7 rules to uncover what customers really want and value (4 min. read, 3 videos, 2 book suggestions)

If you are an entrepreneur, you are very likely doing it wrong. Please take a few minutes to find out why I believe this. I also provide suggestions and examples of how other successful entrepreneurs have gone about the process.

Why we fail

Human behavior consistently wins over proven practices when building a startup (see previous post) . The key first step is to first find a market for your product idea. However, most founders do it the opposite way; They come up with the idea first, then build a product, and then look for people to buy it.

One of the main reasons is that like all of us we fall in love with our own ideas instead of our customers. I believe that you should focus on your market and your customer first. This process usually leads you to the proper order in which to build a winning solution.

First, ask yourself: Am I addressing a problem that is even worth solving in the first place?

Second: How do I go about figuring that out?

Keep these two thoughts in mind: Entrepreneurs are great at rationalizing (all smart people are). Avoid blind faith. 

Learn from the best

There are many who have gone before you who encourage you to learn from their hard-earned experience and mistakes: Steve Blank, Eric Ries, Cindy Alvarez, Alex Osterwalder, Ash Maurya, Tony Ulwick, Jay Haynes, Clay Christensen, Bob Moesta to name a few.

These pioneers teach us to understand the jobs, problems, and needs of your prospective customer. Once you do this and have found a large enough market where customers needs are not fully satisfied, move ahead in haste to provide a better solution than what they have today. There is no better way to do this than to talk to them face to face.

How do I get started?

It can be scary to ask complete strangers for information and their time. We may feel like we are imposing. However, you will be surprised how eager they will be to talk to you if they think you can help to make their lives easier or to solve a problem they experience regularly.

People will talk to you because they love:

  1. Telling stories
  2. Complaining

Seven Rules to Follow

Proper customer discovery follows these guidelines:

  1. No pitching – Even a whiff of a sales pitch taints the interview.
  2. No ice cream questions – Pretty much everyone likes ice cream. No need to ask.
  3. Pull, don’t push – Ask open-ended questions that pull information out.
  4. “N of 1” is not proof – Ask at least 20 people to start.
  5. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior – Ask about the present or the past as your primary sources of information and insight.
  6. Ideal self v. actual self – Most people have a slightly delusional view of themselves. See 5. above for further guidance.
  7. Stories are better than statements. This one reminds me of something that happened to me a few years ago…..

Please watch this short video for more in-depth explanations of each.

Your goal is to not have customers tell you what they want or if and how much they will pay for something. Your goal is to find out if they have enough of a need that they will switch to your solution and pay enough for it.

As stated above, human beings tend to predict their future behavior inaccurately. Here are a few things to remember about people:

  • We are irrational
  • We rarely understand what is possible
  • We are usually bad at describing what we want
  • We are bad at predicting our own behavior
  • We are REALLY bad at changing our own behavior

In a previous post I write about the steps to plan for and interact with customers during the interview process. I also recommend that you read Cindy Alvarez’ and/or Tony Ulwick’s books about the process – Lean Customer Development and Jobs to be Done – Theory to Practice.

There are also some great videos on YouTube.  Here are more from the guys at Liffft:

Above is a YouTube channel that two enterprising and interestingly quirky guys have created that provide a handful of short videos to talk about the customer interview process (dos and don’ts). I already provided a link to one earlier in the post. Great stuff!

In the above video, Cindy Alvarez addresses an audience and gives a great overview of her experience as a Customer Development (CD) maven. The whole video is interesting. The CD info starts at 7:00.

I have provided a number of things that you can do on your own and encourage you to do so. Please note that you cannot outsource this nor get away with a survey as your only process. You have to interview real people. Cindy’s book provides a great step by step process for DIYers. There are also folks that can accelerate the process for you.

No matter how you approach the process, I encourage you to dig deeper as you will learn many useful things. That learning will help you to find out much faster if your idea or a derivative idea will work.

Good luck! As always, feel free to contact me for further info.

Thanks for reading!

Be Exceptional!

(www.catalystgrowthadvisors.com; bill@catalystgrowthadvisors.com)

I look forward to your comments. If you found this post useful, please share, comment and/or like.

Published by Bill Flynn

Gazelles Member Advisor and early stage startup specialist with a proven track record with 16 Boston-based startups (9 to date with 5 successful outcomes, advisor to 7 others); SMB to Fortune 500 companies. 20+ years of Senior Sales, Marketing and GM experience in industries including mobile advertising, security, digital advertising, e-commerce and IT. Core Competencies: Player/Coach, Metrics-driven, Execution-based philosophy, Life-long learner

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