If you haven’t heard of qualitative research (and it’s okay if you haven’t), you’re in for an awesome surprise. Qualitative research is one of the most underutilized, secret weapons in business. It’s the reason why I was able to scale my business to 100+ recurring customers in just 3 years. It’s also the reason why I co-founded a health clinic in India and how I was able to make a $200K sale on a brand new product.

So what exactly is it?

It’s a research method based on observation and listening. Psychologists, ethnographers, and anthropologists use this technique to study their subjects.

The benefits are simple:

  • Gain a new perspective that you may not have considered before
  • Observe individuals in the group you’re studying in their natural surroundings
  • Discover insight that you can incorporate into your business processes
  • Start creating user stories so that you can do a better job articulating your value proposition

Many smart people have written about qualitative research in-depth, so this blog post isn’t going to reinvent the wheel. If you’re looking to learn more about the basics of qualitative research, check out the resources below. Otherwise, skip past this section to learn more about how to build qualitative research into your sales process.

Think of every sales conversation as an opportunity to collect data

In the world of qualitative research, words are data. It’s not uncommon for anthropologists, psychologists, and ethnographers to record and transcribe their conversations. Why not do the same with your sales conversations?

You already have the tools available: software such as Zoom, UberConference, GoToMeeting, and Join.me all have recording features.

Here’s a simple process to follow:

  • Instead of spending your time pitching, focus on interviewing your prospect. Position the call as a no-pressure Q&A, and set expectations for free-flowing conversations.
  • Structure your calls around your prospects’ pain points. Offer to follow up with brainstorms and ideas later, once you’ve taken the time to reflect on your conversation. Be fully present in your conversations.
  • Ask if you can record conversations for note-taking purposes. Explain that you’d like to be able to reference notes later. Make sure that everyone is comfortable.
  • Use a service like Rev to transcribe your calls.
  • Read your notes later. Uncover patterns.

Every month, you can compile interesting quotes into a report. Review it, find patterns, and incorporate your learnings for the following month.

Observe your prospects in action

You spend enough time stuck behind computer monitors, wearing a headset. Take some more field trips outside of your office to see what your target audiences are up to. But don’t mingle with them: contrary to the saying, “always be selling,” you can feel free to take some down time.

Go to a conference. Visit a cafe at a near your office building. Pick a destination where your prospects are likely to be spending time. Grab a notebook.

See what’s happening around you:

  • What are the conversations you’re hearing?
  • What seems to be the mood or sentiment in the area?
  • Do you notice any common personality traits?

Remember that human beings are sensory creatures. Know who you’re aiming to reach by stepping outside of your office building. Absorb the world around you.

Read between the lines online

Ethnography isn’t an in-person discipline anymore. People are creating entire cultures and communities online. Qualitative research data is happening all around you. The simplest way to discover this valuable information is to join the same discussion groups as your prospects. But don’t spend your time pitching. Instead, read what your prospects have to say.

  • What words are they using when they describe solutions like yours?
  • Are they problem-aware, solution-aware or both?
  • How much knowledge do they seem to have around your solution set?
  • What frustrates them about vendors like you these days?
  • What challenges are they facing?

Understand what your prospects are going through by meeting them where they are. Become a part of their communities. Be a lurker and learner.

The bottom line?

Qualitative research will help your sales and marketing teams speak the language of your prospects. Make every conversation ar source of raw data. Make a strong first impression by being an exceptional listener. Your entire job will become an epic data collection exercise.