5 Best Practices for Prospective Customer Interviews

Previously on the blog, we’ve described the Lean Startup Process that is the foundation of the NaperLaunch Academy curriculum. A key component of this process is the Build-Measure-Feedback loop; as described by Eric Ries, it involves identifying a customer need and developing a solution, which becomes your product or service.

In order to identify the needs of your potential customers, you need to listen to them. Customer interviewing allows you to explore and learn what you don't know. Through the interview process, your goal is to Identify what you need to learn and create metrics against which to measure your results.

Why interviews and not focus groups or surveys? While customer interviews are about exploring what you don’t know you don’t know, surveys assume you know the right questions to ask—and even worse that you know the “right” answers to those questions. In addition, you can’t see the customer during the survey, whereas in a face-to-face interview you can gain additional insight from their body language and tone of voice. Focus groups usually devolve into “group think,” whereas one-on-one interviews will enable you to hear from a variety of individuals.

Below are 5 best practices for approaching customer interviews:

  1. Focus on learning. Build a framework around learning about the problems experienced by your target customer. This is not the time for pitching, explaining, or defending your idea.
  2. Don’t ask customers what they want. Measure what they do. Try to learn how people solve the problem currently. There may be good solutions already available. To create a better solution, it is necessary to understand current solutions. This also provides guidance on what people are willing to buy.
  3. Stick to a script. Ask the same questions to everyone so you can record the answer differences. Begin by asking broad questions, then become more specific as you proceed.
  4. Cast a wide net initially. When seeking interview prospects, start with people that you know to test your questions and approach. Then interview your target customers to learn how that audience thinks. You’ll also get a sense of how widespread the problem is.
  5. Document and review results. Immediately after the interview, transcribe responses while they are still fresh in your mind. As you interview more people, review the accumulated totals for each question to understand what you learned; you may need to revise some questions and conduct further interviews based on what you learned.

Customer interviewing is important throughout the Build-Measure-Feedback loop. Once you’ve analyzed the findings of your initial interviews and developed some draft solutions, circle back for a second conversation with your interview subjects to confirm that your idea solves their problem. Engaging in this cyclical process will inform the development of a low-cost proof of concept that you’ll use to establish people’s value proposition. (Our blog post on the minimum viable product describes this process in detail.)

Here are some titles available at Naperville Public Library that outline the lean startup and scale up process, including conducting prospective customer interviews. The concepts mentioned in this post are based on these books.

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The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

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The Startup Checklist: 25 Steps to a Scalable, High-Growth Business by David S. Rose

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Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works by Ash Maurya

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Scaling Lean: Mastering the Key Metrics for Startup Growth by Ash Maurya

For more on this and other topics, consider registering for the NaperLaunch Academy Workshop series. In addition, business librarians, NaperLaunch coaches, and SCORE mentors are available for one-to-one mentoring sessions.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021 - 10:15