It's all about them

No matter how good you feel your business idea is, your customers and audience hold the keys to your success or failure in their hands (and wallets). You have to make something they actually want, that will solve an actual problem in their lives.

Recently, a TGL client with a great idea asked us, "So, how do I figure out my customer's problems?!"

We said, "You have to talk to them."

"But how?!"

The process of talking to potential customers and getting to know their needs and habits is called customer discovery. 

When it comes to customer discovery, think of yourself as a detective. You need to collect evidence and observe patterns to confirm or deny the assumption that your idea is a good one, BEFORE you start spending time, money, and resources bringing it to life. 

But my friends and family all say this is awesome!

Your friends and family also love you and want you to feel good, right? (We hope!) True customer discovery involves finding people who will give you honest feedback. To find these folks, you have to leave your computer and interact with strangers, which can be intimidating. But the process is worth it to gather valuable insights about your idea, and to save you from wasting time and money on something that won't work.

How do I get started?

There are about a million resources on customer discovery, so here is a basic primer to get you going. For more information, we recommend reading the free e-book Talking to Humans to better understand the rationale and process. You can also find even more links here

  • First, think about your potential customers. How old are they? Are they men or women, or both? Where do they live? What do they like to buy? How do they find those products? Write your ideas down somewhere and do some research to back these ideas up. 
  • Create a screening question. This is one key question you will use to determine if your interviewee is a potential customer (or not). A good practice is to write questions so that your interviewee is telling you about something they've done in the recent past, rather than imagining what they might do in a hypothetical situation. For example, ask: "Have you purchased shoes in the past six months?" instead of "How often do you buy shoes?" Asking about past behavior is more reliable than asking what someone might do in a hypothetical situation; someone who fancies themselves to be the next Carrie Bradshaw might say they shop more than they really do! 
  • Next, write out an interview guide, instead of a script. The idea is not to robotically ask the same questions over and over; you want to learn as much as possible about the why behind your target customer's answers. For example, if your interviewee says that they bought four pairs of high heels online last month but returned three pairs, ask where they were purchased, or why they were returned, or if the store had a free-return policy... or ask all of those questions! Check out this list of more potential questions if you need inspiration.
  • Once you have your questions, you need to find your customers. You could go to a store where they might shop or attend an event where they might congregate, so you can observe them in the wild and strike up conversation. You could find Facebook groups for shoe enthusiasts and reach out to active members. You can also check out these tips for some creative Googling to build a contact list and set up interviews. Whatever you do, pick a target number of interviews and fill that quota. 
  • Next, it's time to talk. Remember, this is not an opportunity to pitch your product or ask leading questions so you hear what you want to hear. Instead, ask them about themselves. It's as easy as saying, "I'm working on a potential business idea, and I am doing some research on shoe shopping. Could I ask you some questions about your shoes?" Most people are kind and willing to spend a few minutes talking about themselves, and if they're not, just say thank you and move on. 
  • Finally, think about what you will do with the information you collect. Be prepared to be wrong about aspects of your idea. It might mean tweaking, or it might mean coming up with a new idea entirely. Either way, the more you know and understand your potential customer, the more prepared you are to build something they truly want.

Still in doubt of where to start? Remember, the most important thing (as Steve Blank would say) is to get out of the building and talk.