May 2nd, 2011 Sean Murphy
“The only certainty is a reasonable probability.”
Edgar Watson Howe, “Country Town Sayings”
We help clients to interview prospects in the early market for customer discovery purposes, we also help them have serious conversations with early customers periodically to capture their evolving perspective on the client’s offering. Sometimes we will do this on the client’s behalf with their permission but without their direct involvement in the interview, we find that prospects and new customers are more willing to provide useful but critical feedback when it’s indirect. This is particularly true for the “loss” side of win/loss analysis.
We use a wiki with a good search feature, CentralDesktop, but PBWorks, Twiki, or many others would work as well. We want to be able to add and interlink pages in an ad hoc fashion: we put each interview in it’s own page and cross link them as appropriate. We also want to be able to find the information later, which is why good search is important.
We document each conversation including location, time, date, people involved, and any other facts or attributes that made it memorable or might be used to search for it. I find that it’s easier to recall the rough time frame (e.g. month and year), the location, and who took part from our team after a few weeks have passed than the person’s name if we only had one conversation.
If the interview takes place over a skype text chat or other IM text chat we post the transcripts into the wiki page along with notes. It’s worth taking some time to clean up typos and add synonyms to make it easier to find the passage again. Same thing for e-mail threads, we clean them up and post them into a unique page.
Our goal is to capture key comments and phrases that help to illuminate goals, needs, constraints. Wherever possible we try and use the customer’s words. This constitutes a raw store of narratives that the team can consult over time.
We create separate pages for hypotheses, plans, features, etc.. and give everyone on the team access.
In the early market we focus on a few key needs and the capabilities or features that are critical in supporting them.
When I worked at Cisco I had to develop MRD’s using a template that led to writing 50-100 pages or more. One or two pages that have links to more context is frankly more useful. You don’t need to exhaustively analyze what you have collected to be able to move forward; keep the interview notes and re-read them, adding links to related notes and giving issues/ideas their own page.
This approach scales from dozens to perhaps a 100 interviews. There are other commercial tools for release planning when you have a large installed based that will give you more analytic capabilities (e.g. Accept Software, there are many others) but I find the wiki approach allows us to capture key narrative fragments easily and link them as our understanding evolves.
We often build simple spreadsheet models to capture hypotheses and put numbers (and ranges, e.g. high, medium, low) for the parameters of customer costs and values that the proposed solution may offer. A simple ROI model based on customer attributes helps with pricing and focuses your attention on who is likely to gain the most value from your offering.
One tool we are starting to evaluate is Dave Snowden’s Sensemaker Suite, for more complex projects the SmartOrg tools are worth a look but are probably more useful for larger firms with a portfolio of products.
One other advantage to Central Desktop is that each customer’s information is kept in a separate private wiki and we can transfer ownership to your team at the end of the project if you would like to continue to use it.
Here are two other blog posts about gathering stories and feedback from prospects and early customers:
- “The Best Way to Get Feedback from Early Customers is a Conversation“
- “The Best Feedback from Your Early Customers is a Story“
If you would like our help in structuring or interpreting what prospects are telling you, please feel free to contact us and we can put together a project based on the scope of your needs and your timeframe. We can also help with rehearsal and de-brief and can take part in face to face customer interviews in Silicon Valley or anywhere on the phone.