EP44 – Surveying and Following-Up with Your Audience

There is no video recording for this week’s episode–sorry!

Going it Solo

Carter is soaking up the sun in Mexico as of the time of recording, so we will not be graced with his presence this week. Fortunately, we have an excellent topic that will allow us to press on without him.

In Episode 42, we discussed how to find an avatar from your audience and what you can do with that information. Much of our conversation was informed by the book Ask, by Ryan Levesque. Check out EP42 if you need a refresher.

I sent my personalized version of Levesque’s “Deep Dive Survey” to everyone on my email list and received my responses. Then I reached out to the most responsive participants to learn more about who they are and what my business can do for them.

This process was a real eye-opener, and I learned a ton about my customer base, so this episode will be dedicated to sharing my results with you.

Ranking the Responses to my Survey

The first thing I had to do with my returned surveys was categorize them according to the length of the response given to the most important question: “What is the number one thing you are struggling with right now with respect to programming?”

For this question, respondents typed their answer into a blank text box. I encouraged them to give long and detailed answers. I used SurveyMonkey to export the responses into an Excel spreadsheet and sort them by score.

The formula for scoring the responses was:

Length of comment in characters (e.g. 400 characters) x 1.5 if they left a way for me to contact them (e.g. Skype ID or telephone number)

The 1.5x multiplier is taken from the formula in Levesque’s book. The idea is that if a respondent leaves their contact information, it is a good indication that they are highly responsive.

According to Levesque, the highest-scoring 20% of participants are the people you should contact, because the feedback you receive from these people will most likely apply to 80% of the people whom you want to target. You want to solve the struggles of these people because they are the most interested in your product and are therefore most likely to buy from you.

Identifying the Emergent Patterns

I was actually surprised to discover there were patterns in my responses. When you read something like this in a book, you tend to think the idea sounds great in theory, but you wonder if it will work that way in the real world. Nevertheless, my results were in line with what Levesque said would happen.

A few topics came up repeatedly in the responses. Many people wanted to know more about the core aspects of Java, which is a typical beginner’s concern and was to be expected. Others wanted to learn about data structures, which involve concepts that can be used across all programming languages. I don’t have a course specifically about data structures, so this is a possible avenue for me to explore.

More than anything else, though, many of my respondents struggled with “putting it all together.” This phrase stuck out in the responses like a sore thumb.

People struggling with “putting it all together” understand the theory and core concepts of programming, but become stuck when they are given an assignment. They don’t know how to take the knowledge they’ve learned and put it into action to solve a real-world problem.

I began contemplating how I could help them solve this problem. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any quick fix for it. (If you know one, please let me know!) So, I tried to remember how I overcame this problem back when I was starting out as a professional programmer.

The thing about tackling programming problems is you have to figure out your own method of getting started and working through to the finish. You typically find this method through the experience of taking on many different assignments. Practice makes perfect, after all.

This thought gave me an exciting new idea: what if I created weekly or biweekly webinars in which I recorded myself working through real-world projects from start to finish? This would allow my customers to see exactly how an expert programmer tackles the very assignments with which they are struggling. How cool would that be?

It turns out, then, that I had a major business breakthrough just from sending out this survey. And I hadn’t even gotten to the phone calls yet!

Reaching Out to my Respondents

After analyzing my responses, I looked at everyone who left me their contact information and emailed the top 30-35% about one week after they completed the survey.

I asked these people if I could speak with them via phone or Zoom (it’s much better than Skype and lets you record your video conference), dive into their problem, and see what I could do to help them.

The purpose of reaching out to your top respondents is to learn how you can help them. You will eventually do so by creating a product they can purchase, but they should be happy to buy it so long as it helps them solve their problem.

The open rate for this email was absurdly high (65%), as was the click-through rate (23%). By comparison, the current averages for the technology industry are 15.61% open rate and 6.34% CTR.

The call to action was a link they could click to schedule a call. I spoke to everyone who signed up and recorded the conversations.

The first person with whom I spoke was the most hyper-responsive person who took the survey, and I probably learned the most from this conversation out of all the conversations with my respondents.

This person was an expert programmer who was looking to add the Java language to their toolbox. (As I mentioned toward the end of last week’s episode, preliminary results of the Deep Dive Survey informed me that intermediate and expert programmers make up 40-45% of my customer base.)

This person had an issue with time commitment, which made me consider returning to a monthly recurring revenue model. I have sold my product as a monthly subscription in the past, but people typically cancelled their subscriptions after three months. I then changed to a one-time payment model, the logic being that I would make more money from one sale than I would make from several customers making payments for three months.

Perhaps I was too quick to dismiss monthly recurring revenue. In the first place, my core Java tutorial product is just too large. It takes people from complete beginners to very advanced programmers, covering Java plus subtechnologies and frameworks, a little bit of HTML and CSS, a little Javascript, and more.

I should have broken that product into five or six smaller products, and maybe I still can. Plus, I now have more than one core product. What if I used a monthly recurring revenue model, and when people subscribed, they got access to every course I’ve ever created?

If I added the webinar series to this package, the collective value of everything combined would hopefully keep people onboard for more than three months, thereby increasing the lifetime value of each customer.

I pitched this idea to all the hyper-responsive people and asked if they would sign up for the package. Most of them were interested, which made me feel good about the idea as something that would catch on.

This first person, however, was not interested in a monthly subscription because they were a “binge learner.” They would not actively try to learn something new for 4-6 months, and then spend one month learning a new skill.

I realized that I, too, am a bit of a “binge learner,” and I decided it would be best to let customers choose whether to purchase products individually or as a package with a monthly subscription fee. DigitalMarketer uses this sort of sales model, which allows people to learn at their own pace.

The Take-Away from the Survey

To sum everything up, I did four main things with the results from my survey:

  1. I determined which people were the most responsive.
  2. For each participant, I determined two or three specific areas in which they were struggling. (For example, “This person is having trouble with APIs, enterprise-level Java, and putting it all together.”)
  3. I identified commonalities between all the different categories of things with which people were struggling.
  4. I identified the 20% of people who were struggling with 80% of common programming issues.

It was really incredible to go through the whole process–to speak with people and hear about their problems in their own words, and to understand where they are in the journey of learning to program. It will help me tremendously with my marketing and with every other aspect of my business going forward.

I highly recommend you run your own survey and go through the same process with your customer base. Make sure you take notes during your conversation so you don’t forget anything.

My Next Steps: Webinar and Monthly Recurring Revenue

The next thing I need to do is test out my monthly recurring revenue model. I’ve thought up 11 courses I can offer that already exist within the content I have created. These courses will help turn my customers into masterful programmers and should make them feel like they are getting their money’s worth when they sign up for the complete package.

Many of the people I spoke to expressed interest in the monthly subscription model, but just because someone says they are interested doesn’t mean they are going to buy the product. In fact, the majority of people will not buy when push comes to shove.

I am therefore going to create the webinar series I described above and offer the first set for free. In each webinar, I’ll work through a real-world project so people can see how an expert programmer comes to a solution. This will help beginners learn how to handle these kinds of problems, and it will also help experienced programmers see the similarities and differences between Java and other programming languages with which they may already be familiar.

At the end of the webinars, I will pitch the idea of the monthly subscription package. It will include instant access to all courses, access to all future webinars, some extras and bonuses, a money-back guarantee, and more.

I will then see what percentage of people want to subscribe and determine the idea a success or a failure. If it is a success, I’ll move forward with the monthly recurring revenue model.

You Should Do This, Too!

I really hope you’ve gotten a lot of value out of this conversation and are excited to survey your own audience. You may feel nervous about calling up your customers, but you really shouldn’t.

The purpose of your call is to hear about your customers’ struggles and to determine how you can help them. Why would they be upset with you for that?

All of my calls went fantastically. Every person sounded excited to speak with me and was happy at the end of the conversation. It was never awkward, and I’m hoping I can talk to even more people I surveyed who haven’t yet scheduled a call.

It was a very positive experience for me, and I hope all of my listeners take my advice and go through the same process I did.

And speaking of wanting to help, don’t forget I offer business coaching for anyone who wants advice on running their own company. I have a wealth of knowledge that I love to share. The first session is free!



Ask by Ryan Levesque


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