How to Use Empathy Maps to Drive Your SaaS Growth

This post was originally published here:
How to Use Empathy Maps to Drive Your SaaS Growth

We had spent over a month preparing for today’s presentation. A new executive was in charge of our team and had asked for an update on the current state of our product and our plans for the coming year.

He had told us that this was nothing ‘formal’ and that he’d just like to have a ‘discussion’. But we knew that this meeting was more than that. The future of our product and our team would be decided today.

We had rehearsed the presentation over and over again. We had great market research to back up what we were going to say. And we had clearly laid out all the metrics that told a compelling story. We were ready!

And then he asked us that one seemingly simple question. And everything fell apart. We were speechless. We looked like deers caught in headlights — blank looks on our faces.

And that’s the day I told myself that I’d never be caught with my pants down like that again.

“Who’s your target customer?” was the question that he’d asked.

We had all just assumed that our product was so amazing that all consumers would want to use it. It was bad that we didn’t clearly know who our target customer was. But that was just a sign of deeper problems.

If we didn’t know our target customer, how could we possibly understand what that customer needed? How could we build the right features and stop wasting time on the wrong ones? How could we come up with a marketing plan that actually drove new signups instead of just burning a big hole in our marketing budget?

We were clearly product-driven instead of being customer-driven. We believed that adding ‘cool’ features to our product was the answer to just about every problem. We were so wrong.

That one simple question was a wake up call that things had to change and change fast.

Are You Product-Driven or Customer-Driven?

Hopefully you already know who your target customer is. But how well do you really understand your target customer?

You want to build a better product, but have already wasted time and money shipping new features that most of your customers don’t really care about.

You want to attract more customers. But your content marketing strategy doesn’t seem to be getting much attention from anyone. You’ve published so much content, but have hardly any new customers to show for it.

Maybe you spent money on paid advertising to get new customers. But no matter what you tried, you just ended up losing money. Your ads and landing pages just didn’t seem to convert traffic well.

Before you build any new features or do any more marketing, you need to make sure that you have clear understanding of your target customer. Not just who they are, but what they need and care about the most.

Don’t worry, it’s not that hard. There’s a simple but powerful tool that you can use to build deep insights about your target customer, literally overnight. And it doesn’t have to cost you anything.

Introducing the Empathy Map

An empathy map is a simple visual tool that you can use to build a deeper understanding of your target customer. It’s a powerful way to get inside your customer’s head and figure out what really makes them tick.

Stanford University’s Institute of Design or ‘’ has been using empathy maps for some time to help designers synthesize their observations and draw out unexpected insights. The tool was originally developed at Xplane, a company founded by David Gray, the author of ‘The Connected Company’ and ‘Gamestorming’.

But empathy maps aren’t just for designers. They can and should be a key tool for your SaaS business.

The biggest benefit of an empathy map is that it will help you to understand the ‘why’ behind the choices, actions and decisions your customers make. It will help you discover unexpected insights. It will help you to get to the heart of what your target customer’s really care about.

With an empathy map you’ll have more clarity about your target customers. Your marketing will attract more of your ideal customers because they’ll feel like you’re reading their minds. And you’ll repel the people who aren’t your target customers. And that’s fine, because they weren’t going to buy from you anyway.

And most importantly, you’ll stand out from your competitors because your message will resonate so well with your target customers. Have you ever bought a product that had less features than its competitors? Or maybe you bought a product that had the same features but was more expensive? But you made that buying decision because that product felt ‘right for you’.

That’s what an empathy map could help you achieve with your SaaS business.

How to Create Your First Empathy Map in 1 Hour

Creating your first empathy map doesn’t have to be a long painful exercise. You can (and should) create your initial empathy map in under 1 hour. It won’t be perfect (it never will be), but at least you’ll get started.

First, you need to pick the right tools for creating your empathy map. You should do this on a sheet of paper, a flip-chart, whiteboard or on your computer. It doesn’t really matter what tool you use.

Just select the one that works best for your particular situation. For example, if you’re doing on this on your own, then just use a notepad. If you’re doing this with a team, use a flip chart or whiteboard. And if you’re doing this with a remote team, then create an electronic version so you can collaborate online.

There are 4 key elements to an empathy map, which focus on what your customers say, do, think and feel.

You can also add 2 additional elements which focus on your customers’ pain (what problems do they have) and gain (the desired outcome that they want).

We’ll break this exercise into 3 x 15 minute sessions. You may want to do this differently — that’s fine. Just get started and don’t worry about creating a ‘perfect’ customer empathy map.

Now you might feel like you don’t have enough information about your target customer to do justice to this exercise. You might feel that you need to go and do research first. Don’t! Start with what you already know or what you think you know.

This will not only be an effective and rapid creative thinking exercise, it will also help you to identify the gaps where you need more information or need to validate a hypothesis. But unless you’re just starting out, you probably know a lot more about your target audience than you think you know.

Step 1: Define a Customer Persona (10 Minutes)

Let’s start by defining your customer persona. If you’ve already created a customer persona, then you’re in good shape. If you haven’t done that yet, then you should just create a mini-persona for now.

If you have several types of customers, then pick just one for this exercise (you can think about the others later).

Write down the answers to the following questions:
• What’s their role i.e. how do they spend their day?
• What are their top goals i.e. what makes them successful?
• What are their top challenges i.e. what are their major hurdles?
• What’s their personal background (age, marital status, kids, education etc.)
• What’s their name? This might sound silly, but it’s important. Pick a name.

Write that name in the middle of your empathy map. This is the person that you’re going to think about. In fact, you’re going to try and think as if you were in their shoes.

Step 2: Say and Do (15 Minutes)

Let’s start by listing out all the things that your target customer says and does. Fill in the relevant quadrants on your empathy map with everything that comes to mind. Focus on quantity, not quality of ideas.

Here are some questions to help you think about this:
• What do they say when using your product or an alternative solution?
• What do they tell their friends or colleagues about this in public?
• What do they tell their friends or colleagues about this in private?
• What do they do during a typical day? How is their time spent?
• How do they behave both in public and private?
• What are the differences between what they say and do?

Keep writing down whatever comes to mind. When you’re out of ideas, go back to the first question and ask yourself those questions again. What else do they say or do?

Times up! Time to take a quick break before you go onto step 3.

Step 3: Think and Feel (15 Minutes)

Now you’re going to list out all the things that your target customer thinks and feels. Again, generate as many ideas as you can. There’s no such thing as a bad idea (for now). Fill the relevant sections on your map.

How are you supposed to know what they think and feel? Identifying this is harder because it requires you to infer based on your customers’ actions and behaviors. You’ll need to get a little creative here.

Here are some questions to help you think about this:
• What are their fears? What do they worry about?
• What are their aspirations? What do they dream about?
• What else do they think about during the day?
• Do they love or hate what they do?
• What are the differences between what they say/do and think/feel?
• How do they feel about using your product or alternative solution?

Times up! Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun? Take another short minute break before moving on.

Step 4: Pain and Gain (15 Minutes)

And finally, we’re going to focus on the pain and gain. This information is incredibly valuable because it will help you uncover the real pains and desired outcomes that your customers have.

They’re not looking for CRM software. They’re trying to solve a pain. What is that pain? Maybe they are losing sales because they’re wasting too much time trying to keep a track of customer information over email. That’s a more powerful and specific pain vs. want a better CRM tool.

They’ll pay attention if you show them that you understand these kinds of specific pains. They’ll most likely ignore you if just talk about how great your product is an its features.

Here are some questions to help you uncover their pains:
• What frustrates them about their current situation?
• What is their worst fear? What are they trying to desperately avoid?
• Why are they so worried about that? What would that mean for them?

And you also want to focus on the gain. What is the desired outcome that your target customers want. Again, it’s not a CRM software. Maybe they want more sales or maybe they need to increase profits.

• What do they wish they could change about their current situation?
• What is ultimate dream? What are they desperately hoping to achieve?
• Why is getting that outcome so important? What would that mean for them?

Step 5: Wrap Up (2 Minutes)

Times up. And you’re done! In under an hour, you’ve probably developed more clarity about your target customers then you’ve ever had before. This will be invaluable as so start making business decisions.

Make sure that you quickly highlight the points where you feel like you need validation. And set a deadline for getting that information e.g. doing customer interviews, so you can come back and refine your empathy map.

Here’s a great video which shows you much can be accomplished in a just a few minutes (6 minutes):


Remember that an empathy map is an ongoing process. You may spend months or even years refining it and adding new insights. And as you do, you’ll continue to understand your customers much better.

Even though you may never be ‘done’ with an empathy map, you can use it to quickly develop powerful insights about your target customers and start using those insights in your product and marketing to literally make a difference overnight. And it may give you an incredibly powerful advantage over your competitors in the long term.

So schedule that hour right now and come back here and share your experience in the comments below.

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