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  • Matthew Lerner

Best market research questions for startups

And what's wrong with "How did you hear about us?"


What if I told you that “how did you hear about us?” is a dangerous question that leads startups to the wrong marketing strategy? I'll now explain why, and give you examples of much better questions.

First off, what’s wrong with asking “How did you hear about us?” As you'll see, most customers will give you one of three answers — Google, word of mouth, or content (YouTube, blog, social, etc.) But what can you really do with this information?


Buy more search terms? You could, but they're expensive and all your competitors are buying them too, SEM is not a "secret weapon."


Start a referral programme? You probably have one already. They're helpful but seldom game-changers.


Create more content? Okay, but that takes a long time, and while it's easy to create content, it's very hard to create great content that people actually love and share.


Bottom line, you’re probably already doing those things and so are your better-funded competitors. Plus, they're slow, expensive, or both.

Are there better market research questions you can ask?

For sure. When you ask “how did you hear about us” you’re relying on the customer’s dubious memory. They’re using recency bias and telling you the last step in a very long journey. Big companies understand this, so they spend thousands on software to unpack “attribution” in its various forms — stepwise, first click, last click, etc.

But in the beginning, you don't need to get too granular in terms of attribution. You mainly just need to know where the journey started. That way, you can intercept prospects before they even consider your competitors.

What Market Research Questions should I ask?

A survey only works if you ask the right questions. So, before you run a survey, call a few recent signups and ask them this:

  1. What does our product help you do?* (e.g., learn Spanish, meditate, attribute marketing spend, etc.)

  2. Do you remember when you first realised you needed to _________ (insert answer to #1)?

  3. What was happening at the time that made you realise it?

  4. Where’s the first place you looked? Who did you ask? What did you ask for? (This gives you ideas for channels)

  5. What’s the first thing you tried? (It didn't work, so you're probably selling against that thing.)

*Ask question #1 even if you already know the answer. It’s a good way to get “now you can” language for your headlines to find language/market fit. Plus, it primes the respondent to think about their goals rather than your product.

Repeat the conversation 5-10 times until you start to see a pattern. That should give you enough information to find your “locksmith moment” to discover your best marketing channel.


If you still want to run a survey, take the answers you're hearing most frequently and make them the choices in a multiple-choice survey, so you can back up your findings with quantitative data. Be sure to include an "other" option, and survey people shortly after they start using your product, so they remember what happened before they found you.

Remember, it’s much cheaper (and less competitive) to acquire prospects at the beginning of their journey. Still, they might not be ready to buy this early, so you’ll want to develop a kickass lead nurture stream so they remember you when the time comes.

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