The Trigger Technique: Turn Buyer Stories into Smarter Marketing Campaigns

The year was 1913. 

Ernest Shackleton, an explorer, needed to recruit brave sailors to join him on an expedition to the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. He placed an ad in The Times that included just 24 words…

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.

And what do you know?

More than 5,000 people responded to this newspaper announcement—willing to bear less than zero degree temperatures, survive on low pay, and face extreme living conditions… all for a chance at making history.

It’s 2022, and Shackleton’s ad is more relevant than ever.

You just need to modify one word.

Because let’s face it—marketing today can sometimes feel as challenging and uncertain as an Antarctic expedition.

Ad costs are soaring, competition is fierce, and buyers are sick and tired of being inundated by irrelevant, pushy marketing.

Researchers are still unsure whether Ernest Shackleton’s story is a myth. But what is clear is that if marketers can’t find a way to get out of the darkness, we’re in big trouble.

We surveyed thousands of marketers and guess what? We learned that 85% of marketers don’t have enough information to reach their audience effectively.

Before you start screaming into a pillow, let me share some good news:

    • You don’t need to spend hundreds of hours doing in-depth research to figure out what works with buyers 
    • You don’t need to fill out an empty, free, not-research-backed buyer persona template
    • You don’t even need to mine internal stakeholders for insight

All you need to do is nail your buyer interviews. 

You heard that right. 

As Des Traynor, CEO of Intercom, says… 

“One interview is worth 1000 surveys.”

Des Traynor

CEO, Intercom

But…how do you do it? How do you carry on the Antarctic expedition of converting one buyer interview into tons of useful, actionable insights?

The answer is (drumroll): The Trigger Technique.

The Trigger Technique: How to turn customer stories into actionable insights

The Trigger Technique is a simple strategy framework that turns real customer stories into actionable insights and bite-sized growth ideas you can test, fast. 

Why is The Trigger Technique important? 

If you think about it, every purchase begins with a trigger event—a moment when your buyer moves from being oblivious they even have a problem to being in the market for a new solution.

When you learn your customers’ trigger events, you can get in front of buyers sooner, in less crowded channels, and with messaging that converts into real $$$. 

The best part? You become top-of-mind for your potential customers. And that is everything.

Don’t just take my word for it: Marketers who leverage trigger events spend a whopping 80% less on direct marketing costs.

You don’t just save money; you make it too. Marcio Santos, the founder of Nerd Digital, doubled the sale of his client’s online course by discovering a trigger event.

Pretty cool, right?

Aazar Shad is the Growth Marketing Lead at Synthesis, Elon Musk’s path-breaking education company.

As Aazar explains in his tweet below, he helped Synthesis drive 8X growth ($3-$24mn) using the insights he gathered through clarity calls with their customers.

Okay, enough convincing. I assume that you’re beginning to get the value of talking to customers and unearthing their trigger events. Let’s get into the meaty stuff.

Here’s how to employ The Trigger Technique in four easy steps:

Step 1: Collect buying stories from best-fit buyers 

It should go without saying, but it’s so important I’ll say it anyway:

If you want to figure out what pushed customers to begin their buying journey, ask… actual buyers. 

Through 1:1 interviews, you can gain in-depth insight into what really moves customers through the buying funnel. 

Two caveats to take into account before executing this step:

1. Talk to your best-fit buyer

Who are your best-fit customers? These are the buyers who already know they have a problem, get meaningful value from your product/service, and pay happily. Bonus if they rave about your solution to friends and family. These are the customers you want more of. 

If you don’t want to waste your time chasing the wrong customers, download our free customer fit scorecard and zero in on your most profitable buyers in minutes (not months).

2. Talk to buyers who recently purchased from you

Want a single buyer interview to yield an enormous amount of insight?

Interview a customer who purchased from you in the recent past—they’ll remember more details from their buying journey.

➡️ Case-in-point: This is why I chose to interview Amy (name changed) when she purchased our Clarity Call Cheatsheets. She was my best-fit buyer (freelance marketer) and had recently purchased the digital product.

🤫 Pssst: Conducting these buyer interviews is a skill and, like any skill, it takes practice.

Want to learn how to ace them? Check out our Clarity Call Cheatsheets—you’ll become the go-to customer expert for your client (just like Amy).

Step 2: Extract the most actionable bits 

How do you distill juicy insights from an hour (or more) of a 1:1 buyer interview? You certainly can’t remember everything…unless you’re Sherlock Holmes. 

Filter out the most actionable bits by answering the following questions about your customer: 

    • What trigger event caused them to begin the buying journey?
    • What are their goals?
    • What other solutions have they considered, tried, or bought?
    • What pains do they have with other solutions?
    • What selfish desires motivated them personally?

➡️ Case-in-point: I answered the above questions during my interview with Amy. Here’s a sneak peek of what I found out: 

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ve extracted the most relevant details from the customer’s buying journey. Now, it’s time to ask yourself the most important question of all: 

If I had to narrow it down, what was the primary “job” this buyer is trying to get done?

Clayton Christensen, the author of, Competing Against Luck, explains what a “job” means by saying…

A ‘job’ is the progress that a customer is trying to make in a particular context… When we buy a product, we essentially ‘hire’ it to help us do a job. If it does the job well, we’ll hire it again. If it does a crummy job, we ‘fire’ it and look for something else to solve the problem.”

Clayton Christensen

Author, Competing Against Luck

Jobs are multifaceted. They’re never simply about function—they have powerful social and emotional dimensions too. And the context of the customer’s situation when they are trying to do a job is far more critical to understand than the buyer’s characteristics like their age, gender, or job title.

Homing in on the buyer’s primary job will help to focus your marketing efforts and design a highly compelling test offer.

I won’t dive deep into JTBD in this post, but if you’re new to jobs theory then watch my short video: Why People *Really* Buy. I promise that this new way of thinking will blow your mind.

➡️ Case-in-point: When I interviewed Amy, I found her specific job-to-be-done was quickly figuring out what works with her client’s buyers so she knew how to market to them.

Honing in on the buyer’s primary job will help to focus your marketing efforts and design a compelling test offer.

Step 3: Plan, design, and run trigger tests

Okay, you’ve now interviewed a buyer and extracted the most actionable bits. You’ve laid the key ingredients needed to design a smart, hyper-targeted growth campaign.

What next? Run a trigger test. 

They’re called “trigger tests” because each campaign is designed to target people who are likely to have experienced a trigger event and are therefore more likely to be in the buying journey.

Here’s your simple four-step recipe for running a trigger test:

1. Define your growth objective

We know as marketers that we can’t do ALL THE THINGS. (At least not all at once.) Setting a clear growth objective upfront will give you a target to aim for and keep you focused.

Chances are that you or your client/team already have a specific growth goal in mind.

Maybe you want to:

  • Grow website traffic
  • Book more demos
  • Increase conversions
  • Increase ROAs

Defining your growth objective upfront will help when it’s time to brainstorm ideas.

➡️ Case-in-point: When I interviewed Amy, I had a simple goal—growing traffic to the Clarity Call Cheatsheets landing page.

The page already converts well—8% on average. But we were doing very little to promote it.

Growing traffic was the first step to growing sales.

2. Choose your cornerstone insights

Cornerstone insights are the specific details from the buying story you’ll focus on. These insights give clues into what matters to buyers and will help inspire better ideas worth testing. You need to answer four questions:

    • Trigger: What life event triggered them to begin the buying journey?
    • Job: What “job” are they trying to get done?
    • Pain with other solutions: What pains do buyers have with other solutions that they’d considered or tried?
    • Selfish desires: What was their underlying personal motivation? How did they hope their life would be better?

To be clear, your cornerstone insights shouldn’t come from guessing—they should come from real customer stories.

Cornerstone insights will help to inform your strategic direction. And for creative marketers like you and me, just these four insights can help inspire many different growth ideas.

For instance, learning what triggered customers to begin the buying journey and what other solutions buyers explore can inspire crafty ways to get in front of buyers sooner.

➡️ Case-in-point: I found helpful intel by deriving cornerstone insights from Amy’s interview. 

3. Design trigger tests (aka. hyper-targeted growth experiments)

Next up, it’s time to start thinking about the specifics of your trigger test idea. These ideas won’t be random or based on the latest marketing trend du jour. They’ll be very targeted ideas because you’re going to follow a systematic 5-step process.

I: Choose target buyer: Be specific about who you want to reach and the context of their situation.

II: Identify target moments: Think about specific moments when you’ll be able to get in front of target buyers. Where do your buyers spend their time? Who do they trust for information? 

III: Brainstorm marketing ideas: Based on the job, pains with other solutions, and selfish desires you discovered in step two, what kind of offer might resonate with target buyers?

Brainstorm hyper-focused and timely marketing campaigns and aim to get in front of your target buyers during target moments.

IV: Craft a compelling promise: Once you’ve landed on an idea, you want to draft an irresistible promise. How? By speaking about how your product relieves pain and achieves selfish desires.

V: Create an enticing call-to-action: Make a clear ask from your customers and entice them to act now. Maybe you give a limited-time offer. Or share a free shipping code. Perhaps you offer a discount exactly at the precipice of a target moment. 

 This is a great opportunity to get your client or team involved

The customer-facing team (eg. sales, customer support, other marketers, etc.) likely already knows things about buyers that you don’t.

This is your chance to mine them for information while sharing what you’ve learned about the buyer journey and looking like a total badass.

Diverse thinking will lead to better outcomes, so don’t be afraid to ask the team for help. The best part? Getting your team involved in the ideation process will make them more invested in the outcome of the project.

If you’d like to learn how to lead an effective strategy session (and look like a boss in the process), hop on our email list. We’re working on something new you may be interested in.

➡️  Case-in-point: After interviewing Amy, we decided to target marketers-for-hire (target buyer) who were looking for a persona template (target moment) because we knew this audience had an immediate problem we could help them solve (promise). 

After a bit of back and forth with my team, we decided on an idea to test. We’d use Google Ads to intercept marketers who were searching for a buyer persona template and drive them to a blog post about how to create a proto persona that includes an opt-in for a free proto persona template.

We could then create an email nurture sequence for these folks educating them on the importance of using customer interviews to create actionable buyer personas. Clever, right?

4. Choose three ideas to present to team

You’ll be brimming with ideas once you’ve zeroed in on your cornerstone buying insights and identified opportunities. 

The best part? You’ll feel super confident in your ideas because they’re based on real customer insight, not guesswork. 

Set a three-minute timer and write down all the ideas that come to mind. Don’t edit yourself—just let your creativity flow.

At the end of the three minutes, choose three ideas you’d like to test and present them to your client or team. Ask them to choose one. 

Why let your team choose? If your coworkers have more hand in shaping your trigger tests, they’ll be more likely to invest in them. 

Step 4: Wow your team

For good or bad, marketing success today depends on getting your client or team on board. And that, as you well know, is no easy feat. 

The solution? Telling a great story. 

Before pitching the trigger test ideas you shortlisted in the previous step, share the customer’s buying story and highlight the most interesting bits (AKA the cornerstone insights). 

Why? Telling your customer’s story will provide the context your team needs to understand your strategy’s logic and get them excited.

Next, present your trigger ideas and invite your team to weigh in by asking the following questions: 

    • Which idea are you most excited about? Why?
    • Which idea are you least excited about? Why?
    • How can other team members pitch in and help?

And lastly, ask your team to run only one trigger test first. 

Why? If one test goes well, you earn your team’s trust and get the buy-in to do more extensive audience research.

Not to mention: Asking the team to choose which test to run helps them feel more ownership over the outcome. And if they feel involved in these experiments, they’re far more likely to provide the resources you need to make the test a success—whether that’s budget, development time, or copywriting.

🤩 Ahem: Wanna learn how to star-struck your team with the buying story and present your test ideas in a way that gets everyone pumped the F#ck up? We’re working on something to help. Get on the waitlist to be the first to learn about it when we launch.

Run your first buyer interview through The Trigger Technique

To quickly recap, here’s how you can use The Trigger Technique for your next buyer interview:

  1. Collect buyer stories: Talk to your best-fit buyers who have recently purchased from you. 
  2. Extract the most actionable bits: Find the most practical insights and the buyer’s job-to-be-done using your product. 
  3. Plan, design, and run trigger tests: Derive the cornerstone insights of your target buyer and run hyper-targeted growth experiments using the simple 5-step process.
  4. Wow your team: Present three trigger test ideas and run with the one your team is most excited about.

Hear that? That’s the cha-ching sound of a dough of dollar bills hitting your bank after using The Trigger Technique in your business.

Schedule your first customer interview today. Just one buyer interview paired with The Trigger Technique framework can unlock 10, 20, or even 100 highly-targeted marketing ideas.

But 1:1 buyer interviews can be nerve-wracking. I know you’d much rather go to Antarctica with Shackleton than pick up the phone and talk to customers. 

That’s why I created Clarity Call Cheatsheets for you. There are interview scripts, note-taking blueprint, and interview request templates that do all the heavy lifting for you—no painful trial and error, no embarrassing yourself, no annoying your customers. 

(I used The Trigger Technique here to craft you a compelling promise. Nailed it—didn’t I?)

Written By Katelyn

Katelyn Bourgoin is the CEO of Customer Camp, a 4X founder, and a cheese lover. She lives by a simple mantra: whoever gets closer to the customer wins.

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If you can figure out what makes people tick, click and buy, you can make big $$$. We're working on a new research certification program. Want first dibs when we launch it? Hop on the waitlist.

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