When companies develop products or services they know what their customers want, right? After all they’re in touch with the market; they talk to customers. Wrong, most companies only assume they know what customers want and instead of talking to customers they should be listening. If we truly want to discover customers we need to take a different approach

So, how do we go about that? It’s not to start by telling them what we do, how great we are, what we want to sell them. It’s not about us; it’s about them! We have to check that they recognise the problem we are hoping to solve and that they can be customers. Before we meet we have to build the assumptions we want to test: what is the problem, why does it need solving, how is it being solved already and who has the problem? Then a customer profile: what needs do they have, where will we find them and how do they buy. The final thing is, know what you want to know. What is it that we want customers to confirm for us?

Notice that we haven’t built a product or service yet, we may have something in mind but we’re not ready to talk about it yet. We have to understand whether the customer looks the way we assumed first. This is about learning not selling, listening not talking. Once we have turned our assumptions into facts and they fit with what we plan to build we are ready to talk about it. We don’t need a finished product at this point. What we want is rapid, cheap and efficient learning about what to build so, build only what you need to get the learning you need. A drawing, a Power Point, a Wireframe will usually be enough. Then work out the minimum customers will pay for, build it and sell it! Get to revenue fast because then the market can’t change on you and additional functionality will benefit from the feedback of existing customers

Running Customer Discovery

It’s a common mistake to think you can’t talk to customers without a fully functional product, not true. However, we have to set up the meeting in a different way. We’re not selling at this point so don’t set up that way; ask for their help, explain what you are looking for, why they are the ones to help. Above all be humble, after all if you know everything already why are you asking them? You don’t so don’t behave like you do!

Once in front of the customer you need to get them talking. For this reason and because you need to know the person opposite you first, start with the question “how did you get into this business in the first place?”. Then “how has that played into the company today?” and “what has worked well for you in the past?”. That’s it, three questions and probably an hour and half meeting. They’ll tell you all about themselves, the company and the problems they have had, they won’t be able to stop. You’ll need to pick the nuggets out of this as it’s a complete “brain dump” but that’s the point. We don’t want customers thinking about what they say because if they do they will colour it

It’s normal that people feel nervous about this approach, it’s a leap of faith, but it does work. You will get a ton of valuable information about your customers and the problems they really have. Make sure you use it wisely