The Dance of Customer Discovery

You’ve got a great idea for a product. You think about it in the shower, on your way to work and throughout the day.  Every time someone hears about it they tell you how great of an idea it is. How can you fail? Why do so many of these great ideas never end up making the splash that they should? What ever happened to “build it and they will come”?

If it was that easy, I’d be a millionaire by now. But I’m not --and neither are you. Here’s why:

Great ideas are easy, convincing people to give you money is not.

When I started my first business, I wanted to do virtual reality services for real estate agents. Sounds cool right?

I made sure to speak with a whole bunch of realtors to get their feedback on my idea BEFORE I launched. They all said they’d LOVE to be a customer, and to come see them when the product was ready. I felt invincible! My target customer had nothing but good things to say about my product, and I started seeing the dollar signs in my sleep.

I had done exactly what a responsible business person would do, I “validated” my idea by testing it against the market before launching, and the response was awesome! So of course, I went and spent my time and money on a website, cameras and software until my product was ready to launch.

When I went back to see my realtor friends with a finished product, they were blown away. “WOW” they said, “this looks awesome!” But when I asked them to sign a cheque, things changed…

“It’s a bit pricey”

“I can’t afford it right now”

“I don’t think it would really help me sell the house”

“It’s not something I need, it’s just a nice to have”

… Where were these excuses when I brought up my product the first time? I showed them all pricing back then, so why is it a problem now?

No matter how hard I tried to sell to the real estate agents, all of a sudden none of them were willing to pay a price that would allow me to scale the business. After a lot of failed pitches and a lot more research, I discovered that I wasn’t solving a real problem for my customer. My product was “nice to have” it was a vitamin, not a painkiller.

So what did I do wrong?

I thought that clients telling me the idea was a good one meant that… it was. What I didn’t understand at the time is that this is NOT validation. If people knew what they liked and wanted, stores wouldn’t take returns, people wouldn’t get divorced and tattoos would be a great idea. Unfortunately, as we all know, it’s just not that simple.

People don’t know what they want.

So, do you want to avoid the mistakes I made and give yourself the best chance of success with the lowest amount of risk? Here are a few of my golden rules of customer discovery you can use to figure out if your idea is a hit, before you invest your hard earned money and your valuable time.

#1 Focus on their problems, not your solution

As creators, it’s easy to fall in love with our solution and rush to tell potential clients about it. This, however, is one of the worst things we can do during a customer discovery interview. Telling a potential customer about your product often skews the data that’s collected by influencing their answers.

Instead, it’s important to start by asking the customer about the problem your product is trying to solve; how they’re currently solving it; and how important it is for them to have a solution. This information will give you a really good understanding of the tools, context, emotions, language, process, etc around the problem.

Further, this intel will give you a clear picture into the mind of your customer and help you understand if your idea is really going to help them, where to place your product so they’ll find it during their search, and what language to use so they understand it’s right for them. Once you’ve collected all that information, then you can begin to present your solution and collect feedback.

#2 Assume you’re wrong until proven right

This is the first mistake that most of us make when launching our product. We make a bunch of assumptions about who our customer is, what they like, what their problems are and how much value they’ll get out of our solution.

In my example, I made the mistake of assuming my clients cared about having new technology, a unique client experience and saving time driving to houses. Unfortunately, I discovered that these just weren’t strong enough pain points for them to pay me what I needed to solve them.

As a rule of thumb, write down your riskiest assumptions about the business. You can measure risk by prioritizing the ones that would make or break your business model. So for example, if you wanted to start a company that sold healthy cat food. You’d want to validate the assumption that people care enough about how healthy their cat’s food is to switch to your brand. If they don’t, then your business won't make it very far.

If you can’t back up your assumptions with some statistically significant metrics, or a bunch of legitimate conversations with your target customer, then don’t build a business around them.

#3 Money Talks - So Ask For it

Did you notice how different the conversation was between the real estate agents and I after I asked them for money? All of a sudden they started pointing out flaws in my product that weren’t there before. That’s because people are nice, until you ask them to cough up their hard earned cash. So I’ve gotten in the habit of asking for it before I even have a product built.

I do this for two reasons:

  1. if they are willing to pre-order, that’s a very strong indicator that I’m solving a problem that’s important to them.
  2. Asking for money unlocks some important questions you want to know about before your product goes live.

Don’t be afraid to ask for the cash up front. I always do and make sure not to touch it so I can give it back if something falls through or I decide not to pursue the business.

#4 Never Stop Learning

The curse of customer discovery is that you can never do enough of it. The relationship between the product team and the customer discovery team is essential. In the early days, customer discovery will give you the information you need to build a product that will get your business off the ground.

Once that happens, you’ll want to continue learning as much as you can about your customers, down to the nitty gritty details. You’ll use these learnings to influence your marketing, your product development and just about everything else that touches your client experience. The more you can learn about your customer and stay open to new ideas, the higher your probability of success (or saving yourself from wasting time and money on an idea that won’t work).

The biggest mistakes I’ve made in business were usually based on my inability to listen to the feedback I was getting from the market. The market is unapologetic and sometimes the feedback is hard to hear. There are times when we need to accept that our idea sucks, or what we thought was going to work really won’t. The best entrepreneurs are the ones who can listen, adapt, and execute until they find a way to make their product stick.

Let that be you.

In addition to being the co-founder of VibesIntelligence, Marcel is also a speaker and coach.

Find him through VibesIntelligence, his coaching platform or through Facebook.

EnglishMarcel Petitpas