Finding Customers

with Cindy Alvarez

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Assumptions vs. facts

Cindy Alvarez

Lean Evangelist, UX Expert, Master of Experiments

Lessons Learned

Assumptions often masquerade as facts. Do not skip over validating your beliefs in the wild.

Map a customer profile to find a starting point for the customer development process.

The more detailed your map is, the easier it is to find your initial group of interviewees.


Lesson: Finding Customers with Cindy Alvarez

Step #4 Assumptions: Assumptions vs. facts

I recommend that people start by mapping a customer profile because you need to find people to talk to in the first place. There's a little bit of a chicken and egg problem, but you have to start with some guess. You can't just magically come to an answer and this is the same with a lot of things around business frankly. There's a parallel in analytics where people say, "What should I measure?" And then I always say, "Pick something and measure it and does that correlate with value? Yes or no?" And you'll see the answer.

But in this case you start, you have a hypothesis. Inherently your hypothesis is a customer. I think that working parents have this problem. I think that product managers have this problem. And so then in order to find that person you need a little bit more detail about them because again the more detail you get, the easier is to find people. And this seems contradictory but it's actually true. You might say, "Well, what is important about my hypothesized target market? Is it that their time rich or time poor? Are the perfectionist versus ad hoc people? Or do they like change or fear change? Do they enjoy technology or see it as like a very necessary means to an end."

And depending on where people sit is going to one, determine who you want to talk to, but two, is another way of uncovering the assumptions that are so hard to come out. So if someone says, "Oh, we definitely want this kind of person." I guarantee someone else on your team is like, "Wait. Do we need this? Do we need someone who's really tech savvy or is the actual opportunity in someone who kind of dreads technology?" And having that conversation early on with your team can be super useful. But it also just helps you find people.

A story from recently, my team was looking to talk to people who are not information workers or not desk-bound, in front of a PC all day people. We want to talk the kinds of people who have normal jobs that are out there driving trucks or working in hotels. And we had done a little screener and kind of shared it with friends and family because we didn't need to talk to that many people. I said, "Well, do you know someone who doesn't work in front of a computer all day that we can talk to?" And we got like two referrals. "Oh, here's someone. Here's someone." Like this is weird.

Surely among all our friends, even though we all work in San Francisco we must know other humans who don't work in the tech industry. And we did a revision of it where we said we'd like to talk to people who aren't in front of a computer all day. Specifically we're looking for someone who is a flight attendant, works in high end retail, works in a high end restaurant, is in hotel management, is an outdoor worker, a teacher and we listed off like six bullet points and then we got everyone. Everyone knew someone that fit one of these criteria. When you ask something broad people were like, "I don't really know." We don't pattern match really well to that.

And so if you say very specifically our customer is this kind of person with these kind of traits, and you have that in your mind and someone say, "Oh, I know who we should talk to. We could talk to Ruth. We should talk to Jim. We should send this email to Bob because I bet he knows some people that we should talk to." And that helps you with the finding of the people. Then you talk to people and then you figure out your initial target customer was wrong, but then you just go through the process again.

Assumptions masquerading as facts, very common, very difficult for anyone to tease apart and so the best way I suggest is actually not to try. But to bring in another person and another smart person who isn't you and who isn't involved in your day-to-day is the best possible person to identify it. It's very obvious to them. You say, "Well, of course people want this." A smart person who's not you is going to say, "Do they?" And it may be true. It may be that this is an actual fact. There are some actual facts, X percent of people have iPhones, X percent of people's commute is more than an hour long. But there are a lot more things people say, "Do they need that?" And just taking that one person's kind of skepticism can reveal to you where you need to then go out and be rigorous and apply that.

So you might talk to customers and deliberately talk about the absence of a featured set. So basically if you want to build something that's real time you talk about a potential solution and don't mention the real timeness and see if people point it out. Because if something is missing people will often point it out. If something is not missing and you tell them that it's necessary then they'll believe that it should be there.

The action of customer development is very necessary because it's something that we tend to gloss over. We tend to assume that things are true. I say a lot of times assumptions are often masquerade as facts. We know that this is true. We know that customers want this, we know that there is a market for this, but it's often not true. There might be historical evidence that customers have a demand for something, there maybe a force to report saying something is on the rise but that doesn't necessarily mean that they are going to want the product that you are envisioning. And so it's a very necessary to take these beliefs that we have and as I said apply a rigorous skepticism to them to make sure that we're actually building what people will buy.

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