-books perform better at moving prospects further through the Buyer’s Journey? 

Define Your Buyer Personas to Target Your Marketing Research

illustration of targetPart of ensuring you have your problem properly defined is asking questions about your buyer personas, or the semi-fictional figures representing your ideal customer. Be sure to consider as many variables and possibilities as you can based on the quantitative and qualitative information, as well as persona interviews.

Some of the questions you might consider asking about your ideal buyers include: 

  • What is their occupation? Industry?
  • What do they do in their spare time? 
  • Where/how do they look for solutions?
  • Where do they live? 
  • How long have they been looking for a solution?
  • What are their pain points and obstacles? 

Oh, the Places Your Research Will Go

illustration of mapOnce you’ve zeroed in on the marketing research problem question you need to answer, consider all of the things you can do once you solve that problem! For example, knowing your key demographics will give you insight into the type of generation-specific or regional language to use in your marketing materials. Although it might seem insignificant, your customers will consider you out of touch if you’re using the wrong regional term for a sub sandwich or are using language that resonates with a baby boomer instead of your millennial target. 

Additionally, with the research you’re about to do, you’ll not only solve a real problem, but you’ll be able to come up with content marketing ideas based on real, actionable data. Yes, you’ll be able to create content that prospects want and need, rather than what you think they want and need. 

With marketing research data and analysis, you’ll also be able to pivot your marketing efforts to the buyer persona who is actually converting at record speed, rather than the one you think should be converting quickly. Some other things you can do with marketing research data in hand include: 

  • Entering a new market or exiting an existing market
  • Launching a new product/service
  • Boosting brand awareness
  • Optimizing your marketing campaigns
  • Improving customer service
  • Changing the perception of your brand’s messaging
  • Adjusting pricing
  • Changing your product packaging or delivery method

Before you dive headfirst into research (and chase after all of its benefits), take the time to develop a research plan.



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Chapter 2

Creating a Plan: Ways to Conduct Your Marketing Research

To make the best use of your time, money, and resources and uncover potential solutions and marketing opportunities, you need to have a systematic and organized approach to researching the problem.
The 5 Step Marketing Research Process_Chapter 2

Figuring out the primary problem you’re trying to solve is only half of the marketing research process battle. To make the best use of your time, money, and resources and uncover potential solutions and marketing opportunities, you need to have a systematic and organized approach to researching the problem.

We recommend taking a three-pronged approach to your research plan, using interviews, surveys, landing page tests, and secondary data. Let’s take a look at each and why they’re uniquely valuable.

Marketing Research Method #1: Interview Prospects and Customers

illustration of magnifying glass over laptopConducting one-on-one interviews—whether in person or on the phone—with your prospects and current customers is the best, most transparent way to gain insight into who your buyer personas are. By asking in-depth questions that build upon each other, you can learn your buyers’ needs, desires, challenges, problems, and so much more.

Start by talking to your sales team, which will be able to help identify customers or prospects deep in the buying process who match each of your target personas. Then, reach out to those customers and let them know you’re trying to get feedback on a specific topic (i.e., your marketing research problem). More often than not, customers are happy to give feedback, especially if they’re loyal to your organization.

If you’re worried about interviewees not wanting to take time out of their busy days to speak with you, consider offering some type of compensation in the form of a gift card, swag, or a discount on their next monthly service fee or product purchase. Just remember that compensation can sometimes sway an interviewee’s opinion, whether they intend it to happen or not.

Also consider focus groups which, if you have the budget, can be a powerful way to see how a group responds to your marketing research problem. For example, if you’re launching a new product or service, a focus group might be a good platform for seeing how a group comprised of your target personas engage with the product in a group setting.


Marketing Research Method #2: Send Out Surveys

illustration of document and pencilSurveys are one of the most popular and commonly used ways for businesses to get feedback from customers about their products or services. Surveys can uncover strategy gaps and help identify potential areas of need before problems arise.

For example, sending out a two- to three-question survey with an additional comments option at the end about a customer’s checkout experience could uncover accessibility and usability issues on your product pages that you hadn’t even considered.

Whether you go with a simple survey through Google Forms or want to send out a survey with more bells, whistles, metrics, and other options through Typeform or SurveyMonkey, remember that your customers and prospects are inundated with hundreds of emails every single day. You need to make sure your outreach actually gets to them by being creative with your subject lines and keeping your survey short and sweet.

Also, consider including an incentive, such as a discount code or other offer, to entice them to take the time to fill out the survey, and use personalization tokens. According to research by Accenture, 75 percent of customers are more likely to spend money on brands that greet them by name and remember details about who they are and what they need, so get personal! Here are some survey subject line ideas:

  • Hi Patricia! How’s our SaaS software working out for you?
  • Take this 2-minute survey—get 15% off your next order!
  • Penny (and then some) for your thoughts? No, really. 
  • We can’t wait any longer, Mark! What do you think?

Marketing Research Method #3: Run A/B Tests

illustration of personasOne of the easiest, most cost-effective ways to gather a lot of data is through A/B testing, also known as split testing. This method compares two variables to determine which one is best received by your contacts or site visitors, depending on whether you do A/B testing on emails, landing pages, or something else entirely. 

A/B testing lets you learn about your target audience’s behaviors so you can refine your messaging, bring in more traffic, and convert more leads—and the benefits don’t stop there. With A/B testing, you can:

  • Create better, more effective content
  • Increase page engagement
  • Increase conversion rates
  • Lower bounce rates

To get started, keep your plan simple. Choose a page or email you want to test, and then determine which element or variable you want to test, such as:

  • Headlines, subheadings, or body copy
  • Form design
  • Calls to action and their design (e.g., color, font)
  • Imagery

Whether you’re using HubSpot, Marketo, or another platform, A/B testing is a powerful way to get hard numbers on how people are engaging with your content and where they are in the Buyer’s Journey.

By leveraging HubSpot’s A/B testing capabilities and campaign tool, you can quickly review your contacts’ timelines to answer some vital marketing research questions, including:

  • Which contacts are sharing content, and what content are they sharing?
  • What content topics are personas gravitating toward?
  • What emails are being opened (or not)? What are they clicking on or opening?
  • What landing pages are contacts visiting? How are they engaging with the content on those pages?

Marketo provides a similar look at what your customers are doing through its A/B testing functionality and Landing Page/Email Performance Report in the activity log (what HubSpot calls the contact timeline). Marketo gives you deep insight into landing page interactions, including:

  • How many contacts came to the landing page and how many bounced?
  • How many contacts are engaged with the page (i.e., time on page)?
  • What is the average cost per lead acquisition for each program?

Now that you’ve decided what your marketing research plan will look like, it’s time to put your plan into action and start gathering the qualitative and quantitative data you need to zero in on the solution to your marketing research problem.



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Chapter 3

Collecting Data from Your Personas

Although marketers tend to lean toward the hard numbers of quantitative research, it’s just as important to consider the observational and anecdotal findings of qualitative research.
The 5 Step Marketing Research Process_Chapter 3

For example, if you run an A/B test on your website to see if a new pricing tier would bring in more business, you’d also want to interview several customers about whether the new pricing tier would appeal to them and why or why not. Yes, the “why” is something you can’t get from quantitative data, but sometimes the “why” is the linchpin to solving your biggest marketing problems. It’s not enough to know that someone took a specific action (or didn’t), you need to know why

Ask Questions

illustration of light bulb in headTo get the right qualitative data and find the underlying “why”, you must ask the right questions. Keep your questions unbiased and direct—and never suggest a particular answer. 

For example, instead of saying, “You think we should add in a higher pricing tier with additional services, right?” consider framing the question like this: “How would you feel if we added a higher-priced tear with additional services?” The first question leaves the interviewee with a simple yes or no option, while leading them to answer with a “yes”, whereas the second version of the question allows them to express their feelings openly. 

But don’t make all of your questions open-ended, lest your interviewees feel overwhelmed. Ask both open-ended questions and closed, yes-or-no questions, plus multiple-choice questions to get a depth of answers. 

Use Personas as a Resource

illustration of three peopleHelping your buyer personas move through the Buyer’s Journey more efficiently is one of the major goals of solving any marketing research problem, which is why collecting data on your personas is vital to your process. 

In addition to surveying and interviewing your actual customers, which we discussed earlier, consider interviewing your sales team, because they’re most intimately involved with the leads who convert into customers. They know your customers inside and out and can pinpoint specifics about your personas that the marketing team may be in the dark about. Some questions to ask include: 

  • What is the most common question that customers ask during negotiations?
  • Is there a particular product or service that is misunderstood or needs frequent explanation? If so, which one?
  • Who is the toughest competitor that you come up against in sales? What are they doing well?
  • On a scale of one to 10, how advanced in the subject matter would you say most prospects you speak to are?
  • What type of content would help you close another sale in the next month? Why would this help?

Some additional passive techniques you can use to gain even more information on your marketing research problem include: 

  • Posting questions online to your followers who meet persona criteria
  • Job listings
  • Social listening on sites such as Quora or LinkedIn
  • Industry blogs and publications 

Don’t Forget the Quantitative Data

illustration of bar graphWith all of the qualitative data you’ll have in hand, we don’t want you to forget about the quantitative data! The hard numbers matter and can support your qualitative data in big ways.

Be sure to pull data on the following:

  • Current website performance
  • Channels with the highest ROI
  • Lead conversion rates
  • Conversion drop-off rates and location in the buying cycle
  • Health of your contact database

When pulling data on the health of your database, look for the following metrics: 

  • Percent of contacts in each lifecycle stage
  • Rate of decay at each lifecycle stage
  • Percent of contacts for each persona
  • Click-through rates (CTR)
  • Conversion rates
  • Time spent on page

Now that you have data flowing in, it’s time to analyze and report on what you’ve found. 

arrow Marketing Research Pro Tip:

Using Marketing and Sales Technology to Track and Report for Continuous Improvement

Lest you get stuck focusing on specific metrics or assumed patterns, we present the first rule of the marketing research process: Always focus on the trends and patterns actually present in the data and research. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the wrong things when you’re looking at raw data, which is why we recommend analyzing and reporting on your research findings in dynamic, visual ways with HubSpot, Marketo, and Databox. 


With HubSpot, you can view data graphically in dynamic charts and examine reports quickly and easily on a dashboard interface. If you need the raw data, it’s there, but HubSpot’s interface makes it easy to see persona trends, conversion rates, and source reports. 

If you’re asking yourself which persona buckets most of your clients fall into or how long it took for a contact to convert into a customer or which of your personas are of higher value, HubSpot can help you unveil some powerful reports. 

For example, you might be creating tons of content and running campaigns to reach Practical Pete, but the data may actually point to Living Dangerously Dave as the bucket that most of your customers fit into. You might be pouring ad spend into reaching SaaS Manager Steve because you think he’s converting quickly, but your marketing research may actually show that CTO CeeCee is not only converting at breakneck speed but is also a higher value customer. 

Additionally, with HubSpot reporting, you can take a deep dive into conversion rates and traffic sources to benchmark how customers transition from contacts to leads to MQLs to SQLs and, eventually, to customers. Having a view into these insights is important for understanding how your customers are flowing through the buying process so you can modify the process to better serve future customers and delight your current customers. Knowing where your customers are coming from also means you can direct your ad spend in the most effective direction to maximize your ROI. 


Like HubSpot, Marketo can help you turn data into deep understanding and insight with its Revenue Cycle Explorer/Revenue Cycle Analyzer (RCE/RCA) tool, which lets you pull opportunity reports, email metrics reports, and much more, including: 

  • Campaign Activity Report
  • Campaign Email Performance Report
  • Company Web Activity Report
  • People Performance Report
  • People by Status Report
  • Report Type Overview
  • Web Page Activity Report

The goal of digging into all of these marketing reports, of course, is to understand how your personas are engaging with your content so you can provide them with more intentional and conversion-driven opportunities. 


Instead of pulling and crunching numbers from dozens of different sources, Databox is your one-stop shop for data analysis across multiple sources. For example, if you want to pinpoint the overall cost per acquisition across all of your paid marketing campaigns, you should pull in sources of spend into your Databox dashboard, such as: 

  • Inbound marketing 
  • Paid media
  • PR
  • Software/apps
  • Marketing or other agency

Then, you can compare that total spend against the number of closed customers to find your total cost per acquisition. What may have taken hours to compile across dozens of apps or sources—or even departments—happens in seconds on Databox’s visual, dynamic dashboard.



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Chapter 4

Using Secondary Marketing Research Methods: Competitors and Industry Trends

Understanding how your company is performing with prospects is important, but so is understanding how your prospects and customers engage with your competitors and how your competitors are faring in the greater marketplace.
The 5 Step Marketing Research Process_Chapter 4

Consider Your Competitors

Start by pulling your competitors’ domain strength using SEMrush or a similar tool to assess the overall health of their websites. Then, take a look at their current marketing activities and ask some pointed questions, including:

  • What marketing tactics are my competitors using in their marketing strategies and what is working well for them?
    Consider reviewing tactics like blogging, PR for third-party expert interviews, newsletters, paid social, free educational resources, PPC ads, ongoing web development, multimedia content, analyst reports, event marketing, and speaking engagements. 
  • How large are my competitors’ networks and how engaged are my personas in those networks?
    Review their social media following, engagement, and mentions, blog comments, reviews on third-party sites, and customer testimonials. 
  • What can we do to compete with our competitors in the marketing landscape?
    Based on your research, determine your quick-win opportunities in terms of budget, competitive advantage, and your resources available.
  • What isn’t working well for our competitors that is working well for us?
    Maybe your brand messaging is much stronger than your competitors’ or you have more raving clients. Identify your strengths and find ways to continue to play them up.

Seek Out Secondary Data

Consider digging up some solid secondary data to complement or supplement your primary research of interviews, surveys, and so on. Secondary data comprises public or existing information collected by a third party, such as:

  • Government statistics
  • U.S. Census Bureau business surveys
  • Industry surveys
  • Trade publications
  • Market research reports

Secondary data can be a great (not to mention inexpensive) way to beef up your marketing research and show a greater breadth and depth of information to support your findings. 

Look at Keyword Trends

Say hello to your new best friend: Google Trends! With Google Trends, you can:

  • Use data collected from your persona research to identify opportunities to create content that resonates with them and is optimized for organic reach.
  • Identify relevant, seasonal keywords and create and/or promote content for those times.
  • Identify regional trends so you can hyper-target your content efforts.

Additionally, you can use the power of SEMrush, Moz, Ahrefs and more to find topics that are relevant to your personas or to find competitors you may not have had on your radar.


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Chapter 5

Taking Action on Your Marketing Research

It’s important to assess your original hypothesis, what the data and facts actually said about your hypothesis, and what you can do to either pivot or take advantage of an opportunity.
The 5 Step Marketing Research Process_Chapter 5

illustration of settingsWith all of the data you’ve collected in tow, it’s time to present your findings. It’s important to assess your original hypothesis, what the data and facts actually said about your hypothesis, and what you can do to either pivot or take advantage of an opportunity. 

Start developing data-driven campaigns that leverage your findings, focusing on a few goals at a time so you can see how what you’ve learned can positively impact your marketing efforts. Additionally, build out your content library with the blog articles, e-books, white papers, case studies, and other types of content that your buyer personas need at each stage of the Buyer’s Journey. When you have the right content, you can reach the right audiences at the right time and accelerate your lead flow and boost revenue, not to mention create a powerful environment for sales enablement

Also, don’t stop the moment you’re done researching a single marketing problem—you need to continuously analyze the data and make optimizations to keep up with your target buyers. Marketing research should be something you’re always doing in order to refine your marketing strategies to cater to your customers and what they need from you. 

Whether you need help getting your marketing research process off the ground or aren’t sure which areas of your marketing efforts to tackle first, we have the expertise and the passion to help you tackle your biggest research problems. Let’s talk.

Bonus: Free Goal Planning Worksheet

Use this worksheet to stay organized and aware of your goals when conducting market research. You'll get an example plan, a template for your notes, and areas to consider, like high-level goals, potential challenges, and key milestones.

Fill out the form below to access the worksheet.

Goal Planning Worksheet