Tag: Customer Discovery

The most important part of the market validation is the questions that you ask and how you ask them. Tips on understanding the emotions of your target market.

Overview and Objective

Market validation is a series of interviews of people in your target market. These interviews are used to test a product concept against a potential target market.

A market validation should always be done before introducing a product. Ideally, market validation should start much earlier in the process. A better understanding of the target market will help build a better, more focused product. A market validation will take a minimum of four weeks, more likely take six to eight, depending on the number of interviews and the number of people performing the interviews.

Pick one objective for your market validation. Either verify the target market, or verify the positioning and value statements. Trying to do both of these in a single market validation will create too many variables and weaken the value of the market validation. Write down your objective and make sure everyone involved agrees on the objective before proceeding.

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Although Customer Development can give us tremendous insight into market problems, it takes a lot of time – time that’s wasted if we do it incorrectly. Worse yet, poorly worded questions can cause us to reach wrong conclusions about what people want.

The best questions don’t require customers to speculate about their behavior. Kevin Dewalt shares real examples of his bad questions and mistakes and offers some better alternatives.

If you’re starting Customer Development you’re getting ready to talk to a lot of potential customers. You started with an an idea, wrote down your key assumptions, and started flipping through contacts to see who you can interview.

Awesome! You’re off to a great start. Talking face-to-face with customers brings us insight we can’t get from surveys and clicks.

Unfortunately, conducting face-to-face customer development interviews is a skill that takes practice. I’ve been doing it for 5 years and I’m still learning. So many times I’ve asked the wrong questions and later realized I was wasting time or – worse yet – coming to incorrect conclusions and building the wrong products.

“Learn Nothing” Questions

I call “Learn Nothing” questions those that don’t result in any learning, just wasted time.

“What do you think of my idea?”

I LOVE talking about startup ideas. To quote my friend Patrick Smith , “talking about startups is entertainment like sports”. Fun, yes. Validated learning? No. What do you think of my startup idea? is useless because if my idea is great people will like it. If it sucks, surely some people will still like it.

“If you could wave a magic wand…”

I know Steve Blank calls this the “IPO question”. I call it the “sit back and watch people ramble about things I have no chance of building” question. I’ve asked this question at the end of meetings and – after some funny looks – watched somebody ramble. It just hasn’t worked for me.

Too Broad Questions“Can you tell me about your problems with medical bills?”

I asked this question a few times before realizing that asking people to talk about problems just results in venting and no learning. This is particularly true with complex, personal, emotionally charged problems like those in health care. “Well there was this one time….and then…but what really got me mad…”

“False Positive” Questions

Wrong conclusions are worse than no learning at all, and I call “False Positive” questions those designed to get customers to tell us what we want to hear.

All of us want our product ideas to be right – I want it, you want it, Steve Jobs wanted it. While our enthusiasm is our biggest asset, it is dangerous in customer development because most people don’t want to disappoint us.

Leading Questions

I’m building a product to help people manage medical bills. Can you tell me…”

Any question that starts with the solution already biases people’s expectations. Someone hearing this question might focus on a minor problem they had with medical billing in the past and convince us that it is a major source of pain.

Better: Skip the “I’m building a…” intro.

Questions that Put People on the Defensive

“How do you reconcile your HSA account with your bills, receipts, and statements to make sure you’re optimizing future tax savings?”

The “How do you do something complex to achieve results” questions can put people on the defensive. You can imagine someone thinking, “You mean I’m supposed to be doing something with that paperwork to save money on taxes? Oh no, I’m such an idiot, what am I doing wrong?”

Of course customers will be biased to tell us they need help with something after we cause them to doubt their own competence.

Better: “What do you do with that HSA paperwork?”

Questions Leading to Answers you Want to Hear

“Would you take a picture of a medical bill with your iPhone?”

This question sets up the prospective customer to tell us what we obviously want to hear.

Better questions would give us insight into how they currently work and whether the extra steps and inconvenience of using our products gives a promise of a big return.

Better: “Do you scan or file medical bills you get in the mail?”

This question is better because it gives someone the opportunity to disappoint us without realizing it, what Rob Fitzpatrick http://vimeo.com/40192415 calls the “mom test”.

In this case, suppose your key assumption is that managing bills via in iPhone app saves time over filing or scanning. Should they respond, “Scan them? I’m too busy for that, I don’t even open them,” you’ve just invalidated your whole company vision with one question.

The Key to Effective Customer Development

In retrospect, the root of my bad questions was that I only had an idea – I didn’t have specific hypothesis I was trying to validate. I tried to replace the hard work of documenting and testing assumptions with meetings and simply wasted time.

Always remember that Customer Development is a big commitment that takes a huge amount of time, time best spent on something else if you’re not doing it right.

Before you line up a bunch of meetings and spend weeks talking to people, take some time to carefully consider what you’re going to ask and why. The key is to make sure your questions are designed to test your assumptions. I write them down and you should too.

“Bad Customer Development Questions and How to Avoid My Mistakes” was originally published by KevinDewalt.com on January 21, 2013.
By: Kevin Dewalt, 20 years as a startup hacker, founder, & investor.

Kissmetrics user experience research manager Chuck Liu writes about why asking users what they want is the wrong question to ask, and gives readers 3 better questions to ask.

The first rule of user research: never ask anyone what they want.
— Erika Hall, Just Enough Research

I rave about user interviews. They’re cheap (see: free), potent (you get more than what you ask for), and efficient.

But good interviewing takes practice.

It helps if you’re naturally curious about people, but if you aren’t, you can still fake it till you make it. For example, Michael Margolis of Google Ventures likes to get into character .

Like Erika Hall states above, when you embark on your user interviews, you’ll want to avoid asking what they want. Asking people what they want will lead you to the wrong insights. You will not discover the root cause of a problem, but rather what they envision as their own ideal solution.

Don’t Make User Interviews Hard For Yourself:

When you ask a person what they want, you let them think within the realm of possibility. And that makes user research harder than it should be. If you’re trying to create a new product or experience that doesn’t exist yet, you’ll want to know what’s causing people to not be able to do what they want with the tools they currently have. That way, you can design for an entirely new experience or incremental improvement that helps them get the job done.

At KISSmetrics, I spend a lot my time interviewing people about what they currently use to solve a problem. Here’s what I think are 3 better questions to ask. And I ask these all the time:

  •  What are you trying to get done? (Gather context)
  •  How do you currently do this? (Analyze workflow)
  •  What could be better about how you do this? (Find opportunities)

What are you trying to get done? Why?

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Think you have to give something to get something? Sandeep De answers this popular Quora question.

Should You Offer Incentives for Interviews?

No, I wouldn’t, because you want to find problems compelling enough that people want to speak exactly because of that rather than some additional incentive.

If they’re not willing to speak, the problem is probably not big enough for them to care, or they may not actually be an early adopter.

What you want is for people to be so motivated on the possibility of a solution to a problem that they are excited to talk about it. It also helps identify if you’ve got messaging that resonates and connects to the people you’re trying to solve problems for.

Maybe the problem/solution is good but the way it’s explained isn’t. Remember the point is to turn uninterested / unaware people into actively interested.

I think incentives make sense for win/loss analysis or why people leave at various stages of the customer lifecycle (acquisition, activation, revenue, retention, etc.).  At that point, the customer has already indicated the solution is not solving something compelling for them or falling short in some way, so it makes sense to provide an incentive to come back and explain why. $50 in gift cards or to charities is pretty cheap to find and plug holes in the bucket.

“Should You Offer Incentives for Interviews?” was originally published by Quora on November 30, 2012.
Answered by: Sandeep De

Tristan Kromer shares 13 tweetable tips for customer development. # of questions you ask / # of sentences you speak = % of customer development you actually did.

Customer development is hard. It takes work to get it right and you’ll always be improving your technique. Here are a few pithy tips I like to keep in my head while I’m getting out of the building.

1) Who you are talking to is as important as what they are saying.
2) Ask the customer to describe their problem using their own words. It’s probably the exact same words they’ll type into google to find a solution.
3) Customer development takes practice. It will get easier.
4) Don’t just listen to what they say, listen to how they say it.
5) Remember the difference between a user and a customer. A customer pays you.
6) The amount of time someone will complain about a problem without prompting is directly correlated to the amount they’ll pay for a solution.
7) Smile. People want to talk to you.
8) If someone says, “I could see a lot of people might want this” it means that they themselves don’t want it.
9) People lie. A smile, a frown, a roll of the eyes will tell you more about their reaction than, “Yeah, I’d buy that.”
10) Paired customer development will allow one person to focus on asking the right questions while the other takes notes and, more importantly, critiques the interviewer.
11) If you didn’t take any notes, you weren’t doing customer development.
12) “Yes,” means no. “Where can I buy that?” means maybe. “Here’s $20 dollars,” means yes.

Suspiciously oversimplified bonus formula:

13) # of questions you ask / # of sentences you speak = % of customer development you actually did”

“12 Random Customer Development Tips” was originally published by GrassHopperHerder on July 17, 2012.
By: Tristan Kromer, lean startup coach.

Been a while since you’ve interviewed customers and want to get back to it? Jason Evanish give you some helpful tips.

Steps to Get Back on the Customer Development Horse

Step 1: Review your previous notes.

The first thing you should do is go over all of your past customer development work. Look at how you’ve already progressed and jog your memory on what you have already learned. This should include previous raw interview notes, any summaries of those notes and progress from your Lean Canvas.

This is a good time to find out if you’re taking good enough notes! If you can’t efficiently figure out what you learned, than anyone else using your notes, canvas and summaries can’t either. A great Lean Startup should be keeping their team and their advisors up to date on customer development progress and most of what they’ll have to go on are these notes.

Step 2: Schedule new customer development interviews.

Once your memory is set (this should hopefully only take an hour or two if you’re organized) then go back and see if you had any outstanding interviews to schedule. This is your low hanging fruit to schedule meetings. Reconnect with these people immediately and schedule new meetings with them as soon as possible.

Customer development is a numbers game, so regardless of if you had outstanding interviews, you need to get more feelers out for additional people to talk to; not everyone you reach out to will respond.

How to Get More Customers to Talk To

Ask Your Early AdoptersContinue Reading..

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?

Raven Keller

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


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