Customer Discovery: How to Find Customers & Build Products They Want (2023)

How stressful is it to keep asking yourself:

Am I building the right product that solves a pain?

Is it what customers want?

Am I wasting my time and money?

In this article we'll look at customer discovery to answer this and understand:

  • How to create relevant business hypotheses
  • 10+ ways to find your ideal customers
  • How to approach them so they actually will talk to you
  • How to complete customer interviews in 2 days and what to learn from them

So what happens despite these stressful questions above?

You keep a completely cool and composed appearance and show the world “I got this!”

Truth is:

For you to “got this” that’s where Customer Development methodologies come in.

Where the key question to answer is:

“Will customers actually buy it?”

In fact, every hour spent on customer development saves 5–10 hours of writing, coding or design.

Customer Discovery: How to Find Customers & Build Products They Want (1)

So much so, that ignoring customer development was listed as one of the Top 20 reasons why startups fail according to CBInsights.

Yet, some still believe they already know what the customers want and the best thing would be to build the product asap.

Actually, no.

In the words of Warren Buffet:

“Don’t test the depth of the water with both feet”

As long as the products you build are for customers, then logically, the 2 go hand in hand. We can’t focus on one and forget the other.

The good news is that understanding the customer development model is easy and acting on it takes much less time than expected.

Let’s jump in!

What’s the point of customer discovery?

“When your product solves a problem that costs customers sleep, revenue or profits, things are definitely looking up”Steve Blank

Customer Discovery is the first of the 4 stages of The Customer Development Process pioneered bySteve Blank in the 90’s.

He started it after noticing countless startups fail because of not understanding how customers think.

It’s a focused process that helps you test your assumptions about your business using direct feedback from customers.

(Video) Customer Discovery - How to Build a Startup

There are

3 crucial pointsto Customer Discovery:

  • When you meet potential customers, you develop a better understanding of your target audience and build your client base at the same time.
  • Customer Discovery is more about “breaking your assumptions” rather than confirming them. It is very easy to fall into the Confirmation Biastrap where we tend to search for information that confirms our beliefs.
  • It is not about selling your product or solution to the customer. It’s about uncovering the information that would allow you to design a suitable solution.

Customer Discovery Starts with your Hypotheses

Can you relate to this?

When I first started with business, all I did was think.

I used to think about how the idea would help people, how it would function, where it could go wrong, who it would annoy and on and on.

An unstructured, unproductive and disconnected train of thought.

Today, we can figure out in minimal time, if the idea is even worth a business.

Here's where to start:

The Lean Model Canvas by

Ash Mauyra (adapted from the Business Model Canvas by Alex Osterwalder) is excellent for this.

It forces you to direct your thinking towards urgent aspects of the business.

Almost instantly organizing your thoughts and relevant assumptions around your business idea.

These assumptions can then be assessed for idea credibility using customer discovery interviews.

Customer Discovery: How to Find Customers & Build Products They Want (2)

​Best of all, it’ll take 30 minutes flat.

Here's a step by step breakdown for

completing your canvas.

Mixing this canvas with the Validation Board by the

Leanstartupmachine is an impressive combo.

The Validation Board is another powerful tool that is super easy for tracking how your core assumptions progress based on the responses from your customer discovery interviews.

Furthermore, it ensures you measure the success of your assumptions by having a pre-set definition of the lowest possible outcome to consider your idea proven.

Customer Discovery: How to Find Customers & Build Products They Want (3)

These tools simplify creating a quick overall view of your business and determining what needs to be verified to decide if the idea is worth pursuing.

Now that you're armed with your business assumptions

It’s time to find customers to interview to test your ideas.

How To Find Customer Discovery Interview Candidates

1. Start with Other Peoples Network, Not Yours

Here’s the thing:

Alot of the time early entrepreneurs start with almost no business network.

On the surface, although this looks like a disadvantage, it can be blessing in disguise.

Why?

Because interviewing your personal contacts can bias and influence the results you collect.

Instead, ask family and friends

for introductions to their network.

For example:

When I first started I out, I didn’t know much about business but I did realise that talking to potential customers would be a good way to know if what I wanted to do was worthwhile.

I only knew a handful of people that were in business which wasn’t enough to reach my target of 50+ people.

So:

(Video) Customer Discovery: How to Find Your Customers, with Justin Wilcox

I asked the few that I knew, I asked my brothers, my friends and anyone I could think of if they could introduce me to their network.

And that’s how I generated a 50+ list of my target market in under a week.

Surprisingly, the result was a 100% response rate from this list.

Every call was answered and people took the time to have a chat because of the introduction.

It’s a different story that my product still flopped, but that was because my interview questions were rubbish not because I couldn’t find people to interview.

2. Be Social Without Being a Wierdo

How do you approach a person you don’t know?

To have any chance with cold outreach on social channels, make it clear that you’re not selling any products or services.

Frame your outreach for what it is, research. Here's a great explanation by

Alexander Cowan.

In fact, research is the best way to frame your approach to customers regardless of the type of interview format you use.

I tested this with my LinkedIn network by contacting 10 people that I did not know personally but fit my target audience.

Result?

5 responses of which 3 went on to complete the customer discovery questions.

30% response rate is not bad.

However, you can expect to face problems with response time and feeling annoyed with this approach.

Why?

Because following up 3+ times with people that said they’d be “happy to help” is not fun.

Here’s an example of a template you can use:

Customer Discovery: How to Find Customers & Build Products They Want (4)

​To ensure you’re not wasting anyones time, include a screener question in your customer discovery outreach..

In the above example, my screener question is asking if they are currently using or have used a third party provider recently.

Those that say no, thank them for their response and you move on.

Those that answer yes to the screener make it through to the next stage where you have a conversation that leads to asking questions such as:

Customer Discovery: How to Find Customers & Build Products They Want (5)

And that's how to use social to reach out to your target audience.

Note that this approach can be used across social channels, social groups, forums etc.

But, this brings us to a crucial point.

What do you do if you have literally zero network to start from?

3. Customer Discovery Interviews Even If You Don’t Have A Network

What if you’re family, friends and social connections do not have access to the type of customer you want to talk to?

What if you have a very specific type of customer?

Like startup founders that used Buzzsumo in the last 2 weeks.

In this case, reaching out to friends for introductions and your social contacts probably won't work.

What to do?

Here’s where your Lean Canvas helps again.

(Video) Customer Discovery for Product Managers | How To Use Surveys, Interviews, and Screeners

Because if completed, you would have listed where your customers can be found (see your Lean Canvas — Customer Channels).

Let's stick with the startup founders example for a minute:

You might list the following customer channels:

  • Startup Meetup groups(let the organizer know what you are doing and ask if he/she would allow you to address the group)
  • Podcasts (reach out to the organizer and ask for promotion or introductions)
  • Startup Youtube Channels (same as above)
  • Discussion platforms such as Reddit, Quora (check startup threads)
  • Relevant blogs, groups or forums (reach out to admins/moderators for help)
  • Local gathering spots
  • Networking events (for example: MFYF, Under The Stars)
  • Startup events/conferences
  • Business centers
  • Co-working spaces (have a look at Our Space, Nest)
  • Accelerators and incubators (have a look at Sheraa, Astrolabs, Intelak)
  • Professional Associations (have a look at Mind Cloud Academy)

Customer Discovery: How to Find Customers & Build Products They Want (6)

See the potential you can tap into?

And that’s not even a complete list.


The idea is to create your list of customer channels for the type of customer you seek, decide on the most effective channel and head straight there.

If your customer requirements are specific like the earlier example, then creating strong screeners will help your recruitment efforts.

Keep 2 things in mind:

  • The people in these locations are there for a certain reason and it’s not to answer your research questions. That’s why reaching out to admins and moderators is a good idea since they can influence the group.
  • It might make sense to compensate interviewees for their time. Think about the compensation you offer carefully as you don’t want to offend anyone. For example; compensating a student is not the same as compensating a manger and what they want is not always financial.

4. Spending on Customer Discovery

​If you’re ok with spending some money, here are two more options for finding interview candidates:

  • Hire a survey company that would find the interviewees and/or conduct customer discovery interviews too (such as Nielsen). Although, this may be quite expensive and take more time than doing it yourself
  • Targeted Ads on social media and/or online classifieds. Open the miscellaneous or et cetera section on sites like Dubizzle or Craigslist. Create an ad explaining that you are conducting customer research interviews and offering compensation for completed interviews and selection questionnaires.

​This option is fantastic because:

  • ​You post your ad only where relevant people will see it
  • ​A stronger selection process means you find more qualified customers
  • ​The customers are interested in your interview
  • You can ask to meet customers in person
  • It’s simple and fast

For a deep dive into this, see the explanation by Michael Margolis from Google Ventures and Jake Knapp.

There, now you can find customers whether you have a network or not.

Next step.

How do you conduct a customer interview to validate your hypotheses and business?

Just Talk to Customers is Lazy Advice

​It’s frustrating isn’t it?

When people say “It’s so easy! Just find your target customer, talk to them, learn and Boom you’re good to go!”

Useless advice.

We’re more interested in hearing, how and what we should learn from these interviews?

How do we ask our questions and take control of the interview?

Have a look at this:

Your hypotheses to test (from your Lean Canvas) can be divided into 4 categories of questions:

  • Customer hypothesis: Is this the right type of customer?
  • Problem hypothesis: Does the problem exist?
  • Problem hypothesis: What are the most significant pain points?
  • Solution hypothesis: The alternatives they have and how they are currently solving the problem
  • Value hypothesis: Whether your value proposition is valid?

To get the highest value from your customer discovery, prepare your key questions (and follow up questions) in advance.

Gear your questions towards obtaining the answers for the above categories.

Breaking down your questions into categories provides clarity on what you want to learn during your interview as explained in this Customer

Discovery Handbook.
(Video) Customer Discovery: What Do You Ask, with Justin Wilcox


Now:

Let’s talk about How to ask questions and how to interview customers to uncover the info you need.

Tips On How To Learn From Customer Discovery Interviews

  • ​Seek for them to speak. Keep reminding yourself to listen more than you talk
  • ​Encourage meaningful answers based on your customers knowledge and feelings. Start questions using who, what, where, why, when and how.
  • ​Avoid leading questions that begin with “Would you..”, “Did you..”, “Is it…” “Don’t you…”
  • Ask for personal examples in your follow up questions such as “Can you tell me an example of the last time that happened?”
  • Remember, it’s a conversation not an interrogation
  • You get no ROI from unclear information. If a response is vague, ask for clarification saying “That’s interesting! Could you explain that a little further?”
  • Don’t think your time is more valuable than theres. You’ve come prepared so there’s no need to exceed the agreed duration. Respect their time.
  • Accept that there is no right or wrong answer from the customer. You only want to understand their thoughts. So be careful not to introduce your own ideas in your questions.
  • If an assumption is disproved, use follow up questions. For example; “Can you tell me a little more about why that is the case?” You’ll build a deeper understanding of the problem from their perspective.
  • Don’t talk about your proposed solution, don’t talk about features, don’t ask how they would theoretically solve their problem - save those questions for product testing.
  • We are not human memory sticks. Write down your notes and thoughts ASAP after each interview (even if its recorded). You’ll risk mixing up ideas from different interviews if you start the next session before completing this.

“The best indicator that you’re done is that you stop hearing people say things that surprise you"

Cindy Alvarez

Customer Discovery Interview Duration

The aim is not to ask 50 questions and badger the person generous enough to share their time with you.

Neither is it to spend as much time as you can in the interview.

This presentation from Carnegie Mellon University suggests

15 minutes interview time is sufficient.

I find 30 minutes works for me because it gives both the customer and myself time to relax, think and open up in the discussion.

And finally, interview quantity.

How many customer interviews should you target?

This Nielsen study suggests

5 are enough to gather relevant data but this is not set in stone.

If you march “in person” to the customer channels you listed, you could have 10+ interviews and amazing data about your customers in your hands within 2/3 days depending on your niche.

I have to admit, that when I first tried this I took over a week because I was taking up time just figuring out what my next step would be.

Luckily by reading this post you won't have the same problem.

Again, check out the articles by Michael Margolis at Google Ventures.

They’ve got the full research sprint (including preparation time) nailed down to

4 days total with interviews taking just 1 day.

How do you know when you’re done?

Your job is to pay attention to similarities in the responses.

Once a pattern starts to appear, you’re on the right track.

Conclusion

There are manyreasonswhy entrepreneurs overlook customer discovery. But understanding how customers think is part of making successful products. No matter how tough it seems, you are tougher.

You know:

What needs to be done and why. How to find customers and interview them. How to verify your core business assumptions and learn what they want. By doing this, you’ll provide solutions that make a difference and empower customers.

And for that, they will buy your products. All in all we’re talking about a process of only a few days. So trust yourself. Kick that self-doubt out. There’s absolutely nothing to hold you back. Interview your customers.

(Video) Customer Interviews for Product Discovery

Make needed products.

FAQs

What are 4 methods of customer discovery? ›

Discovery should encompass the entire customer journey. Common discovery techniques include interviewing, ethnography, low fidelity (lo-fi) testing, and journey mapping. 1. Customer discovery starts with understanding customers' pain points.

What are 5 best practices for customer discovery? ›

What do you do when you get outside and how do you talk to customers effectively, especially in the social sector?
  • Don't just talk to people you know. ...
  • Meet in person. ...
  • Set clear and fair expectations. ...
  • Talk to one person at a time. ...
  • Keep it human. ...
  • Make people comfortable enough to criticize your idea. ...
  • Seek out stories.
Jul 30, 2015

What are the 4 steps when engaging with customer discovery? ›

Customer Discovery in 4 Steps
  • Step One: Define a Hypothesis. The first step is to form a hypothesis that defines both the problem and the solution you are proposing. ...
  • Step Two: Define Your Assumptions. ...
  • Step Three: Ask (Good) Questions. ...
  • Step Four: Evaluate and Refine.
Apr 26, 2017

What are the first two questions to explore during customer discovery? ›

5 customer discovery questions to ask during early customer discovery interviews:
  • What is the hardest part about doing the thing that you're trying to do/achieve/solve? ...
  • Tell me about the last time that you encountered this problem. ...
  • Why was this hard? ...
  • What, if anything, have you done to try to solve this problem?
Jul 23, 2021

What are the 7 effective methods to identify and meet customer needs? ›

7 Effective Methods to Identify and Meet Customer Needs
  • 1 - Create a culture of care. ...
  • 2 - Surveys. ...
  • 3 - Enhance your USP. ...
  • 4 - Create buyer personas. ...
  • 5 - Map your customer journey. ...
  • 6 - Pay attention to your competition. ...
  • 7 - Maintain regular communication.
Sep 19, 2022

What are 3 types of discovery questions? ›

Discovery may be carried out by directly asking a person questions (oral depositions), by sending a person written questions (interrogatories and depositions on written questions), and by requesting that the person provide documents (motions for production, subpoenas duces tecum).

What is the number 1 goal of the customer discovery process? ›

The goal of customer discovery is to estimate who are your customers and if your idea will appeal to them or not. Remember, you are not trying to evaluate what every customer needs or wants. You are looking for your very first customer, not looking for the masses.

What are the 5 core principles of a successful customer? ›

The five core customer service principles include:
  • Speed.
  • Accuracy.
  • Accountability.
  • Quality.
  • Transparency.
May 24, 2021

What are product discovery techniques? ›

There are many techniques teams use in Product Discovery, including: Conducting customer feedback interviews and running focus groups. Observing users as they use clickable prototypes or interact with mockups to better understand user needs and behavior.

What are the 4 A's of customer journey? ›

This approach is organized around the values that matter most to customers: Acceptability, Affordability, Accessibility and Awareness.

What is the difference between customer discovery and product discovery? ›

TL;DR. Customer discovery is the process of identifying, defining, and prioritizing relevant user personas. In product discovery, you not only need to discover user needs but also ways to satisfy them. Markets are in a constant flow and customer discovery helps you keep up with the changes.

What are the 3 main questions to ask in understanding customers? ›

Here are the top 5 questions you'd ask your customers
  • What can my company do to better serve your needs?
  • How satisfied are you with our products/services?
  • What value do we provide?
  • What are your biggest challenges?
  • Why did you choose us over the competition?

What are open discovery questions? ›

Discovery questions are the questions you ask to understand whether or not a prospect is a good fit for your product (and vice versa). They're normally open-ended questions about the challenges, obstacles, and current processes in a business that relate to what you're selling.

What are discovery type questions? ›

Discovery questions are questions you ask a prospect to gauge whether or not they are a good fit for your product or service. These questions should be open-ended and focus on the prospect's obstacles, processes, and goals as they relate to the product or service you are offering.

What are the six strategies to attract customers? ›

The following six strategies will help you attract and keep customers.
  • Offer quality products. Good quality is the most important reason cited by consumers for buying directly from farmers. ...
  • Cultivate good people skills. ...
  • Know your customers. ...
  • Use attractive packaging. ...
  • Let customers try samples. ...
  • Be willing to change.

What are the 6 things a customer wants? ›

6 Things Every Customer Wants
  • Preparation. Customers want you to do your homework before talking with them. ...
  • Simplicity. Customers, like everyone else, must cope with the complexities of business. ...
  • Creativity. ...
  • Loyalty. ...
  • Accessibility. ...
  • Accountability.
Jan 18, 2013

What are the 3 common methods for determining a customer's needs? ›

Here are three ways to develop an understanding of your customers' needs so you can better serve them with your products and services.
  • Reflect on Your Experiences. ...
  • Observe Behaviors. ...
  • Conduct Interviews.
Aug 6, 2020

What are the five basic discovery tools? ›

Here are the five most common types of product discovery tools:
  • User research tools. ...
  • Analytics tools. ...
  • Experimentation tools. ...
  • Voice of Customer tools. ...
  • Project management and training tools.

What are the three common discovery tools? ›

The three primary written discovery tools are interrogatories, the request for production of documents, and the request for production of documents to a non-party.

What are the five basic methods of discovery? ›

In the United States, there are five basic forms of discovery: depositions, interrogatories, requests for production of documents (or permission to inspect), physical and mental examinations, and requests for admission.

What are the three R's of customer success? ›

The Three R's of Customers Satisfaction: Retention, Related Sales, and Referrals. The three R's of customer satisfaction are key indicators of a company's success. Retention, related sales, and referrals are basic pillars of customer success.

What is the customer discovery methodology? ›

The customer discovery process is where you identify prospective clients, discover their pain points, define buyer personas, and match your solution to their problem.

How to do a customer discovery interview basics? ›

But two of us is more than enough: one speaks, the other takes notes.
  1. Be ready to hear things you might not want to hear. ...
  2. Make sure you prevent polite validation. ...
  3. Avoid asking customers what they want. ...
  4. Organise your notes as soon as possible after the interview. ...
  5. Ask for permission to follow up and for referrals.

What are the 5 A's of a customer path? ›

The 5A customer journey reflects the connectivity among customers and is described as a process of 1) Aware, 2) Appeal, 3) Ask, 4) Act, and 5) Advocate.

What are the 7 C's of customer service? ›

The 7 C's of customer relationship management are customer centricity, company culture, customer experience, customer data, customer journey, consumer experience, and consumer expectation.

What are the 5 A's of customer mindset? ›

Philip Kotler, the five stages (Awareness, Appeal, Ask, Act and Advocacy) allow marketing and sales professionals to create a map of the customer's needs and priorities during the different parts of their purchase process.

What is a product roadmap? ›

A product roadmap is a shared source of truth that outlines the vision, direction, priorities, and progress of a product over time. It's a plan of action that aligns the organization around short and long-term goals for the product or project, and how they will be achieved.

What are process discovery tools? ›

Process Discovery tools are machine learning-based tools that help organizations identify business processes, record all possible variations using machine learning algorithms and make recommendations for Automation.

What are the 4 R's of customer service? ›

To create a differentiated customer experience—and a more profitable business—here are some key considerations to keep in mind: relevance, readiness, reliability, rate, and refine.

What are the 4 components of customer experience? ›

There are four key components of customer experience—a customer-centric culture, well-designed touchpoints, consistent quality, and customer satisfaction.

What are the 4 elements of the customer journey? ›

What are the Four Elements of the Customer Journey?
  • Audience engagement.
  • Leads converting into customers.
  • Nurture the customers.
  • Fulfill the customer expectations.

What are the 5 E's of customer service? ›

If you run a business of any kind, you'll understand how important it is for customers to feel safe, valued and welcomed. This is a map of the five stages that customers walk through – Entice, Enter, Engage, Exit, and Extend.

What are the three E's of customer service? ›

The 3 E's of Customer Success: Empathy, Equality & Excellence.

What is the rule of 5 in customer service? ›

Read on to learn about what we think of as the “5 R.U.L.E.S. of Working in Customer Service”: Remember to Listen, Use Good Tools, Leadership Leads, Engage Your Agents, and Swift Service Saves.

What are the 3 Ds of excellent customer experience? ›

Any company can create a customer experience that sets it apart from the competition. It involves a serious, long term commitment, but means getting just three things right. They are the “three Ds”: Design, Delivery and DNA.

What does good CX look like? ›

Great CX is about delighting customers so they want to come back repeatedly. That they don't feel they need to go elsewhere. It's essential to understand what's important to your customer and then deliver the right solution at the right time. It's not just about technology, but it plays a big part.

What are the 6 pillars of customer experience? ›

Customer experience can be described using six pillars of customer experience: Personalization, Integrity, Expectations, Resolution, Time and Effort, and Empathy.

What are the 5 modes of customer experience? ›

When it comes to customer experience, there are five main types that businesses should focus on. These are emotional, cognitive, sensory, behavioral, and brand experience.

What are the 4 C's of consumer driven marketing mix? ›

The 4 C's of Marketing are Customer, Cost, Convenience, and Communication. These 4 C's determine whether a company is likely to succeed or fail in the long run. The customer is the heart of any marketing strategy.

Videos

1. How to Do Customer Discovery When You Don't Have Any Customers Yet
(Speckled)
2. How to do Customer Discovery to Validate Your Startup Assumptions
(WeAreNoCode)
3. Introduction to Customer Discovery | New Venture Launch
(Alanis Business Academy)
4. Doing Customer Discovery is like searching for the Holy Grail. 2 Minutes to See Why
(steve blank)
5. 6 Steps to Build an MVP 🛠️: Product Roadmap and Customer Discovery
(Railsware Product Academy)
6. Customer Discovery and the Customer Development Process
(Red Blue Collective)

References

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