Author: Savvy

Interviewing tips. What to do, what not to do, how to find them, and more. Obvious? Yes. The difficulty comes in their execution.

Customer interviews are an important part of any lean start-up. Once out of the building you will certainly learn a lot about your customer segment and the problem you are trying to solve.

We’ve learned a lot about our own customer segment this way, but we have also learned — through trial and error — how to talk to people. So we’ll go over some lessons learned from talking to customers and include what to do, what not to do, how to find them, and more. Some of these may seem a little obvious but the difficulty comes in their execution. Try to keep track of these tips and you’ll do great.

Before the Interviews

Create questions around the problem and see if your customer arrives to the problem without you telling them explicitly. One of your goals should be to see if what they need is your value proposition or how is it different from what you are offering.

Finding Customers

On your first couple of interviews it doesn’t really matter all that much where you go and who you talk to. You’re trying to get a feel for the problem and your potential customer. Over time, you will define your customer segment more accurately and should try to avoid noise in your feedback as much as possible.

For example, early on we made the mistake of assuming we would find our customers in our distribution channels. However, we quickly realized that channels are where your customer is going to look for your product, not necessarily where they will be hanging out.

Make sure you nail your customer segment and figure out where you can find your customer. Do “A day in the life of your customer”, where you put your self in your customers shoes and try to figure out what they do throughout the day. I assure you that it will pan out. For example, if your customer segment is parents with young kids, they will probably spend part of their weekends doing some fun activities for their kids. So try to figure out what places near you kids can have fun (e.g. parks) and go there to find your customers.

Driving the Interviews

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Jason Evanish gives his suggestions for “getting out of the building” and interviewing customers for product-market fit.

Running a startup puts a ton of responsibilities on your plate. From marketing to sales, ghetto-HR to accounting, development to project management, you’re wearing a million hats.

We all know that Lean Startups methodology and customer development are important, but *actually practicing* it can be hard (if you’re not familiar run to CustDev.com *right now* and get Brant and Patrick‘s book The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development ASAP!).

As you commit yourself to “getting outside the building” to talk to your customers and truly quest for product-market fit, it’s essential you make the most of those discussions. One of the hardest things for newcomers to customer development is structuring their questions for customer development, so I’d like share how I structure interviews to maximize their effectiveness.

How to Structure (and get the most out of) Customer Development Interviews

A few others have written about how they do interviews, so definitely check out Cindy Alvarez and Sachin Aggarwal’s thoughts on the subject.

I structure my custdev interviews in 3 parts – People, Problems, and Your Solution. Depending on the person, this question flow generally takes me 30-45 minutes to go through. This structure is best suited to B2B customer development, but with a little creativity, you can definitely adapt this for B2C interviews.

People – Who Are You?

Before you get into anything about problems or your solution, you need to figure out who you’re actually talking to. This both warms up your interviewee with some softball questions and gives you an opportunity to build some rapport with them.

Some example questions you could ask to define who you are interviewing:

  • What is your name and role at your company?
  • How do you fit into your company’s department structure? Overall in the company?
  • What is your budget like? Who has to approve your purchases?
  • How do you discover new products for work? Do you need any approval to try them?
  • Have you tried anything new recently?
  • What is a typical day like on your job? much time do you spend doing [task X]? (Task X being anything they mentioned in their typical day that stood out)

Do not shortchange this opening section of questions! You don’t need a novel on their daily life, but you *do need* enough to be able to understand their role within their company, who key players are and a general baseline of their sophistication. All of this will help you later pattern match who the user type that is most receptive to the problem you’re solving and the solution you offer.

Problems – What are your greatest pains?Continue Reading..

Want to know what to focus on early in customer interviews? Read these tips from Giff Constable to get you on the right track.

Each time I give a talk introducing people to qualitative “customer development” conversations, I try to revisit my points. A few months ago, I gave this talk to an entrepreneurship class at Columbia Business School, and once again the list and messages evolved. Below you can find my latest thinking.

1. One person at a time.

Focus groups are a group-think, distraction-filled mess. Avoid them and only talk to one person at a time. If desired, you can bring someone with you to take notes — some UX designers like this approach. Personally, I tend to do one-on-one interviews because I think people loosen up and thus open up a bit more, but it can be nice to have a note-taker, which allows you to focus entirely on the conversation and body language.

2. Know your goals and questions ahead of time.

Have your assumptions and thus learning goals prioritized ahead of time. Decide who you want to talk to (age, gender, location, profession/industry, affluence, etc), and target interviewees accordingly. Prep your basic flow and list of questions. You might veer off the plan to follow your nose, which is great, but go in prepared.

3. Separate behavior and feedback in discussion.

Decide up front if your focus is going to be on learning a user’s behavior and mindset, and/or getting direct feedback or usability insights on a product or mockup. Do not mix the two in the discussion flow or things will get distorted.

Put “behavior and mindset” first in your discussion flow. During this part, don’t let the interviewee go too deep in terms of suggesting features, but keep them focused on if they have a problem, how they think about the problem space, and if and how they have tried to solve it in past.

If you want to get feedback on a product, whether on paper or digital, do this after digging into behavior and mindset.

4. Get psyched to hear things you don’t want to hear.Continue Reading..

Don’t know what to say to a prospective interviewee? You are not alone; a Quora answerer gives a script for you to follow.

What do you say to prospects asking for a customer discovery interview? It can be challenging, especially for certain markets, but I’ve had a lot of success with:

Hi [User’s first name],

My name is [your name]. I’m a [your role] working with [company name] on [describe the project at a high level].

I’m in the Research stage and looking to learn more about [describe what you’re trying to learn] from folks who have [describe what this user does that you’re interested in learning about. ex: completed a project through the site].

[This person] of [company name] suggested that, given your experience with [describe their experience], you’d have valuable insights on the project.

If you’re interested in talking, do you have 30mins free on Wednesday or Thursday morning this week?

Best,
Raven Keller
Designer

Why it Works

  • You’ve made it clear who you are, what you’re working on and how you found them.
  • You’ve explained why their input will be valuable to your research and you’ve flattered them a little bit.
  • You’ve made a small ask – just 30 mins of their time .
  • You’ve provided specific days in the near future, which limits the number of possibilities for them and makes it easier to respond – they can check Wed and Thur on their calendars and respond. If they don’t have time on those days, they can easily respond with another day the following week.

Note: this script is written for customer development on an existing product, but can easily be modified for research on a new product.


“Best Cold Calling Script for Setting up Interviews” was originally published by Quora on June 29, 2014.
Answer by: Raven Keller, UX Strategist, Product Designer living in Brooklyn

The harder customers are to interview, the harder they’ll be to monetize. The process of finding customers to interview is a preview of what it will take to sell to your customers.

How to Find Customers to Interview

We know we need to “get out of the building”, but where do we go? From personal experience, finding customers who are willing to be interviewed is daunting.

Turns out, that’s one of my favorite things about interviewing customers!

The harder customers are to interview, the harder they’ll be to monetize. The process of finding customers to interview is a preview of what it will take to sell to our customers. Will we need to stand out on the street, do cold calls, create meetups? Just getting customer interviews is a test in-and-of-itself!

With that in mind, Customer Discovery Hack #2 is all about finding customers to interview, whether you’re B2B or B2C. This video, in partnership with Startup Weekend NEXT, will explain it all but the text version is below:

Before I get into the hacks, let me say introductions are almost always the quickest way to get customers. If you can, get introductions for the first couple interviews. Once you run out of introductions, give these a try.

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Don’t know anyone who qualifies for customer interview ? Or want to know how to find qualified people for interviews? Jeff Lash tells you how to do it.

How do I set up customer interviews?

I am a new product manager working on developing a new product. One thing that I am struggling with as a product manager is how to get out there and set up time with potential buyers / users who would fit within my product demographic. Since I don’t have an existing product, I can’t interview current customers, since there aren’t any. I am trying to find ways of being able to reach out to the target market segment without coming across as too “salesy” and in a manner that is approachable and efficient.

I know that understanding the market first-hand is an important part of being a product manager, but I’m not sure of exactly the right approach. What are some methods I can use to identify potential customers and users?

Answer from Jeff Lash of How To Be A Good Product Manager:

Congrats on the new role, and on focusing on the most important (yet too-often) ignored part of product management — understanding the market and potential user/customer needs.

It is easy to get hung up on the logistics of customer interviews (and I use “customer” broadly, to refer to any current customers, competitors’ customers, or non-customers in the target market), and it is a shame that many product managers use challenges setting up customer interviews as an excuse for not conducting enough market research. Yes, there are challenges, but the reward is well worth it.

There are a few general rules when reaching out to set up interviews, regardless of the method you use:Continue Reading..

Many entrepreneurs think they understand the Customer Discovery process, but fail in execution. Customer Discovery relies on the ability to recognize common themes and to possess the self control, objectivity, and realism to be honest about addressing them. Mastering this art is what makes or breaks a great entrepreneur.

Paul Graham of Y Combinator  writes, “In a sense there’s just one mistake that kills startups: not making something users want. If you make something users want, you’ll probably be fine, whatever else you do or don’t do. And if you don’t make something users want, then you’re dead, whatever else you do or don’t do.”

People are building products faster than ever due to the reduction in technology costs over the last few years, but they are building products no one cares about. Aspiring technology entrepreneurs are quick to forget the value of actually talking to potential customers before building something that no one ever uses.

One way to prevent this is by accurately conducting Customer Discovery. Many entrepreneurs these days think they understand the Customer Discovery process, but they fail at executing it properly. Customer Discovery simply begins with gaining empathy — that is, developing a deep understanding of a customer’s needs and motivations.

Often times, entrepreneurs are biased by their own envisioned solution, product, or ego, and end up searching for personal validation rather than remaining open to a real discovery process.

Below are a few actions you can take to make sure you don’t build something no one will use.

Build Customer Segment PersonasContinue Reading..

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for customer discovery. This cycle of testing and verification is a continuous process with many iterations, and while it requires a lot of hands-on work, it is the first (and arguably most critical step) in achieving a sustainable business model at which point a startup officially crosses over to becoming a company.

 

There’s never a perfect time to start a startup but if you are planning on it, understanding the basics of the customer discovery process is crucial.

Startup gurus Eric Ries and Steve Blank are both proponents of getting customers involved in the product development process from the very beginning. The adoption of the customer development model in parallel to the product development process has had a seismic effect on startups and their evolution.

In the past, startups would begin coding and development based on their perception of market opportunity, blindly pumping money and time into developing a product that potentially had no market need. This is a path littered with failed startups.

Get Out of the Building

Today, “getting out of the building” and discovering customer wants and needs, a practice known as customer discovery, is aggressively being taught at accelerators nationwide. Startup accelerator Y Combinator puts it best with its mantra: “Make something that people want.”

The concept is deceptively simple: form hypotheses around the problem that your product solves, and around the product itself, test these hypotheses with those who could be your potential customers to verify, iterate or exit. This discovery process is part of the larger customer development model where the minimally viable product resulting from customer discovery undergoes validation testing among customers.

Customer validation testing verifies or refutes the product’s value proposition, its sales roadmap, business model, etc. This cohesive framework takes into account market factors to shape and form the revenue models while allowing customers to be kept in mind at all stages of business development and growth in a process that never ends even; after a product has been built. In short, the customer is along for the ride.

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Gone are the days of “if you build it, they will come.” It’s easy to build software products today, but very challenging to market them. While it is convenient to rely on friends and family to validate your market, it is a dangerous and ultimately useless way to test and validate your idea.

In short, market validation is the act of simply proving that people want what you plan to offer them. Gone are the days of “if you build it, they will come.” The danger of ideas are that we’re inherently biased regarding them – it’s simply human nature. Nine times out of ten, we’ve created a “revolutionary idea” to solve a problem we personally have experienced.

Although the solution you have created sounds like its worth a million bucks to you, and perhaps your friends and family* – you’re going to need a significant amount of others to agree in order for you to have validated your market. Market validation can and should be conducted using a variety of methods:

  • Reviewing the data available regarding your prospective market. Annual value, market size, projected growth, etc.
  • Validating the problem you aim to solve. If you’re developing a software to help people find, review and book barbers in the area, you need to first ensure people are dissatisfied with the current methods available.
  • Validating your proposed solution to said problem. Which you should have already validated. This is a fundamentally critical step in starting a company!

*Relying on friends and family for market validation is a dangerous and ultimately useless way to test and validate your idea. Friends and family know and love you, they’re wonderful for many things; however, they can’t be trusted when validating a business idea. They support you and want to see you succeed, causing them to be far less likely to poke holes in your idea. If that’s not enough to discourage you, no investor is interested in what Uncle Eric thinks of your idea (unless Uncle Eric is Eric Schmidt).


“What and How Important is Market Validation” was originally published Dec 10, 2014 on Quora.
By: Nicolas Nezhat, Hardware Connoisseur; Traveler; Foodie; Founder (Fynd)

Expect:  30-50 quality market validation/customer discovery meetings with target customers. 500 new quality connections and a robust LinkedIn profile and network that will enhance your career. Dramatic increase in social selling score.
Ideal for: 
Product marketers who require real-life input from potential customers in order to build successful products. Use for problem/product discovery and validation, positioning and continual product optimization.

Cost: $1,750/mo. plus $229/meeting.
Type: 6 month contract, 30 guaranteed meetings.
Required:  A LinkedIn Premium Plus membership  (approx. $45/month).
Includes: LinkedIn social selling optimization and management,  target list development, daily outreach for professional connections and engagement, thought leadership content, appointment setting, monthly reporting.
Ask us to do it all: No time to talk? An experienced product marketer will conduct your meetings for you and deliver a complete transcript of the interview. $159/meeting.
Ramp: Immediate LinkedIn activity, with first meeting in 9 weeks.

Savvy Customer Discovery Meetings

Every product marketer has received this advice — the conversation goes a bit like this:
Advisor: “Get out of the office and talk to customers!.”
Product marketer: “How many?”
Advisor: “100, or more, in person.”
Product marketer:!@#$%^&*?”

For a typical B2B software product marketer who juggles many demanding projects, this advice is absurd. Identifying, engaging, scheduling, meeting and reporting customer discovery results is a full-time job stretched over many, many months.

Yet, it is absolutely true that talking to customers early, and often, is the best investment you will ever make.

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