The Beginner’s Guide to Customer Development is your starting point to avoiding the biggest startup founder mistake — ever. Not understanding your customer! To read part one, click here.
The basic idea of Customer Development seems easy, doesn’t it?
It’s quite intuitive that talking to your customers is better than building a product based on your beliefs. However, few entrepreneurs do it right Even the ones who know what ‘Customer Development’ about doesn’t!
One major reason is that approaching strangers feels awkward. Let’s be honest: there is some fear involved. We fear to ask strangers for their time; we fear that they might reject us, and we fear that they might call our precious baby ‘ugly’…
Don’t worry; this is a familiar for most entrepreneurs.
A lot of successful entrepreneurs admit that they had some problems with getting started, like Ash Maurya — a famous ‘Lean Startup Evangelist’. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and doesn’t indicate that you lack an ‘entrepreneurial personality’.
Customer Development requires you to practice the art of interviewing and asking questions, and the art of understanding people and building trust and so rapport.
The good news is: Talking to people might start to be fun as soon as you get the hang of it. At least, you’ll get used to it. Doing the first step is the hardest part. Here are some tips that might help you with it.
Finding Interview Candidates
The art of interviewing is not only about asking the right questions. Because if you ask the right questions to the wrong people, your learning curve will be zero.
Let’s avoid this. In the following section, I will give you guidelines that will help you choose your interviewees carefully. We start by looking at 3 big mistakes you could make:
- Talking to everyone
- Only talking to close friends and relatives
- Talking to the wrong customers — the people who don’t buy your product.
#1 Pitfall to avoid: Talking to everyone
Talking to everyone is especially bad. If everyone looks like a potential customer to you, something is not right with your idea. You’ll never have enough resources to build a product that pleases everyone! You need a niche market to succeed, dammit! Do your homework and find one.
#2 Pitfall to avoid: Only talking to your loved ones
Because it’s pleasant and a lot less awkward than approaching strangers, you might prefer this one.
You don’t risk being ignored, being laughed at or being rejected. However, that’s the reason why focusing on them is bad!
Even if they fit your ideal customer, they won’t give you an unbiased picture!
They might fool you because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. Or they might discourage you because they don’t want to see you failing and then needing to take care yourself.
As a consequence, your idea will face the biggest startup thread that you wanted to avoid: building something nobody wants.
You have to absorb this point until it stands clear before your eyes. The biggest threat to you is creating a shitty product. Rejection, ridicule and unlovely reviews are annoying, but they tell you something and they allow you to improve your idea. Never try to avoid them.
#3 Pitfall to avoid: Talking to the wrong customers
The essential thing to keep in mind is that the group of people who would use your product or service and the group of people who would pay for your product or service must not be the same.
Think about the freemium apps you are using yourself: there are probably some that you can use for free and upgrade to a premium level of cash. Do you pay for the premium versions of all the apps? You probably don’t. Some do for Spotify; some don’t. I value the offline lists, so I pay for it and out of respect for the artists. Ok … let’s get back to the topic.
In the B2B area, it’s even more complicated. The people who use your product might not be the guys that make the decision to buy it!
You probably guess what this is about. If you don’t find potential buyers for your product and learn about their particular needs, you might end up with a product you can hardly monetize. Never forget to locate and explore the people who will pay for your product (also called ‘economic buyer’).
If your users are the same individuals who buy your product, set your focus on users that are willing to pay. Pick the low hanging fruits first.
When you’re farther along the process, you will be able to get a clearer picture of who these people are and you will be able to focus on them. In the beginning, you should FOCUS on the target group that looks most lucrative.
Here’s some help for doing that!
Deciding on the right target group
I really hope that you’ve understood the basics of Customer Development by now and don’t get this point wrong. It’s not about finding the right audience for a product you just thought of. This approach mostly create shelf warmers!
You should always try to solve a problem that a specific group of people has.
However, if you find a meaningful problem, there might be several groups of people who struggle with it! Just imagine a problem that people in marketing generally have (like for example reporting their key metrics). If you find a solution, you could sell it to marketers in startups, marketers in small and medium-sized businesses, corporate marketers, people in marketing agencies… Whom should you focus on?
If you have too many potential target groups in mind to explore them all, you can follow this procedure recommended by Customer Development Labs:
Write down all target groups in an excel spreadsheet. For each of these groups, rate the following dimensions with values from 1-3:
- Market Size – how “many” of this type of customer exist
- Pay for value – how much do we think they’ll pay for this value
- Accessibility – how easy is it to find, contact and sell customers in this segment
After that, multiply the different values for each group and lay your priorities on the one with the highest score. For example, let’s look at this fictional table for a new cat shampoo (I know, not a great example!):
Cat owners have a score of 3*2*2=12, while cat parlors only have 1*3*2=6.
You would focus on talking to cat owners before you approach the other target groups, because they look like the most lucrative target group right now.
Of course, this method is utterly based on assumptions. And that’s alright. Just be aware that they could be completely wrong. That’s why you should test them during the Customer Development process. Maybe cat owners are not ready to pay even moderate sums for care products, or they spend a lot on them….?
One word of caution for tech startups: Be aware of what has been called ‘the Chasm’ by Geoffrey Moore. In the beginning, your product will only be bought by a small market segment of ‘early adopters’. Sadly, the big mainstream crowd won’t touch it until they see how your ‘early adopters’ use it. That’s why it would be a mistake to focus on the mainstream segment from the beginning. Find out who the potential ‘early adopters’ for your product are instead and interview them.
Finding your interviewees
If you’ve defined your target group, it’s time to find actual candidates! Doing that is a very creative process — especially because you have no professor at your back who keeps demanding scientific standards… 🙂
After you’ve found the first few interviewees, it gets even easier. You might just ask them if they can refer you to some other people with similar backgrounds. This is called “snowball method” and it works well.
Quick tip for B2B startups that I took from ‘Talking to Humans’: There will be different players involved in the sales process. It’s crucial that you identify all of them and get to know each level. It’s better to start with mid-level managers before you start talking to executives because you will be able to ask much smarter questions after your first few interviews.
For finding interviewees, there are almost no limits. You have numerous possibilities here.
Let’s look at options to get interviewees …
Tap into your network
An absolute classic. Start with people you know who fit your target profile or ask guys who might know the right people. Just remember: Talking to your friends might be a start, but it’s not enough, and it can fool you.
The public space
It’s always a very good idea to visit an area where your target group spends time. You want to create a fitness-related product? Go to a gym. You want to create a product for marketers? Go to a marketing conference. Parents? Playground. Freelancers? Co-working space.
If you’ve found a spot, “just” approach people and ask them if they have a few minutes for an interview. I know it’s never just “just”. Don’t expect to be good at it at first. No one is born a natural talent.
Bring a friend who is acting to show you how it goes. You can also watch or much better take part in an “improv class” at a theatre in your city
Another great thing about public spaces is that you can not only speak to people but also observe their behavior. If you look for the right things, it can be quite a powerful indicator, too.
For instance, watching potential customers buy a similar product will tell you a lot about their decision-making. To see a concrete example, check out the case study in ‘Talking to Humans’.
Create a lead landing page
A landing page is a simple website where people drop their name and email address in exchange for a promise or some value.
Creating one is not hard. You can use WordPress or LeadPages to set it up quickly! The more interesting question is: How do you get relevant people to leave you their email address? By clearly stating your promise and/or providing value spot on.
There are several things you could do:
- Offer a free ebook with content that is relevant for your target group
- Offer an email course
- Offer a video series
- Offer expert interviews
- Offer a list of best practices and tools
- Present your product and allow people to pre-subscribe for it
- Offer a webinar
- Offer consulting services for the problem you want to explore
LinkedIn is a great platform for finding people in their ‘professional’ environment. As opposed to Facebook (‘private stuff’), LinkedIn is more formal. You can tell, just by looking at the profiles pics 😉
Bare in mind: As we mostly fake ah sorry … show our best side of ourselves on Facebook, we do this in a similar fashion on LinkedIn, too. Don’t be impressed by all the awards and authors out there. They might just wrote an ebook of 30 pages and are now labelled author, as I am … *lol* Isn’t it hilarious? All this business and life bullshitting to convince people, isn’t? Will this ever stop …
Ok … 30 seconds passed, and you might have wandered, back to the topic.
By using a few filter options or the advanced search, you can find the people you want in no time! Don’t worry about having to buy an expensive premium account for contacting them. If you use certain hacks, you can get people’s email addresses even if you’re not on their personal network.
Facebook has literally thousands of groups for people who have particular interests, work in certain professions or lives in certain communities. Find suitable ones by experimenting with different search terms that are relevant to your target group.
If you don’t know how to find groups on Facebook, find a guide here:
- Search for one or two relevant keywords
- Click “See More Results” at the bottom of the drop-down search results pane to open the results of your keyword search on a new page.
- Click the “Groups” button in the left-hand menu to filter search results to show only Facebook Groups
- Pick a group and read its description.
- If closed, apply for access.
Just like Facebook groups, there are online forums for almost anyone and anything. No matter what your topic is, you should find several ones with a Google search.
Amazon Mechanical Turk
Amazon Mechanical Turk is a platform that allows you to post quick jobs for small fees. However, it is officially open to U.S. citizens only! Such a job could also be an answer to your interview! If you want to learn more about using it to acquire interviewees, find a guide here.
Craigslist is a platform that allows you to post almost anything. If you find the right keywords for your target group (and offer an incentive), you can post an interview request there and see if people will contact you.
The guys from Customer Development Labs suggest that you could put together a webinar for your target group. It’s basically like offering a free ebook but requires (much) more effort.
Create content that addresses the hypothetical problem of your target group. Prepare a presentation and upload this to Slideshare that is linked to LinkedIn (because it was bought by them). Slideshare is another good way to approach target groups.
Hold your webinar with Google Hangouts. You can use Google presentation to incorporate your slides directly in Google Hangouts to allow for a seamless experience. It looks professional and committed. First impressions count!
If you have signups, there are people who care about the topic you are addressing! The sad thing is that you have to create some extra marketing for your webinar. But then again: It’s money and time well spent because your target customers might rather sign up for a webinar for free than give you their email address on your landing page.
The difficulty of finding interview partners has an actual meaning for your business. It turns out that the harder it is to find an interviewee, the harder it is to monetize your product.
However, I’d like to repeat that you should be creative here. Try a different approach if the first ones didn’t work! Sometimes, you are more successful in changing the wording of your promise, email or offer.
I hope that you have some ideas for your interviewee search now! Let’s proceed with some best practices for the most important acquisition channel.
Interviewing via email
When you’re asking people for an interview via email, you should keep the message extremely short. Most people won’t read long emails that do not directly concern their tasks at hand.
That’s why having more than 3-5 sentences is bad.
It’s very important that you make the email personal. It will increase the response chance and decrease the odds of being marked as “spam”. The latter thing is of particular importance. Because if your domain will be added to a blacklist, you’ll definitely have a problem! Imagine most of your marketing and customer service emails never reach their audience because they go into the trash folder… Be careful here.
By giving your message a personal touch, you could for example refer to tweet, blog post or ebook they have written, positions they have had or keynotes they have made. In an ideal case, you might wanna make people feel important. If someone referred them to you, always mention it!
Naturally, people don’t like to spend their time with commercial calls. You should emphasize that you want to understand their point of view and don’t want to sell. You’re here to learn!
Furthermore, you should think about incentives. Depending on your audience, it does not have to be much. If they have the impression that they can help you, some people will gladly do it (and some won’t!). If you give them a hint that you might solve their problems, some might also see it as a worthwhile use of their time.
If that’s not enough, you could do a whole lot of things from coffee to Amazon vouchers. Just think about what your target group might be like (that’s your damn job anyway).
Finding a date that both parties agreed on can be stressful.
To make it as convenient as possible, you can use free tools, like ‘Youcanbookme’ or Calend.ly that syncs with your Google calendar and automatically allows people to book free timeslots! I can definitely recommend it, it has saved me hours of scheduling work.
Your first email
Let’s look at an email example:
Subject: Can I help you? || OR || Your [… expertise …] required
Since you’ve worked in different marketing positions for COMPANY A, and C, I think that you’re very experienced and could give me invaluable feedback (don’t worry, I have nothing to sell yet)
I’m a freshly baked entrepreneur and working on […your product…] that will make [BIGGEST BENEFIT].
Are you available for a 15 min chat next Tue at 3pm? Just answer YES or please book a convenient slot here!
As you see, the message is quite short. It can always be shorter. John might read through it before he loses interest and turns back to his work. Don’t make it longer. Keep it short and crisp. Key to answers here.
The message doesn’t feel like Spam, does it? John might ignore or reject you, but he probably won’t move the message into the spam folder. This is due to the conversational tone and because we mentioned his personal career path. Don’t worry, personalizing an email is not so extensive. You could tailor this for any other marketing person by just taking this template and replacing that one sentence about his career (e.g. with “Because you’ve done this workshop at the Marketing Conference …” or “Because you’ve written this article on TechCrunch”).
By referring to his experience, we both state a reason why we individually contacted John and will make him feel a bit flattered (hopefully). As an incentive, we give him the feeling that he might be a valuable help and hint that we’re trying to make his job easier. Let’s see if that is enough for him! That’s hard to know in advance.
Note that we only give a vague hint about the purpose of our product; you don’t want to be too specific about it. It would make your mail longer and also put a bias on John’s thinking. He would try to imagine your product and build an opinion why it is great or shitty. That’s bad, because your whole conversation will evolve around that and you won’t get a real picture of his perspective anymore.
At the word ‘here’, you can insert a link to your actual ‘youcanbookme’-calendar. Don’t forget to use the customization options for your booking form – for example; you could enter a field that asks for people’s phone addresses or Skype numbers. When someone books a slot, send him or her a shout ‘thank you’ – note and a Google calendar invitation. I recommend you to send a quick reminder one day before the interview because people tend to forget the appointment if you don’t!
just a quick reminder that our interview call will be tomorrow at 5pm.
Looking forward to it,
The follow-up email
There are 1,000 potential reasons that have nothing to do with your proposal why John won’t answer.
That’s why you need to follow up.
When John does not react at all, you’ll send him a short reminder after 2-3 days. Just paraphrase the text of your first mail and make it even shorter. You might take the same header like the first mail or another one – in my experience, both things work.
If John tells you that he can’t support you or does not react to several emails, you should take that as an answer. There’s no point in arguing here.
Remember: People are busy and helping you is not one of their top priorities. Therefore, you should not expect a great response rate. Depending on your audience, 10% can be great. Don’t take this personally.
However, if too many people reject you, you might ask them for their reasons (in most cases they’ll state them in their mail anyway). If you can’t get you audience for interviews, selling a product to them will be hell. You might want to look for a different target group if several approaches do not work out.
A few more points.
Keep time zones in mind. Maybe make use of a bullet approach by giving them the choice to only answer with their favorite letter. For example:
…so kindly respond with your favorite letter:
(a) Sign us up!
(b) Sounds interesting, tell me more.
(c) Our product performs poorly, and that’s fine with me.
If you’re emailing busy people, make it incredibly easy for them to respond your request!
Interviewing in the public space
When you’ve found some place where your audience is scrimmaging, you might try to find candidates for a quick interview there. The easiest way is to just approach people and ask them if they have a few minutes. Don’t forget to introduce yourself, smile and be friendly!
If you’re feeling insecure, you might want to write a basic introduction and memorize it.
‘Hi, I’m Danny. I would like to learn more about the way students study for their test because I’m working on a project that will make it more efficient. Do you have a few minutes for a quick interview?’
However, don’t get too repetitive with it. If you sound like you’re playing a recorded message, you’re not very appealing! You’re not trying to sell them anything. Be yourself. Be authentic. Engage them. Check out Neil Strauss’ book ‘The Game’ about picking up a woman (for male readers) or his TED talk about approaching strangers.
Concerning taking notes, I recommend that you either do it afterwards. Use a notebook and a pen or prepare a google form and access it with your tablet eventually. Or bring someone with you who does it while you talk. But don’t be too scientific. Writing stuff down while you talk to people doesn’t work. It’s awkward for them, too. And it really eats up the attention you need for guiding the conversation.
If you have problems getting interviewees, you might offer them something they want! For example, the founders of homejoy got their first signups by handing out cold water bottles for free at a community festival on a hot day. Coffee or small snacks could also be a great idea for making people more motivated to speak with you.
However, you should get ready to receive some rejection…
Many people expect being drawn into psychologically accomplished sales conversations and prefer to walk away fast.
Again, that’s something you should not take personally! Don’t worry. If you’ve not done anything like it before, you know that you’ll get used to it quite fast.
Interviewing in forums and online groups
Online forums and groups (for example on Facebook or Slack) can be a great opportunity for reaching your target audience.
If you’ve found an interesting group, do two things: you can either identify engaging members and send them personal messages or post a request to all of them.
With both approaches, you should be careful.
People join this groups for a personal exchange and hate it if they become tainted with spam. Don’t give them the impression that you want to sell something or that you want their contribution to your commercial success!
Answer their questions first. Don’t even think about your solution and idea. Solve their problems first that might be unrelated to your idea.
If someone disses you and calls you a ‘spammer’, the group will quickly turn against you. Don’t say anything that sounds like an ad, tell people that it’s about your personal project and that you need their help!
You should also keep in mind that most groups ban people who do not stick to their guidelines. That might cost you a lot of opportunities, so check the rules and stick to them. If you’re not sure if what you’re doing is okay, just contact an admin and ask.
How to do good Interviews
Please note: Giff Constables’ great book ‘Talking to Humans’ provided most of the content for the following part.
If you want to learn more about interviewing and learning from it, I highly recommend to get his book. He made a free PDF version available here. It contains clear descriptions and a case studies.
Two fallacies you must avoid
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!” “Like this cup,” Nan-in said: “You are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?” —Traditional Zen Story
Doing a great interview is not as easy as you might think. The human mind is not made up for neutrally collecting information. That’s why scientists place so much emphasis on following certain methods.
Entrepreneurs are nothing less than an exception! While doing Customer Development, you will also struggle with certain tendencies and fallacies of the human minds.There are two things you really have to keep an eye on.
#1: Avoid the confirmation bias
The first one is a general psychological principle called ‘confirmation bias’. If people have certain beliefs, they tend to look for information that confirms their beliefs and interpret everything they see accordingly…
For example, you could ask tendential questions (‘would you like a tool that saves you one hour per day?’) or disqualify people who do not tell you what you expect (‘I don’t think these 5 guys were prototypical marketers, let’s just not consider what they say’). If you succumb to this threat too strongly, the result will be a VERY biased picture.
#2: Avoid selling. Aim for learning.
The second thing is very typical for entrepreneurs: some love to sell! That tendency is great and helps a lot, but not at this point. Pitching people just won’t generate the learning you need.
It is far too tendential and doesn’t allow your interviewees to present their view of the world at all. How do you want to understand them like that? You can’t.
And by the way, the best salespeople know that they sell more if they compassionately listen and solve problems for their customers. Hence, selling shouldn’t ever be about convincing!
The most fatal that can happen is a concurrence of these two factors: being misled by your confirmation bias and trying to sell.
You get carried away and start to praise the great thing that you want to build. Instead of exploring your customer’s view, you just ask some rather rhetorical questions that are answered affirmatively because your interviewees see your great enthusiasm.
Because you’re not aware of that at all, you take this as a great validation of your business idea and build it right away. As a result, you have a product that no one wants to buy.
People are careless at expressing agreement, but they are very selective when it comes to fetching their wallet.
The recipe for preventing this?
Stop selling and start listening!
You have to be disciplined. It’s great that your passion is telling you that your vision is awesome. However, you must understand that it’s your vision. Your product is never solely meant for you, but for your customers.
Even if you are solving a problem that you have yourself, you must recognize that you might not be prototypical for your target group.
I myself probably would never sign an LOI on screenshots only. However, our customers did a lot of stuff that I would never do. Lesson learned: I am not my customer. We think differently. We solve our problems differently. We have different needs and wants. Repeat after me: You are not your customer. —Eric Ries, author of the Lean Startup
I hope you got it by now 🙂 Let’s dig deeper into question design.
General Rules for Interviewing
Use non-leading questions
Let’s begin with the ‘understanding-your-customer-part’. One thing you should strictly avoid is asking questions that can be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Those are really tendential, provide sparse insights and will get people used to giving you short answers. That’s not okay.
You’ll find out more if you have a good conversation with them! That’s why you should start with a question that will force them to share their thoughts. Let’s look at two questions for interviewing students:
- BAD example: ‘Have you ever felt that learning for exams is overwhelming and depressing?’ People will tell you something like: ‘Yes, quite often!’ / ’Nope, not really!’ Ooops.
- BETTER example: ‘How does your exam preparation phase typically look like? What do you do and how do you feel?’ With this question, you can learn a lot about your customers. If they have the problem you expect, they should just come up with it all by themselves.
If they begin to tell you a story, you have a great starting point for turning this interview into a conversation. That’s much better than just asking one standard question after another because structuring your interview very much still means impressing your mindset upon your customer.
The next question is how you still find out the things that are important.
Be open. Embrace serendipity.
I recommend the following thing a professor told me once: You can see this conversation in a supermarket you’re walking through with the other person. Your buddy will lead the way and you pick stuff that’s interesting for you while you walk along. If you’re missing something on your shopping list, you can try to give directions. However, don’t do that too much. If you follow the other person where he or she goes, you might discover interesting stuff you never even thought of and buy it 😉
That means in practice: Jump in at interesting spots to give the conversation another direction. For example, if your interviewee starts to mention the problem you might say something like: ‘That’s interesting! What did you try to do about it?’ before he or she moves on.
You’ll be able to do that much better if you have some kind of checklist that encompasses the most important things you want to learn about (that always is the stuff related to your most riskiest business model hypothesis).
Memorize your list well and ‘check’ each point mentally as soon as you’ve touched it!
Use contextual questions to get context
Don’t just center your questions around the problems you want to explore, ask your users about their context (e.g. how one of their typical work days looks like, what they’re spending the most money on, who would most likely make the decision to buy your product, etc.).
In ‘The Startup Owner’s Manual’, Steve Blank recommends to ask questions about marketing and sales to identify the following:
- Identify proper marketing channels (e.g., ‘How do you find out about new products like this?’; ‘What industry-specific journals/blogs/newspapers do you read?’)
- Identify how to get/grow/keep them (e.g. How does the approval process in your company for products like this look like?’; ‘If you decided to buy a product like this, what would you do?’
- Identify pricing boundaries (‘would you pay xxx $ for this product?’) Be aware that ‘no’ probably means ‘no’ here, but ‘yes’ might not mean ‘yes’… I’ll tell you why a bit later.
- Identify budget keeper. The ‘show-me-the-money’ question helps you to see you decides which products are bought. (‘Who commands the budget for buying such products?’)
Don’t use hypothetical questions
Every student of social psychology knows that people are miserable at predicting their behaviour. It’s a paramount rule you should keep in mind is: Don’t rely on hypothetical questions.
Yes, that’s right! People don’t give reliable answers on issues that involve ideal situations.
Classical hypothetical questions in Customer Development are ‘Would you buy…’ and ‘How much would you pay for…’. I’m not saying that you should never ask these questions (I’ve recommended you to use some of them before!), but be aware that the answers won’t tell you so much.
The solution to this problem? Ask people about their actual behavior, the answers are much more valid. Let’s talk to our fictive student again:
Q: ‘Would you spend $2 more for having a really healthy dinner now and then’
A: ‘I think so, why not!?’ (What should this guy say? ‘Never, I’m too penny-pinching and I fucking love junk food’ !?)
Q: ‘How often do you consciously eat healthy dinner which cost a bit more?’
Interesting, isn’t it? An attempt to sell the product would probably look like this:
Q: ‘You want a really healthy dinner today? Buy my new product, it’s only $2 more than a regular meal!’
A: ‘Sorry, I still have my fridge full of frozen pizzas. Special offer, only $1 a piece!’
However, an interview is not the right place to do that!
There are other possibilities to do that (e.g. landing pages or crowdfunding). Still, you should ask people how much budget they have and how much money they already have spent to get the problem solved. Otherwise, you might find out that they just don’t command the money to buy your solution…
Only talk to one person at a time
Focus groups with several people are too ‘distracting’ at first. They do not allow you to dig into one person’s mind. You’ll get more details with one person.
Might want to record your interview
Depending on your situation, you ought to record the conversation or bring someone who takes notes. As I already said, taking notes, yourself is incredibly distracting and will decrease your ability to direct the interview. Don’t ever do it. If you use Skype, make use of Callrecorder (a 30$ tool for recording) or use Apple’s free QuickTime player and audio record your interview.
Write down your notes after the interview.
Do it as soon as possible, because you’ll forget your insights incredibly fast. Believe me; the next day is already too late.
Ask interviewee for their contact details after the interview
After the interviews, you can ask people for their contact information or give them a flyer. They could be customers after all. As I already mentioned, asking for introductions is also always a good idea. If you get their details, send them a quick follow up text message or email.
Use 5 WHY question sequence
A great technique is asking ‘why’ several times in a row (This is called ‘5 whys’). Don’t do this literally, I don’t think I need to tell you that I’ll start to annoy people if you just ask “why?” a few times in a row. Ask them some proper questions:
Q: “You’ve mentioned that you never bought an insurance online. Why didn’t you?”
A: “ I had a look at it, but I don’t really trust these providers.”
Q: “That’s interesting! Why don’t you trust them?
Q: “Uhm, I guess because I don’t even see the person I’m signing a contract with BLA BLA BLA”
Become an active listener
To build up a great conversation, I advise you to be an active listener. You can practice this every day – with your friends, family and and and …
Are you truly listening what they’re saying or are you just waiting to bring in your perspective? Even worth interrupting them, giving them the feeling that you don’t have the time or that your time is more valuable than theirs.
Active listening is sooooo hard. I try to practice it. But not being misled by my ego, not feeling personally attacked or whatsoever is fucking hard!
Observe your body language
80% of communication is nonverbal. Don’t just sit there and let your interviewees talk.
By nodding and saying things like ‘u-hum’ and ‘that’s interesting,’ you will make them feel appreciated and encourage them to tell you more!
Embrace silence. Don’t ask too quickly.
We do not like silence when we’re talking to strangers. Therefore, you might be tempted to say something just after your interviewee stopped talking.
However, don’t break the silence. When your interviewee feels awkward, he or she will think of something else to say and might come up with fascinating things! If you stop them, you’ll miss that insight right there!
Steve recommends that you should not attempt to ask every question in each interview. Some customers might not know much about some aspects, and it’s okay if you might skip related questions.
Sometimes, you will see that a person has given you the answer to a question when talking about a previous one. If you don’t act smart here, you might piss the other person off (‘I’ve already told you that…’).
Use this question at the end of your interview
Last but not least, here’s a big issue that Steve Blank always uses to conclude his Customer Development interviews:
‘What should have I asked you that I didn’t?’
You might see now, just like Customer Development itself, doing good interviews is more of an art than it is a science. Your results might look miserable in the beginning, but you’ll get better with practice. Don’t stay in the office, start early and do it often! 🙂
How to overcome your fear of rejection
In the beginning, your fears might slow you down or even stop you from approaching interview potential candidates. Sadly, there are no effective ‘dry exercises’ that will get you over it. Practice is the only thing that will diminish the awkward feelings you’re struggling with.
I mean, of course, you could do some exercises that would make you less and less shy, but do you have the time to do them for a week or so? I suggest you just jump into the cold water… It will feel warmer soon.
If you’re struggling with making the first call, sending the first email or walking towards the first candidate, try the following things. They have helped me a lot with my projects:
People can’t do more than saying “no”.
Even if they do it in a rude manner, it won’t be the end of the world or your business. You’ll get over it in no time.
Use an interview guide/script
It reminds you how to introduce yourself and what to ask for. It is essential for having a structured learning experience, but it will also give you security.
Every interview you do is a step towards greatness.
The worst thing that can happen is not a slating review of your idea, but to build something nobody wants. Even if people don’t have the problem you envision or don’t like your solution, you learn, improve and create something they want.
Clearly define who your target group is
Define what kind of people you want to approach, how you want to approach them, when you want to do it, how many persons you want to approach. If you’ve done that, you should easily recognize any excuses that pop up in your mind what they are. Don’t allow yourself to embrace them!
Just do stuff.
Thinking about doing the things you want to do will only increase your insecurity. It might sound stupid, but it helps to shut your stream of thoughts down for a moment and just act. Type the number of your first lead in your phone and press the green button without thinking about it. Don’t reflect on that email for the 10th time, just press the “send” button NOW.
The interview is about making your product better
And not about presenting something beautiful. When you’re afraid of showing people your prototype, just remember that having a crappy first version is just ‘startup style’. If you’ve created the first prototype before you show it around for the first time, you’ve done way too much.
For some, it takes years to master and control emotions. To be emotionally intelligent. But don’t be discouraged because we need to start at some point. Right?
You might think: “I don’t.”
But if you want to start a project and solve someone’s problem, you MUST practice interviewing — the art of asking the right questions and understanding people.
Even if you don’t start anything, it’s a crucial life skill that will propel your career and help you in any relationship — with your parents, partner, friends …
#EntrepreneurHack: Remember the following …
If you can’t get potential customers for an interview, you probably can’t get them as customers at all.
Visit an improv class to learn how to approach people. Be creative on the spot and realize that approaching people in a great manner can be easily learned.
Randomly ask people why they bought a product. You will be amazed why people buy stuff.
Find almost anyone’s email address with Rapportive.
The great thing about webinars is that it gives you the first validation.
You identify the biggest points and insights naturally as they pop up in chats over and over again. No need to pencil them down.
Selling is about convincing people of something while learning is about listening to what they already believe. That’s why both things are quite exclusive.
Try to apply interview best practices carefully and deliberately practice them. The more disciplined you are, the more informative your results will be.
- Giff Constable: Talking to Humans – A great and entertaining book on doing Customer Development interviews. Quite rich and very clear, so I highly recommend it.
- Steve Portigal: Interviewing Users – One of the most thorough guides on this topic.
- Jeff Patton: User Story Mapping – get this book if you want to learn what to do with user stories. If you’ve ever felt that you don’t see the forest because of all the trees, you’ll find help here.