Early Customer Conversations: Use Appreciative Inquiry and Amplify Positive Deviance

Q: Do you have a script for a customer interview?  What should I focus on? How much of the interview  for a web based offering can be replaced by a thorough evaluation of traffic and usage analytics?

Listening Carefully and taking notesI think the “Appreciative Inquiry” model offers a very effective approach for early customer interviews. At a high level it means you ask

  • “What’s working around here?”
  • “What problems are you having?”

You need to focus on their pain and problems but build on their strengths. While there is a whole methodology/discipline you can follow at the Appreciative Inquiry Commons with “What is Appreciative Inquiry” a good place to start, I found the “Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry” to be $8 and two hours well spent. It’s only 63 pages long but I found myself stopping several times and realizing I needed to change what I had been doing.

The “Amplify Positive Deviance” model developed by Jerry Sternin is another useful one to determine what the real status quo is for a category of prospect. Here are two good sources of information

I have transcribed the 7 steps in the “Positive Deviant” article and added a customer development interpretation for some of them in parentheses.

  1. Don’t assume you have the answer  (treat your approach as a hypothesis to be validated, updated, or refuted)
  2. Interview folks in settings where they are most likely to be forthcoming
  3. Encourage small steps using a new approach/tool/technology (get simple product in customers hands)
  4. Identify current status quo
  5. …and how positive deviants depart from it (different between early adopters and pragmatic/late majority)
  6. let deviants get others to adopt new tools / techniques (customers / word of mouth is most effective sales technique)
  7. Track results, keep score (add clear ROI to anecdotes from early adopters)

Sorry if this is too theoretical, but I think it’s more about a mindset or frame of reference you bring to the conversation than a particular script or set of questions.

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