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Feb 14, 2023

3 Rules of Customer Discovery

Sponsored Content provided by Heather McWhorter - Director, UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

When you have your next great new product idea, how do you know that it is truly great? How do you know that it is needed by your target customer and they will purchase it?
Business is about selling a product or solution to a customer who is willing to pay. Customers need to be interested enough in the product or service to change from their existing solution to the new product. But, as you know if you have taken a new product to market, customers are fickle and their answers to questions don’t necessarily translate to their behavior.
Whether you have an idea, launched a startup, or are working as an intrapreneur in an existing company, a successful product launch is directly correlated to your knowledge of your customer’s pain points, wishes, and behaviors. But how can you get started with understanding and predicting your customer’s behavior?
It’s simple. Talk with them.
By “them,” I am referring to your ideal target customer, those who will have similar demographics and characteristics as the first purchasers of your product, whether you have a B2C or B2B business (selling to a consumer or a business, respectively). The better you understand your target customer, the more targeted you will be able to be with your marketing and energy. Please understand that if you ask those who love you about your idea, they will also love your idea because they love you. Don’t bother asking them.
Rule #1 – Interview ideal target customers. (Not your mom or best friend.)
However, customer discovery is an art form. Don’t ask "Here is my idea, what do you think?", "How would you solve the problem?", or "How much would you pay for this product?". The answers will not be useful or relevant to customer discovery because people will give you lots of praise about the idea or, perhaps, tell you that it will never work. Customers also cannot predict how they will perform or what they will purchase in the future.
Rule #2 – Don’t tell the interviewee about your new product idea.
Instead, compile quantitative (measurable) and qualitative questions to help you design your product and market effectively. Customer discovery interviews should be interactive, two-way conversations such as face-to-face or videoconference. By asking open-ended questions and allowing the customer to talk while you listen, you will learn a lot.
Some common questions to start with in customer discovery:

  • How much time do you spend on [the problem]?
  • Tell me a story about the last time [the problem] occurred and what you did as a result.
  • What, if anything, have you done to try to solve the problem?
  • What don’t you like about the solutions you have tried?
  • How did you find out about the solutions?
  • How much do you currently spend on [apps, etc. as related to your idea]?
Rule #3: Listen to the interviewee. Ask a question and listen (verbal and nonverbal).
Finally, always close the interview with “Is there anything else I should have asked?” Because you don’t know what you don’t know.
To learn more, check out the book The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick. CIE also offers programs that address customer discovery. For example, on March 1, “Leveraging ‘Customer Discovery’ to Validate Your Idea” is being offered. Register at:

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