“What to write?” That seems to be one of the most common challenges for content marketers. I say “seems” to be, because I don’t believe that’s the real problem.

If you find yourself staring at a blank screen wondering what to write about, your real problem is not knowing what your audience wants to read.

When you know what your audience wants, you won’t have a problem finding a topic. But how do you get inside your customers’ heads? An expensive market research program? Complicated personas? 10,000-person surveys?

Nope.

There are faster, easier ways to generate content ideas based on the questions, concerns and challenges your audience actually has. What’s more, you can do it in a single afternoon.

How, you say? Just eavesdrop where customers are sharing their stories, concerns and challenges in their own words.

Without further ado, here’s where to hunt for customer insights:

1. Q&A Sites

Websites such as Quora and Yahoo! Answers are fertile ground for the questions people have about your product, industry or area of expertise. Comb through conversations to see which threads have taken off, and make a note of the questions you can answer.

2. Forums

You’ll find candid conversations in forums, where entire communities of people let their hair down to share ideas, ask questions and provide uncensored feedback. Get in there and listen to what people are saying, what they’re asking and most of all, how they respond to each other’s points of view.

One of the best forums for these insights is Reddit, mainly because of its built-in search functionality. No, it’s not just memes being shared – there are thousands of rich, active communities, and at least one of them is bound to contain a topic within your niche of expertise.

But be careful if you choose to engage – dedicated communities are usually able to spot marketers from a mile away. If you do chime in, be genuine, honest and avoid any semblance of a sales pitch.

Bonus tip: This can be a great option for competitor research.

3. Ubersuggest/Google Suggest + Search Operators

Google keeps tabs on what people are asking, and tools like Ubersuggest actually pull out Google’s autofill search suggestions in real time. You can imagine how incredibly useful it is to see what people are hunting for on an ongoing basis.

If you’re new to search operators, Google’s got a great guide for drilling down the results and filtering out what you aren’t interested in.

4. Emails

Customer insights are as close as your inbox. Emails between you and your customers are probably rife with their questions and concerns. Comb through and take notes: What are they asking? What are people worried about, and how can you translate that into a blog post with solutions to those problems?

5. Your Sales Team

Look inside your company for ideas. If you have account managers, sales people or any client-facing staff, take them to lunch and have a conversation about what customers keep asking, what they’re worried about, why they’re not buying or why they do eventually buy.

Sales people have a wealth of untapped knowledge on customer questions; you just need to ask them to share it.

6. The Comments Section

Whether it’s your own blog posts or a competitor’s, the comments section of an active blog typically has follow-up questions. This is a perfect opportunity for you to swoop in and expand on the topic.

That ought to get you started!

Is this an exhaustive list? Of course not, but it’ll get you moving in the right direction. Rather than rack your brain to find ideas, go to the source – the people you’re trying to reach.

You might be surprised what you learn.