ProductTank #20 Kraków- Customer development, how to validate your product idea
How to validate your product idea?
A little bit about early Discovery, Validation and Research
1. Why Customer Development
2. Where to find the people
3. How to approach potential customers
4. Preparation and running an interview
5. Post interview actions
● Role: Product Manager in Codewise ~ 4
● Background: graduated Management -
Cracow University of Economics
● Interests: Marketing Technology, Analytics,
Advertising, Demand Generation, Growth,
Ecommerce, Lean Startup, Customer
Development, Lean Analytics
● Fun fact: got twin brother, plays electric
You always start with an idea
You, your team or somebody from your company comes up with an idea.
New feature, new product line, new business.
Does it make sense? How to find out? Whom should I speak to? Where to find
Why Customer Development
1. A fit in the wider Product Management processes
a. Validating the Problem hypothesis
b. Validating the Customer hypothesis
2. “There Are No Facts Inside Your Building, So Get Outside.”
3. Helps to prioritize one customer segment/persona
4. Decreases the risk of waste (budget, time, resources)
5. Ultimate goal is finding 6 reference customers - companies interested
enough in solving the problem, for whom you build the prototype
Early adopters are usually people who feel the pain and love to try new products and service. They give market proof to the
early and late majorities.
Steve Blank recommends talking to mid-level managers/director rather than C-suite - it’s easier to get their time, repeat the
conversation and get educated before going up the chain.
Where to find potential customers/users
a. Referral from professional network of colleagues, your network
b. Existing users (spin-off)
c. Your customer facing teams - customer queries from Sales, Support, Marketing, CRM/Accounts
a. Attending local meetups (MeetUp, EventBrite, local associations of professionals)
b. Attending industry conferences
c. Attendee list contacting before the gig (scheduling apps, LinkedIn)
3. Social channels
a. Activities: posting in relevant groups, asking for advice and expert insights, direct contact of
users, starting discussions, replying in threads
b. Channels: LinkedIn, Facebook, Reddit, Quora
Where to find potential customers/users
1. Demand testing with fake product Landing Page
a. Running paid campaigns and collecting emails - you’ll validate demand as well
b. Facebook, Quora, Reddit, LinkedIn, Google Ads, Bing channels
a. Product reviewers: G2 Crowd, Capterra, Trustradius
b. Industry specific: specialised websites/publishers, blogs, influencers, experts
c. BuiltWith search
How to approach potential customers - process
1. Set the goal - how many people you want to talk to? Target 25-50 (since it’s qualitative)
2. Create 3 variations of the message, use a template, iterate constantly
3. Pimp your social media profiles to increase relevance (summary, skills, job description, groups)
4. Creat your tracking system - file with contacts and status/actions
5. Measure effectiveness of each channel and template - Response Rate, Meeting Rate every 2 weeks
How to approach potential customers - message
1. Short - 5-6 sentences max, nobody’s got the time to read, state who you are
and why you’re contacting the person
2. Personal - refer to something from their profile, role, experience,
organization, social media activity. Tailor your message using details and
wording from profiles
3. Valuable - give a reason to meet, why would they devote 20 minutes of their
time, give 1-2 sentence summary what you’re hoping to learn/talk (they may
not be able to help)
How to approach potential customers - examples
I read your article on volunteering your professional skills in
Guatemala – it was really inspiring. I’m looking to travel more and
you’ve got me thinking about incorporating volunteering when I do!
I have a software company trying to improve remote medical
I’m not looking to sell anything, but since you have so much
expertise with remote coding, I’d love to get your advice on our
product so we don’t build the wrong thing.
If you’re available, I’d love to chat for just 20 minutes – Thur or Fri
Thanks for any help,
Source, Justin Wilcox, customerdevlabs.com
I have been working on some new solutions in the area of expense report
management, and I was told that you have a lot of expertise in this area.
We started this journey because of personal frustration, and we’re trying to
figure out how to make expense reporting much less painful. Would you
have 30 minutes to give us some advice, and share some of your
experience in this domain?
I assure you that I’m not selling anything. I would be happy to come by
your office or arrange a quick video conference, at your preference.
Source, Giff Constable, Talking To Humans
How to approach potential customers - tips
● Asking for the advice (makes people feel important)
● Be honest and upfront - ‘I’m not looking to sell you anything, just a networking/friendly
conversation (about your problems)’
● Flatter a bit - ‘We're looking to talk with experienced marketing professionals and since you’ve
got a really good background in XXX (…)”
● Use courtesy and respect when contacting people — don’t bombard with requests over and
over, don’t be pushy
● Give 2-3 options of when, where, and how to meet so the person can easily just pick one
● Ask for their emails, sent calendar invitation, set reminder a day before
● Schedule regular follow-ups with initially engaged and with the ones in scheduling process
● Online meeting is good. Offlines are better - the chance to build rapport
Basic tool set
Tools are required to standardize and unify the work of the people in the team.
● Scenario of the interview with questions to ask
● Respondent profile - our target/persona
● Observation tool (eg. Google Sheet) - to gather raw data
How to come up with questions?
● Refer to Lean Canvas - you need to validate if that’s your Customer and has the Problem
● Brain dump - make a list of all your assumptions, expectations, believes, hypothesis and
● Clean and prioritize - it’s exploratory research - most of those questions are here to help us
understand the potential customer situation and context
● Find out more about your Customer
○ What’s the main objective for you in this role / company?
○ What’s are you trying to get done? Why?
○ What’s the metric/KPI you look at?
● Find out more about the wider context
○ How does your current process look like?
○ What do you do in the beginning/mid/end of the day?
○ What are the other teams/stakeholder you work with?
○ What are the tools (both internal and external) you use to get you job done?
How to ask about the problem?
The most crucial and the trickiest part. Ask about the problems they face. Not about the problem you
think they have. Not the solution they’d wish for. What feature the customers ask for is never as interesting
as why they want them.
In general, people don’t know what they want unless they see/use the solution. It’s PM’s/Product Team’s
duty to develop the right solution.
● What’s the biggest challenge for you day-to-day?
● What’s the biggest blocker/time waste?
● Can you tell me what’s frustrating about your current process?
● What’s the hardest part about xxx?
● How often do you experience this problem?
● Have you tried to solve the problem? How? Can you walk me through it?
● What don’t you like about the solutions you’ve tried?
● How much are you spending to solve this problem now? (time, people, budget)
● How much would you pay to make this problem go away? (note - this can lead to interesting answers as long
as you don’t take answer to literally)
Make the interview about the interview
“Identify next-gen opportunities for our Q3 roadmap”
“Let’s learn how Ann works and what are her needs and wishes concerning her work.”
General tips - organization
● Run interviews in pairs
● Take the UX or Dev with you. You as a PM have to be present on all interviews.
● Decide who is the moderator - that person asks the questions
● Another one makes all the notes
● Stick to the scenario - try to ask questions exactly the way questions were designed
● If applicable - ask for permission to record the sessions - it helps a lot and most oftenly
people are ok with it
● Agree on the timeslot - respect the time of your respondent
General tips - how to run it?
1. Make them talk about their past experience with the problem
2. Always ask open-ended questions
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarifications and the “why” behind the “what”
4. Don’t ask users to talk theoretically about what they might do - get stories, not
5. Don’t talk about your idea/product (while validating demand) - people will feel what you
expect, will want to help and be polite - you’ll get skewed results
6. Treat them simply like other human being - the more casual approach the more honest
replies you get - it should feel as a conversation
General tips - how to run it?
1. Avoiding rationalization and confirmation bias (a tough one)
a. Disarm people’s politeness and ask for honest feedback
b. Apply a filter - people want to seem to be interesting even if they are not
c. Get psyched to hear things you don’t want to hear
2. Checking commitment
a. ‘Sounds great. I love it’ or ‘Let me know when it launches’ - usually means they don’t
really care (stalling & compliment tactic)
b. ‘There is a couple of people I can intro you when ready’ - better, partial commitment
c. ‘How can I buy it? Is it available already’ - proper validation - when they ask about next
steps, propose meeting, want intro do the decision makes, want to take part in beta
General tips - closure
1. End with asking for reference (4x better success rate compared to cold emailing + such intros have
80% better response rate)
2. If the problem you hypothesized doesn’t get mentioned during interview, you can still ask about it
a. If you have to bring the problem up and they’re not taking steps to solve it, they won’t use your
b. It doesn’t matter how simple it is, how well it solves the problem, how cheap it is…none of it
c. This problem is not a big enough concern for this customer to take the time to find it, pay for it,
learn it, or use it.
d. And that’s OK
3. Write up your notes as quickly as possible
4. Share short summary with the whole Product Team
5. Always follow-up and drop thank you note
1. Do a list of all observations and analyze the results:
a. Post its session - write down patterns with the whole team, group it, review with Lean Canvas
and see what might need to change or require deeper investigation
b. Quantify the results (spreadsheet) - remain skeptical, don’t obsess with any particular metrics
2. Look for the patterns.
3. Look at the cohorts (customer types, companies size, different role, demographics)
4. Observe the image from a further perspective. Is something missing? What is the general
5. Prioritize from the most important/common to the least relevant observations
6. Don’t abdicate the role of Product Team - customer can’t design the product for you. As we’re
gathering information and making decisions, act like a intelligent filter, not an order-taker.
Processing the results
Being able to apply
Post analysis - what now?
Are you armed with knowledge and feedback? Are your Customer / Problem
- Invalidated? - congrats (and bummer). Good news is, you’re doing it
right. Time to find a new customer segment, or a new problem
- Validated? - good job. For now. Gather 6 reference customers. You’ve just
started. Get more insights. Start building prototype and test it.
● Is it hard?
● Is it tedious?
● Is it time-consuming?
● Is it uncomfortable?
4 x Yes
Customer Development is not the easiest thing. But still it’s the fastest way to
confront your ideas with real word and it’s much cheaper than devoting months of
work and resources to deliver something that’s not needed.
● “Talking to Humans” - Giff Constable
● “The Four Steps to the Epiphany” - Steve Blank
● “The Startup Owner’s Manual” - Steve Blank
● “The Lean Startup” Eric Ries
● “Validating product ideas” Tomer Sharon
● “Lean Analytics” Alistair Croll, Benjamin Yoskovitz
● “Inspired” Marty Cagan
● “Interviewing users” Steve Portigal
● “Traction” Gabriel Weinberg, Justin Mares
How to find customers?
How to approach customers
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