The Seven Steps of Customer Investigation
When aspiring entrepreneurs finally realize they have to spend more time developing the customer than developing the product in the early days, they are often faced with a dilemma: “You mean I have to actually TALK to people?”
Steve Blank and Eric Ries would answer the same way: yes. You can’t build a product around who you think is the customer and what their problem is and how they want to solve it and whether or not your product offers a compelling solution—you are not the customer! Only the customer is the customer. You have assumptions, but you have to define and verify them before finalizing your product, so you have to get out there and do the process of customer investigation.
So, how? I suggest seven steps, which are built around sales process as it applies to qualifying a prospect.
1: Ask for permission – show respect and consideration; ask for permission and help
2: Qualify the prospect – do they fit the customer profile?
3: Problem probe – do they recognize the problem?
4: Solution probe – are they looking for a solution?
5: Urgency probe – how urgent is the need to solve the problem? Prioritize against other relevant problems
6: Test product concept – does your product idea offer a compelling solution?
7: Test value proposition – present and test the value perception; what will they pay, does benefit outweigh costs?
The conversation should start out as a non-threatening request for help.
[Permission/Help] “I’m researching a new product for my company, a free app we’re trying to introduce, and we need to bounce it off potential users like you. I would appreciate your opinion. I think you’ll find it interesting. Could you help me for just a minute to two?”
“Research” takes away the threat of manipulation, that you’re selling something. “For my company” takes away risk of hurting your personal feelings, hopefully giving you more honest feedback. “Appreciation” means you respect them, their opinion and feedback. “Interesting” implies that it might benefit them, WIIFM factor. “Could you help” is a powerful request with most people. “Just for a minute or two” quantifies the amount of time you promise to take. You are asking for permission to talk to them, so spending the time is now their decision, not yours.
I think the other steps are logical, but there is more substance to each that can maximize the results you get from each interview. I’ve done this, and it really works.