Customer Development: What Questions Do You Ask Potential Customers?

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In this article, you will learn about how to conduct an interview that will get you deep insigths to calibrating your value proposition.

INTRODUCTION TO CUSTOMER DEVELOPMENT INTERVIEWS

So you need to get out of the office and talk to your potential customers if you want the Customer Development model to work. This is easier said than done. You might have a great idea but a real fear of pitching your ideas to complete strangers. You can’t deny that asking strangers a series of questions isn’t scary. No one wants to hear that everything they thought they knew isn’t true.

But the customer interview phase is one of the most valuable parts of the Customer Development model. It does not have to be scary. In fact, you should not even be talking about yourself enough for customers to shut down your ideas.

The customer interview is all about learning and discovery. You can think of yourself as an impartial researcher or a journalist. If you approach the customer interview as someone who is genuinely curious about one person’s experience in the bigger picture, you will find that you will be listening a lot more than you will be talking. This means that you will be gathering more useful information but still protecting your ego in front of your customers.

ESTABLISH YOUR GOALS

Like any other process in business or in life, you need to have firmly established goals if you want to be able to measure the progress of your efforts. You need to have goals listed for each step of the Customer Development model. When you have these goals, you can refine and iterate your process later.

Some goals you should establish when you are developing the interview questions should include the following:

You should be able to identify and understand your customers’ problems.

Identifying your customers’ problems is essential. You need to keep this problem in mind throughout the entire customer development process. But it is not enough to be able to write down the problem. You need to know what the problem means for your customers.

A deeper understanding of your customers’ problem will tell you more about what they are trying to achieve with their solution. If you do not know how they want their problem solved, you cannot help them solve it. This comes from learning about how important their problem is and what their expectations of a potential solution are.

You might have a solution to the customers’ problem. But if your solution does not provide the solution that your customers desire, you still have nothing.

You want to learn how they want to solve their problem.

People do not just want a solution. They want a solution within a unique timeframe and a unique budget. Some customers want a simple solution. Others might be looking for a complex solution that solves current problems and prevents wider problems. Some customers will want a solution that is instantaneous. Others will want a solution that might take a while to work so that they do not upset their current ecosystem.

Every customer that is aware of their problem will have wants and needs for their solution. You must identify these desires before you can implement them into your product.

Ultimately, you need in depth knowledge about what your customers want the solution to their problem to achieve.

You need to understand what currently stands in your customers’ way.

Your early customers will likely have already tried other solutions. Yet, they are continuously looking for new and better solutions. It would serve you well to learn about why they do not like the solutions they have used previously. If none of them worked for the customer, you need to find out why.

Additionally, if you are entering an existing market, you need to find out what it is about your competitors that your customers do not like. Maybe your competitors offer a solution to your potential customers but it comes with strings attached like mandatory consulting hours.

Your goal is not necessarily to figure out how to solve the problem better. Your goal is to figure out how to solve the problem according to your customers’ needs.

You want to get the information you need to create customer segments and develop customer channels.

Collecting information blindly is rarely useful for any process. Instead, you want to be sure that you are collecting information that you use to learn more about your customers. This information should help you determine who your customers are and how they can be segmented.

This information should also help you figure out where to find your customers. When you can identify your customer segments, you can develop the channels you need to reach your potential customers.

Find product evangelists.

All of the information that you have collected thus far should come down to one goal. You want to find your product evangelists. These customers are some of the most influential customers that you can find. As a result, they are some of the most important customers that you have.

The information that you gather about problems, solutions, segments and channels should all be used to accomplish this goal.

FINDING CUSTOMERS TO INTERVIEW

Finding customers to interview may seem difficult, but it’s not. The reason that many people find it hard to find customers to interview is because they are afraid of rejection. They do not want to find potential customers who tell them that they are not interested in their product.

Fortunately, the interview phases of the Customer Development model have little to do with your product. They are all about learning, discovery and validation. When you set up an interview, you want to learn about your customer. You are not trying to sell them a product. When you think about it this way, it is substantially easier to think about going out and finding customers to interview.

To find the right customers, you need to get out of the office. This means that you need to ask people who don’t work for you or with you. You want to ask real customers, not engineers or sales people with a vested interest in your product. Your VP of Sales will definitely buy your product. But you’re not selling to your VP of Sales. You’re selling to your target market.

You may be tempted to interview people you know, such as friends or family. But you should only be doing this if your friends or family fit within your potential customer market. You should also only do this when you are learning about the problem. If you start interviewing your family about your product, you are likely to have a biased result. Your friends and family like you. They want to support you even if what they are telling you is not helpful. However, if your friends and family currently experience the problem that you are trying to solve, it is okay to interview them. You just need to make sure you speak to other customers as well.

To get out of the office, you might want to find customers who do not have such a personal interest in your success. For example, you can find customers on LinkedIn or on Quora. People who post on these sites will be asking real questions about their real problems. You should not feel strange about approaching them. In fact, they will probably appreciate it. The anonymity of working over the Internet will also help elicit more honest responses which will in turn produce more valuable information.

Another good place to find customers to interview is an industry event or a conference. This is ideal because you will already be in the center of your marketplace. You will also find that people here are ready to network. As a result, they will be approachable.

You can also find customers on social sites like Twitter, Facebook, Meetup and even Craigslist. This is an inexpensive way to find customers online. One of the best ways to get involved on these social media sites is to join in an existing conversation. If the problem you want to solve is real, people will be talking about it online. You can find the profiles of people in the industry or market that you are targeting

Another idea is to search for customers on crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo or Kickstarter. Here you can target customers who are actively searching for solutions to their problems. These are the kinds of customers who you can convert into product evangelists, which is the goal of your customer interview process.

ASK YOUR QUESTIONS

It is not enough just to ask questions and wright down answers. If you want answers that are useful, you need to be able to phrase your questions well. The language that you use to phrase your questions will often determine the kind of answers that you get. The more detail your questions invite, the better answers you will get.

You want to avoid asking misleading questions. Your questions need to be concrete and avoid feeling like trick questions. You want to ask questions that provoke thoughtful answers. But you want to avoid asking questions that make the interviewee believe that you are looking for a certain answer.

It is also important not to ask questions that force the interviewee to guess the answer. You need to ask questions that get concrete answers. You should also avoid asking people about hypothetical situations because hypothetical doesn’t reflect reality. You need real world answers if you want your business to work. You do not need what-if’s.

You should be avoiding questions like:

  • Is this problem a big deal for you?
  • If someone offered a solution to your problem, would you take it?
  • Would you spend $500 to solve this problem?
  • Did the solution work?

All of the above questions can be answered with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. They do not require the interviewee to think about the answer.

One of the best ways to get useful answers is to ask open ended questions. Open ended questions do not elicit ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. If the interviewee can answer with one word then you have crafted a poor question. Open ended questions require a full explanation and description of an answer. Some examples of great open ended questions include:

  • What is your biggest challenge in a particular area?
  • What is the most frustrating part of the problem?
  • How big of a problem is this for you?
  • How have you tried to solve this problem in the past?
  • Why didn’t the solution work?
  • What is the ideal solution?
  • How would ____ help you?
  • How would the solution fix the problem?
  • Is this problem important for you to solve?
  • How much money would you spend if you could solve the problem right now?

MAKING THESE QUESTIONS WORK FOR YOU

The questions listed above are basic examples of questions that you might ask potential customers during an interview. But like anything else in Customer Development, you need to be able to measure the success of your questions. Not all questions will suit all customer markets. Asking the right questions is as important as the person that you are interviewing. These questions are not meant to be a part of a rigid formula. You have to be able to create an interview scenario that matches your brand, your customer base and your needs.

Adapting your questions to your needs should also include personalization. By asking customers questions that are personal to them, and ideally reflect their problem, you will respect their time and insight. Their time is valuable to you. You want them to know that if you plan to convert them into paying customers later.

Thus, the personalization process should begin with the invitation to interview and continue into the follow up. You cannot send people you value a form invitation when you reach out to them the first time. More often than not, they will already feel like you are a faceless company that is going to ask them general questions without really respecting their answers. You will elicit fewer responses if you do not personalize your interview. You may also not be attracting the right customers. When you personalize an invitation and an interview, people will know whether or not they are the kind of person that you want to talk to.

Personalization also includes asking the hard questions. Hard questions are the reason that so many people are afraid of getting out of the office to speak to their customers.But being afraid of the difficulty of the customer interview can sometimes lead to a general set of questions that don’t match the market or the product.

This happens because many people are afraid to ask the tough questions because you might not get the answers that you want to hear. But asking the tough questions is what the interview process is all about. You want to get facts, not opinions. Opinions are personal and do not necessarily reflect the state of your business or your product. You cannot work with one man’s opinion. But facts reflect things as they really are. This makes it easier to make real-world adjustments to your product and to your business.

Finally, the most important thing that you need to remember during your customer interviews is not to talk about your idea. You are here to learn about your customers, not to sell to them. This is because you are interviewing your potential customers to find out if they even are your potential customers. Not to sell to people that you do not even know fit your target market.

Trying to sell your solution will not help you at all. It won’t tell you anything about your customer. All you will learn is what you already know about your product. Plus, if you ask your customer if they would be interested in your solution, you are implying that they have a problem that they might not have. This is a dangerous assumption that can lead to truly flawed data.

CONCLUSION

Interviewing customers is not easy. But it is also not as hard as many people feel it is. When you go out to interview customers, prepare for a conversation with a real person, not a data set. People want to share their problems and experiences with you, especially if you are trying to help solve their problem. If you go out looking for real, honest answers from real customers, you are likely to come home with the information that you need.

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