How I prepare for customer development interviews
When I’m doing a customer development interview my goal is to have an open and meaningful conversation that helps me really understand my subject’s pain, behaviors, needs, goals and how I can help them. My preparation process starts with asking two questions.
What do I want to learn?
Most customer development experts say to start with your assumptions. I like to prepare for customer development interviews by coming up with a list of things I want to learn. These are the things that will help me focus my team’s effort and move quickly towards getting something in front of a customer. This tends to be very specific to my client but common questions include:
- What are their challenges and pain points? What makes it painful?
- What are they trying to achieve?
- What other products or services have they tried?
- How are they solving for this today?
- How do they buy?
- How can I reach them?
- What are their values?
- What drives them?
- What is their level of expertise or sophistication in this area?
What I want to learn is often more than I can reasonably achieve in a 30 minute conversation so I prioritize based on what’s most important to where we are in the project.
What do I think I know?
Once I’ve thought about all the different dimensions of my customer and potential product then I start adding the things that I want to know. This helps me build a more complete understanding of what I think we’re doing and surfaces assumptions that might not come up if I started just with them. I also do a pass to see which assumptions will make the whole idea come crashing down. Once this is all done you have to set all your assumptions aside and open yourself to the possibilities that will come out of your interviews.
Putting it together
I’m not a fan of using scripts. Asking structured questions feels too clinical and impersonal. Instead I use a list of topics and I check off things that the interviewee has covered and then I go back and pick up anything left over. This allows me to have an open and meaningful conversation. It’s a bit more work on the backend to synthesize my findings and I’m happy to do it because what I get is much richer.
Image: A closeup of a spiderweb along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina