“Forget ideas, study a market.”Amy Hoy, Serial Entrepreneur

Sales Safari is a research technique based on ethnography developed by serial entrepreneurs Amy Hoy and Alex Hillman. In a way, the technique applies the idea of ethnography—direct observation of users in their natural environment—to the Internet.

Part of the thesis behind the technique is that the problems are already all out there. Instead of looking for new problems, you go and find problems people already have.

The technique is in part a reaction to customer interviews. Amy and Alex’s reasoning is that it’s better to observe conversations than to ask questions, because getting great data from interviews often means:

  • trusting prospects to accurately identify their own pain points;
  • believing that they remember what they do, all day, every day;
  • trusting that prospects won’t lie, and that they’ll be open to sharing the truth; and
  • assuming that people make fully rational decisions.

Alex says: “Being able to watch people talk about their problems in their natural habitat without them feeling like they’re being watched means you’re getting a more genuine, a more natural, and in many cases, a much richer understanding of what the problem is.”

How to Do a Sales Safari

Organizing a Sales Safari first means homing in on a market, looking for their online watering holes—places where prospects gather for pleasure or for work—to do research.

Watering holes can be found by performing searches around your target market. For example:

  • “[ Market ] + mailing list”;
  • “[ Market ] + forum”;
  • “[ Market ] + competition”.

Other keywords like Twitter, group, list, community, help, wiki, questions, meetup, list, resources, association, customers, tutorials, awards, user group, or blog can help you find watering holes. The more you can find, the better.

A good market will have several active watering holes where people share tools, knowledge, and ideas. An example could be Airliners.net, where airline geeks like my best friend spend hours each week talking about the airline industry.

Once you have found a few watering holes, dive through conversations, taking note of Jobs, pain points, beliefs, questions, complaints, products used, struggles, and desired outcomes. Amy and Alex recommend spending as much as 30 to 50 hours listening for the nouns, taking note of observations, keeping an eye out for words like “easier”, “faster”, “less”, “more”, “relief”, “finally”, etc.

Solving Product – Sales Safari Comment
Example of a Noteworthy Comment for a Sales Safari

Although their approach focuses on finding signs of pain and opportunities to help prospects make money, the research can also be used to find customer Jobs and desired outcomes.

The Types of Opportunities Uncovered

Amy and Alex’s approach in their training, 30×500, focuses on:

  1. Pain killers: eliminating or reducing risk, anxiety, stress, fear, uncertainty, guilt or frustration; and
  2. Money multipliers: creating new avenues of revenue, extending customer reach, reducing costs, making it possible to increase prices, etc.

By the end of your Sales Safari, you should be able to understand the market so deeply that you can speak the prospects’ language, anticipate their needs, and predict their reactions.

The information collected in watering holes will be useful later on. You can use it to flesh out your value proposition, create your marketing copy, and overcome objections.

A few questions Amy and Alex recommend answering for pain killers include:

  • What skills are they struggling with?
  • What skills do they need to learn or get better at?
  • What are some of the repetitive tasks they have to do over and over?
  • What are they afraid of?
  • What do they avoid doing that they really should be doing?

And for money multipliers:

  • Where does their money come from?
  • How can they increase that type of revenue?
  • Why do their customers buy? What are their deeper needs?
  • What’s inefficient or costly?
  • How can they create new opportunities? How can they find new customers or markets?
  • How could they start charging more?

A lot of successful Business-to-Consumer (B2C) products came out of Sales Safaris. The technique is easy to execute, and can be a good starting point for your business.

– –

This post in an excerpt from Solving Product. If you enjoyed the content, you'll love the new book. You can download the first 3 chapters here →.

Categories: Customer Research Technique