Getting better at customer discovery conversations requires preparation, practice, note taking, and follow-up. It can also be tremendously helpful if you can arrange for a partner who can observe, contribute, take notes, and de-brief with you. Even if you are a solo entrepreneur “trade interviews” with another entrepreneur: agree to help them with one of their interviews if they will help you with one of yours. Here is a recent exchange I had during an office hours edited for clarity.
Getting Better at Customer Discovery Conversations
Q: I have come up with a list of potential customers and I have talked with few of them, but I feel the following challenges and would welcome any suggestions you have. I am taking about 30-45 minutes to explain the concept which feels a bit too long.
A: You have at most 6-10 minutes, you must practice.
Questions are more important than exposition. You need to identify and address a critical problem for the person you are talking to. You are still in customer discovery, make sure that you understand their problem and save your “sales pitch” for a subsequent conversation. Your real progress will be when you can have a conversation with a prospect and clearly understand their needs, and therefore the key features for your product.
Finishing the current product will actually be of little help before you understand their problem and needs, unless you want to present it as an IQ test to the prospect: “Can you figure out what this is good for?”
Practice, Practice, Practice
Q: I find myself talking in generalities because our product is still in development–we are about four months from launching our beta.
A: Bring a co-founder, friend, someone else you trust (and preferably have rehearsed with). Give them permission to interrupt you and get you back on track. Practice, practice, practice. Including practicing interruptions.
Prepare A Personalized Agenda
Q: What else can I do to make my message crisp?
A: Write it on a 3×5 card (OK, fit it on one 8×11.5 piece of paper in 12 point type, but aim for a 3×5). Bring that to the conversation and let them read it. Try for a half sheet (8×5.25) unless you have some large drawings. Put their name and the date of the conversation so that they know you have prepared it for them.
Hand Them A Pen So They Can Also Draw Their Answer
Q: In what I think is the middle of conversation the other person starts to lose interest. What should I do?
A: You have 6 minutes, 10 at most you get to the point. You are not learning if you are talking. Ask questions early and often and take notes in front of them–use 3×5 cards or a steno pad or other small notebook–taking notes communicates you care what they have to say (and complements your memory). Bring some blank paper or graph paper you both can sketch on, hand them a pen and ask them to sketch their view of the situation or problem. If these don’t work then politely wrap up.
Value Your Offering: Put a Price On It
Q: I get asked for pricing and and I have trouble answering.
A: Is this because you don’t know or you don’t want to tell them? Folks want to know what something will cost–to borrow a phrase from Lee Kuan Yew, “When they say ‘it is free’ ask ‘who is paying?'” Tell them your plan to make money if they ask, no one wants to use a service that is going to disappear.
Write Your Key Questions Down and Share Them In Advance
Q: Would it help to develop a script with a defined message that is repeatable.
I think it’s better to work to a short checklist of key questions, the basics of which you share with the prospect either in advance or at the start of the interview. Put their name on it and the date so that you communicate you prepared for the conversation and developed it just for them. Adjust this list based on how people react to it.
It’s ok to put a short list of written questions, a diagram, a bullet points / sentences on one piece of paper to structure a 5-10 minute conversation. If it runs longer than that then the prospect should be interested and you both should be learning something. Practice ending in 15 minutes if it’s not going well, people will actually agree to talk with you again if you acknowledge it’s not working and don’t waste their time for another 30-45 minutes.
Related Blog Posts
- Tips for B2B Customer Development Interviews
- Customer Interviews: How To Organize Findings
- Customer Interviews: Spend an Hour to Save a Minute
- Customer Interviews: Allow Yourself to Be Surprised
- Six Elements to Extract From Customer Discovery Interviews
- Bill Meade: Customer Development and Schmexperts
- Jen Berkley Jackson on Win Loss Interviews
Whether you are assessing your situation or looking for advice on lead generation or closing deals, consider scheduling “office hours” to walk around your MVP, customer interviews to date, current sales process or a particular opportunity you are trying to close.
Photo Credit: “Cafe” by Indigo Skies