Working with product and tech teams is a very natural step for user researchers. You start to understand their timings, rhythms, what information they need, and which questions to ask them. But many other teams can benefit from your attention as a user researcher.
The first time I sat down with the sales and marketing teams in an earlier role, I attempted to convince them to do user research. I wanted sales to tell me who they were talking to and I wanted marketing to test content. Unfortunately, the meeting wasn't particularly successful as I just sat there, begging the teams to listen to something that would add extra work to their already large piles.
Through the years, I've realized how valuable these teams are and learned an important lesson: it isn't about convincing people to do what you need, but showing them how you can help one another. As a result, working with sales and marketing has made my practice more robust by giving me extra insights, but also allowing me to help them reach their goals.
This article is part of our collaboration playbook series:
Recognize their goals
As researchers, we are taught to empathize with users—that empathy should also extend to our colleagues. By understanding what teams are doing and empathizing with their goals, we can unlock the potential of a more holistic appreciation of our users.
Sales is a wonderful team focused on getting more revenue and profit for the organization. This team is striving to increase the number of new customers and upsells or cross-sells. They typically have a set target per quarter of sales they are trying to hit.
The marketing team's goals surround brand awareness, competition in the industry, and consumer or market behavior trends. In addition, the team is trying to get more customers engaged with the product and increase growth and market share.
Don't take my word for it, though! Sit down with them and ask them about their goals, targets, and what they are doing on a day-to-day basis. After understanding their role, you can dive into how user research can positively impact them.
Understand their history working with UXR
Regardless of the team, it is essential to understand their previous experience with user research or any biases they hold. The best way to learn this knowledge is by asking a lot of questions. So after I get to know the members of these team's roles, I set up separate meetings to discuss user research.
In these meetings, I typically cover the following questions:
If I asked you to define user research, how would you explain it?
Through this question, you will understand any knowledge gaps or biases the person may have about user research. With this information, you can help inform or educate your colleagues.
Have you ever worked with a user researcher before? If yes, tell me about the experience.
By understanding how they have worked with user researchers in the past, you can uncover how you can best work together in the future.
How do you feel about user research?
This question can help you better understand their fears or anxieties surrounding user research, allowing you to brainstorm ways to counteract them.
Tell me what happened the last time you did user research.
By hearing about a previous project, you can gather colleagues' expectations, pain points, and needs when conducting a project.
How do you imagine user research helping you?
With this information, you tie it all together and plant the seed for working together. The answer to this question can give you specific action items to get started on facilitating your relationship.
Identifying how to help one another
Now comes the most critical part—helping each other. This concept allows you to move away from begging people to involve you in projects. Instead, by pinpointing each team's goals, you can start to brainstorm how your skills can help them achieve those goals.
How can user research help sales?
There are a few ways that I like to help sales:
- Creating or assisting with buyer personas to help the team better speak to certain user groups.
- Creating a customer journey that highlights which role is working in which phase, so they feel comfortable talking through the end-to-end journey with potential clients/customers.
- Relaying common user pain points so that sales can speak to them during their pitches.
- Teaching the team how to probe on questions to get deeper information they can use later.
Many times, the outcome I end up with is a mini-playbook for the sales team. In this playbook, the sales team can find different customer roles, what part of the journey each role interfaces with, and the most common pain points each encounters.
Putting this information into a small playbook makes it easy for sales to access it at the moment and use it to their advantage.
How can user research help marketing?
Market research and user research often have significant overlap. We both care deeply about customers and their respective behaviors.
Here are some ways I like to help out the marketing team:
- Creating user personas can help them better understand our users from a product standpoint, making the content strategy more holistic.
- Marketing can get stuck on how to structure certain pages on a website. User research can help identify the best information architecture and help them decide on the most effective and efficient design.
- If they need support with research sessions or content testing, you can step in and lend some of your time and expertise.
- Sharing reviews or insights from sessions that impact brand awareness and acquisition.
As I mentioned, always check with both teams as there may be organization-specific ways user research can help teams at your company.
How can sales help user researchers?
Just as we can help these departments, they can also be a great resource for us. Working with sales has led me to become a more informed researcher and learn things I may not have on my own.
- You can learn about potential customers' pain points, needs, and goals by listening to sales calls. This perspective opens up the door to a whole new set of personas, journey maps, and helps expand your insights beyond your current user base.
- They can help you understand who is reaching out to your organization and why. You can then bring this information back to the product team to enhance your roadmap and plan to include some of the missing key features.
- Learning about the process of the sales journey can help you create an all-encompassing user journey or even a service blueprint. These artifacts can help the entire organization optimize internally, helping teams reach their goals faster.
How can marketing help user researchers?
- Combining user and market personas can lead to a super-persona that provides a lot of decision-making power. They can help the organization understand human goals and pain points, perceptions, and product-market fit.
- A lot of the time when we segment data, it can be through arbitrary demographics such as age, income, or location. While these demographics can sometimes be beneficial, there are many other ways to segment audiences. Talking with market research teams can help you slice and dice data in a new way to bring new insights to light.
- Whenever a team has asked me to price a product or service, I immediately head to the market research team. Through our partnership, I’ve picked up techniques such as the Van Westendorp or Gabor-Granger pricing models. Since we tend to hit a small sample size, market researchers' power can help us through this type of research.
- There are some projects where a user researcher and market researcher can hop into the same session. For example, I once planned a study where we wanted to understand perception and usability. The market researcher took the first 45 minutes to gauge perceptions by letting participants describe the concept and explain their attitudes behind the brand. After that, I came in and conducted a usability test. The market research team then followed up with a survey to validate the qualitative insights they found. We not only saved time on the project, but we also learned quite a lot from each other.
Best studies to collaborate on
So how do we work together with these teams? Here are some studies that work best with the sales and marketing teams:
- 1:1 interviews with the most common roles the sales team speaks with. These can help them understand the needs and pain points behind the initial calls and, if possible, creating buyer personas
- Journey map interviews: these can help create a playbook that details what sales will be talking to in particular phases of the buying journey
- Content testing: there are a few varieties of content testing I like to help with, such as highlighter tests, cloze tests, and recall-based tests.
- Card sorting and tree testing: these can help the team understand how to best structure and design a website.
- 1:1 interviews focused on brand awareness and perception
- Large-scale surveys: incorporate branding questions (when relevant, of course) into any of your large-scale surveys.
How to share findings
Not all teams will need the same regularity of meetings and insight sharing as product and tech teams usually do. When it comes to the marketing and sales team, here is how I like to interact with them:
Usually, I’ll sit down with the marketing and sales team once a month to review the most important insights for their respective teams. I make sure to select the more relevant insights for the teams so I am not overwhelming them with information that doesn't apply to their goals.
As soon as I do any customer journey, service blueprint, or persona work, I sit down with these teams for a workshop. During this time they share everything they know about the customer and I use it to build a prototype of these deliverables that we can later validate.
In the past, I've synced with marketing about once every two weeks, especially since there can be cross-over in the type of research we do. This bi-weekly sync can help ensure we are sharing insights and not doubling up on certain research projects. I meet with sales once a month during the share-out, but always keep an open channel in between meetings.
Overall, the more people you involve in your user research practice the better. You can provide more assistance to your organization and have a deeper understanding of the users.
You can start with small steps. First, understand how your colleagues feel about user research. Then, once you learn how you can help them, start building a plan to collaborate!
Get realigned with key stakeholders across your org with the People Nerds Guide to Successful Cross-Team Collaboration.
Nikki Anderson-Stanier is the founder of User Research Academy and a qualitative researcher with 9 years in the field. She loves solving human problems and petting all the dogs.
To get even more UXR nuggets, check out her user research membership, follow her on LinkedIn, or subscribe to her Substack.