Finding Customers

with Cindy Alvarez

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Tell me about that…

Cindy Alvarez

Lean Evangelist, UX Expert, Master of Experiments

Lessons Learned

Ask: What do I want to learn from this interview?

Good notes provide fine detail about little moments when people are exhibiting emotions.

Remind the interviewee that they are the expert and not you.


Lesson: Finding Customers with Cindy Alvarez

Step #6 Preparation: Tell me about that…

Preparing for interviewing someone, so assuming you found someone, you got a person, they've agreed to talk to you, what you want to do next is think about what do I want to learn from this? In an ideal world, after this interview is over, I would learn these things. And you think about how would I get at that? How would I figure this out? And so probably the single most important thing is figuring out that very first tell me about question. Honestly if you have that one good you can probably ad hoc the rest of it. But you're asking, "Tell me about how you have solved this problem in the past?" You want to ask at the right level, you can ask too specific. "Tell me about how you hail the cab? Tell me about how you've gone grocery shopping before?"

You need to kind of pick that right level and you need to think about where you're going to go after that. So once someone's gone through that narrative, what kind of follow-up questions are you going to ask and always kind of keeping in mind what you want to learn. When we do note takers we actually a lot of times will write down like the two or three top questions that tell me about and how would you do X, and kind of write down things that you remember we're trying to learn this. And literally having that on a piece of paper while you're taking notes is really helpful. It just kind of reminds you of that.

The other thing if you're using a note taker is training people a little bit on how to take notes because the way that we all learn how to take notes in school is not useful for customer development. Most people's note taking involves summarizing because that's the only way you can get down enough of what the professor is saying is you summarize, you get the topic sentence. That's kind of the opposite of what you want out of a customer development interview. What you want are extreme details on little bit parts, specifically where people are being very emotional.

If someone is going through their day to day and they're just kind of relating like, "Well, I do this and then I get up and then I have some cereal." You don't need any of that. None of that is important. You might take down a bullet point here or there but you certainly don't need a paragraph. Where you need to be scribbling your hand off is when the person is saying, "And then this happens and then I'm always late and then I can't find my keys and then I can't get my car out." And this is the part where you should be writing down in as much detail as possible.

Because if someone saying, "Oh, I hate it when this happens," is not the same as someone saying, "Literally the worst part of my entire week is this scenario." Because that latter is the person who is going to spend money to solve the problem. The person that says, "Oh, I hate it when that happens" probably will not. But if you just write down "person who doesn't like this" then you start getting 20 people said they didn't like this, that's not 20 customers, that might be one.

I do recommend people have a little script to start off with because in the beginning when you're not very natural about this is going to be a little awkward. So I would generally recommend that people get very comfortable with being able to say something conversationally which is along the lines of, "Hi. I just wanted to thank you so much for talking to me. I just want to reinforce that I'm talking to you for this reason. You're the expert in blah, blah, blah. You're a person who does this or I've heard blah, blah, blah. You are recommended." So a little ego boost but also an explanation, a validation that they're important and what that also does is make people remember that they're the expert, not you. Because you're the one who picked up the phone so they're going to likely defer to you so you want to counter that.

So, "Hi. I wanted to reiterate that I really appreciate you talking to me. I'm glad that I'm able to talk to you because of blah, blah, blah. There's a lot that I have to learn and I'm really interested in individual people's experiences so please be detailed, nothing is going to be boring to me. I'm going to ask follow-up questions because I really want to learn as much as possible from you. So let's kick it off." And also you can say, "Do you have any questions for me?" But get really comfortable with that spiel so you can deliver it in a nice conversational way.

If you haven't practiced you're going to sound like I just did now where I was kind of jumping around a little bit and that's less good. So practice that and practice that "first tell me about" question. And if you can kind of do that in your sleep, everything else will fall into line. But for most people that introductory field doesn't come natural at all. And so I've seen people say, "So, okay. I have some questions for you. Wait, wait. Is there anything you'd like to ask first?" And now the person on the other end of the phone is just kind of uncomfortable and they want to rush through it at this point.

I love recommending practice interviews especially for people who aren't used to interviewing, who don't have a marketing or a user research background. And again I recommend this smart friend who's not you, someone outside your company is actually good. And if you're a start-up person, you know other people in the start-up community, you should trade favors this way and just say, "Hey, I'd like to interview you to do a practice customers development interview. I'd be happy to return the favor later." Because someone who's on your team, they know too much. They're too aligned and sometimes honestly there's kind of this thing where you're kind of silly because you're like, "Let me talk to you" and your friends starts making a face at you and you just don't get anywhere.

But talk to another entrepreneur, another start-up and say, "I'd like to do this. You're probably not my target customer but I want to practice." And you do the practice and they'll take it seriously because they know that a month later they can call you and you'll return the favor and that works really well.

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