It will be twenty plus years before there is a 3D printer in most homes due to limitations of the cost of the machine, material, obtaining software and learning how to use the software. Other fundamentally problem that prevent 3D printers being adapted by the public are to understanding of design, physics, and material science and a change of behavior of making things at home.
Entrepreneurs who limit themselves to what they could learn if their prospects lacked the power of speech adopt what I call a veterinary marketing model. It’s not a viable approach to market exploration.
Any innovation effort is a painful struggle punctuated by false starts and dead ends. Your efforts are met with lack of interest even when a basic invention is working and active resistance when it starts to replace the tried and true. Like any childbirth the trick is managing the pain long enough to deliver.
Trust is built over repeated interactions between people. If your business requires long term relationships then you have to make sure that investments in automation are not deployed in a way that undercut your ability to have real conversations. Unfortunately, some uses of email automation tools are pushing sales conversations into the “Uncanny Valley” because they strive to simulate–but miss–a genuine personalized touch.
Customer discovery interviews are essential to testing key B2B product hypotheses and understanding your target customers’ needs. Broadly there are five ways that you can reach out to potential customers to have a discovery conversation. All of them assume that you have a clear picture of who your target is and a few key questions that they will be willing and able to answer that will indicate they have a problem or need your solution may address.
I signed up for a mailing list a while ago from a reasonably famous entrepreneur and he sent me this mass email in late November promising to share “Silicon Valley Secrets.” I don’t know if it’s because I have worked in Silicon Valley for more than three decades but I found the whole thing kind of sad (of course, he’s probably laughing all the way to the bank).
Tristan Kromer joins Steve Hogan and Sean Murphy to discuss networking as a key skill to develop to foster innovation.
Jeff Allison, former VP of Engineering at Cisco Systems joins us to discuss observing.
Sarah Gray, Ethan Thorman, and Mark Cook join Steve Hogan and Sean Murphy to discuss lessons learned asking questions to foster innovation.
Panel sessions Feb 22, 2012 on Innovator’s DNA Skill #1 Associating. Terry Frazier of Cognovis, Steve Hogan of Tech-Rx, and Sean Murphy of SKMurphy.
Steve Hogan and Sean Murphy walk through a five part webinar series on “The Innovator’s DNA” by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen,and Clayton Christensen. Sean thinks it’s the best book on innovation and entrepreneurship for 2011 and useful for any team that is trying to innovate. Each webinar will be in a roundtable format and include first time entrepreneurs and experienced innovators discussing lessons learned applying the five key discovery skills described in the book.
Q: Should I ask prospects if they would use my product? How do I interpret “yes”, “no”, and “maybe.”
Q: I’m just about to get out of the building to validate hypotheses and start learning, but I have a problem with the business model canvas. I have been advised to develop detailed hypotheses before starting customer discovery. This is my startup and I have no idea how to fill in the business model canvas channel box or answer Steve Blank’s BMC channel/pricing hypotheses question on “the price at which half of the customers say yes.”
I am rescuing a dialog on customer development and channel development I had with Ash Maurya from the comments to his “Lessons Learned in 2010” blog post. I am still at work on the “system of simultaneous equations” model and I think his new thinking on the “Customer Factory” is moving closer to iterating against multiple constraints simultaneously. I know with Theory of Constraints you should focus on the rate limiting constraint but after a few iterations everything can start to pinch.
I continue to work with the Okaloa team on Discovery Kanban and think that it also allows for the integration of option management into the next set of actions you are considering. This is still a work in progress and I welcome comments or suggestions for improvement.
These are excerpts from Episode 9 of Outlier on Air: Tristan Kromer, A Lean Approach to Business. They are in the same sequence the took place in the interview but a number of stories and asides have been omitted to focus on what I felt were some extremely valuable insights from Tristan Kromer on clarifying and testing customer and value hypotheses.
Since you are 3D printing and can iterate I would start by getting feedback from five folks: see Why You Only Need to Test with 5 Users by Don Norman for some research on why this is a reasonable place to start.
You will more than likely end up talking to more folks before deciding if there is a market or not but working with a small group at one time and testing iteratively will be easier to manage and teach you things more rapidly.
Q: What is the core mission for customer development at an early-stage start-up? Wat are the skills necessary to execute on that mission?
Customer Development Mission
Core mission is early customers, early revenue, early references. All of these reduce risk, demonstrate traction, and make subsequent sales efforts easier (and for bootstrappers, keep the lights on).
Q: Why don’t you ever blog about User Experience Research (UX)?
The short answer is that we don’t do it.
Our Clients Want Leads and Deals
My clients come to me for help generating leads and closing deals, so that narrows my focus.
We don’t sell studies to larger firms that want a lot of fingerprints on the gun if things go wrong. If things go wrong for too long for my clients they are out of business. It tends to keep me–and them–focused very directly on revenue. We tend to focus much more on the “job to be done” by the product instead of constructing user personas.
For customer interviews we have a rule of thumb that if an hour or research saves a minute early in the conversation it’s a good investment. When you look at the list of questions you have prepared to learn about the prospect’s business and their needs, it’s easy to say to yourself, “I am really busy I can just ask these at the start to ‘set the table.'” But there are significant risks with this approach.
Preparations Cuts Risk Of Customer Interviews Ending Prematurely
While the interview may be nominally scheduled for 15 minutes or a half-hour and may run an hour if it goes well the first six minute or so are critical to communicating that you have done your homework on their situation and their needs. If you start to ask questions that are already published on-line you can appear lazy or unprepared. If you can do research on a prospect in advance, it’s worth spending an hour to save a minute in the conversation. You can even start the conversation by saying “when I prepared for this conversation here is what I learned about your firm” and give a brief summary of what you know about their situation.
It’s OK to say “I see on your website that you have hired four people in the last three months, how has that impacted …” or “I read a profile of your firm in the San Jose Business Journal Book of Lists, have you grown beyond the 12 people listed in February?” This shows that you have done your homework and don’t want to waste their time but need to confirm some of the key facts that may bear on their needs.
Information Sources To Consult Prior To Customer Interviews
- Do a thorough review of the prospect’s website.
- Search for any articles in the last two years at least to see what kind of press coverage they have received.
- Review the Linkedin profiles for the firm, the person you are talking to, and anyone with similar titles or in the same department.
- Review on-line postings in relevant forums for the industry.
- See if they have a blog, a twitter account, a YouTube account, and similar social media sits that are often used for business purposes.
Six Questions That You Normally Have to Ask In The Conversation
- Prospect’s description of the problem in their own words. This is rarely more than a sentence or two and capturing the essence in their own words is key.
- High level description of current work process or work flow in their own words. This forms the basis for any delta comparison or differentiation of your solution.
- Any constraints they mention: if you hear the same ones multiple times you will more than likely have to satisfy them.
- How they will tell that a new solution will leave them better off: this is different from asking them to specify the solution, it’s asking for “future state” or the end result they would like to achieve.
- What else they have tried to do to solve the problem: probe for why they were not satisfactory.
- Key metrics or figures of merit they would use to evaluate a new outcome.
“A month in the laboratory can often save an hour in the library.”
F. H. Westheimer
Entrepreneurs seem to divide into two camps:
- those who want to have a conversation immediately, and
- those who are quite content to research for months as long as they don’t have to talk to strangers.
Striking a balance is the key to maximizing your learning from a customer interview. Effective research prior to the customer interview allows you to
- Ask better questions
- Provide evidence of your commitment to developing a mutually satisfactory business relationship
- Detect when your prospect is leaving something out or perhaps coloring the situation too much. You are not a stenographer there to capture whatever they say without reflection, but if your only source of information is what they tell you then you risk “garbage in, garbage out” in your product plans and MVP.
In a candid discussion about the challenges of managing your own expectations for a minimum viable product (MVP), Tristan Kromer observed, “It’s psychologically hard to enthusiastically proceed with skepticism.” And that is the challenge, we have to be enthusiastic about our product ideas to persevere to complete them and tell others about them, but we have to be skeptical enough to accept criticism and open to prospect perspectives on needs and constraints on solutions.
Strong Opinions Weakly Held
Bob Sutton blogged about this in 2006 as “Strong Opinions Weakly Held” as one of the differentiators between smart people and wise people. Both have strong opinions, but the wise can more easily allow revisions to theirs:
Perhaps the best description I’ve ever seen of how wise people act comes from the amazing folks at the Institute for the Future. A couple years ago, I was talking the Institute’s Bob Johansen about wisdom, and he explained that – to deal with an uncertain future and still move forward – they advise people to have “strong opinions, which are weakly held.” They’ve been giving this advice for years, and I understand that it was first developed by Institute Director Paul Saffo. Bob explained that weak opinions are problematic because people aren’t inspired to develop the best arguments possible for them, or to put forth the energy required to test them. Bob explained that it was just as important, however, to not be too attached to what you believe because, otherwise, it undermines your ability to “see” and “hear” evidence that clashes with your opinions. This is what psychologists sometimes call the problem of “confirmation bias.”
Early Adopters For Your MVP Are Often Very Normal
I think too many entrepreneurs conflate “early adopter” with “technically sophisticated’ or ‘geek hipster.’ Normal people are early adopters when they have a strong need for your product. The first two people to tell me about E-Bay, and who were genuinely excited about it, were two mothers who didn’t know each other but were collectors of different specialty handicraft items (teddy bears and glass angels) and they were shopping regularly there because they were not available in stores.
They were early adopters. I ignored their advice, of course, when I should have realized that neither used a computer for any other purpose than visiting E-Bay. They were early adopters. I should have realized that if E-Bay could create markets for these highly specialized products they could create and serve a lot of niche/specialty markets in a way that was winner take all.
Another example: I think Pinterest looks a lot like the way that someone who creates scrapbooks or manages a physical bulletin board would want to author a website.