Interviewing potential customers is a major component of building a startup from an idea. Startups are all about finding customers, not building and pushing something you’ve dreamed up. It’s important that you are providing a solution to someone’s problem–a problem they are willing to pay someone to solve. Building a product is the easy part. Providing a service is the easy part. Getting people to commit and pay for it is the hard part.  People don’t care how cool your product is–they want to know if it solves a problem they have.

People don’t care how cool your product is–they want to know if it solves a problem they have. Click To Tweet

Before you go off building anything, we suggest you conduct a series of interviews with potential customers and parties related to your company’s industry–at least 100. Yes, 100 people! Although that may seem like a lot, it’s really reasonable considering the amount of time, money, and resources that must go into building a company. Wouldn’t you like to start with a clear understanding of the customers and industry you seek to serve?

Building a product is the easy part. Providing a service is the easy part. Getting people to commit and pay for it is the hard part. Click To Tweet

The Secret

You’ve probably heard the statement before…”leading the witness.”

Do you know what it means?

First and foremost, know that it’s a VERY BAD thing to do in the customer discovery process. Secondly, it’s very easy to do if you don’t prepare for customer conversations in advance. Thirdly, the key to avoiding it is asking non-leading, open-ended questions during customer interviews.

Basically, leading the witness means that you use trigger language to get the person you’re interviewing to say what you want them to say in your attempt to feed into your confirmation bias.

It’s tempting but…

finger shaking no

Don’t you do it! – Rihanna

To avoid this MAJOR problem, you must prepare and practice what you’re going to say in advance.

The only way to become a pro at interviewing customers is to practice doing it. Don’t worry, it’s not all in vain. You’ll need this same skill set to do business development and sales for your startup.  Sales start with a conversation, a conversation that is typically led by you asking questions.

Sales starts with a conversation, a conversation that is typically led by you asking questions. Click To Tweet

Effective Customer Discovery Questions

•What has been your biggest challenge?

•What are you using to help you with that challenge?

•What would be your ideal solution to that challenge?

•How would that help you?

Use as many open-ended questions as possible. Get them talking to you more than you’re talking to them. You want the customer interviews to result in them stating the service you’re planning to provide as a solution they need.  The tricky part is this occurring without them having any idea of what you’re planning to build. There will be another blog post about this (this post is getting kinda long huh?) because we believe this is one of the main reasons startups fail…they don’t do customer discovery properly!

One of the main reasons startups fail…they avoid customer discovery or don’t bother to do it properly. Click To Tweet

If All Else Fails…

If they’re just not buying what you’re selling, you can always have a do-over. You can do-over your prospect list, your sales script, your interview questions, your target customer avatar, and even your product.  As with every business, you’re in permanent beta–things are always changing.  Although it will be uncomfortable at first, it allows room for innovation and reinvention.

Keep in mind, you’re a startup! You’re doing something that you’ve never done before–creating something from nothing. No one gets through this journey unscathed. There’s going to be some bumps and bruises and failures along the way. In fact, these “failures” are not really failures at all; they were tests. Testing is meant to confirm or deny your hypothesis for your business idea. So, let’s say your hypothesis was found to be incorrect; just create another one and go test that! It’s just that simple. Don’t waste time debating your hypothesis, just test it and the results will provide the proof everyone is seeking.

To get you started, download our Free Guide to Customer Discovery.  

If you are in the Atlanta area, we highly recommend you become a member of ATDC at Georgia Tech (it’s like $25 per quarter).  If you do so, you can sign up for their Customer Discovery Class which will take you step-by-step through the process of conducting your customer interviews.  As their website states, “Most concept-stage startups fail because they focus more on how to deliver a product than on the needs of people buying it.  By understanding customers, startups reduce the risk of failure.”

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