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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The 5 whys of customer research

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The purpose of customer research in the earliest stages of a startup journey is to help us validate/disprove the assumptions we’ve made when we think we know what customers want.

Chances are, in the first few years, your tech startup will rely more on a hypothesis than on the happy paying customers you add each month. So if you want to be successful in selling a product to a customer, it is critical to understand what problems customers really have and how they are currently solving those problems.

Now you can just call, make an appointment and ask a customer if they want to buy your product, if there weren’t two problems:

  1. Customers lie; and
  2. Customers often think they don’t want your product, they just want a ‘faster horse’.

Customers lie because whether you meet them in person, on the phone, or over the internet, you probably seem like a nice person. And they are probably a nice person too.

You’d be disappointed if you told them they don’t have the problem you’re focusing on, or they don’t want to buy your product. And nice people don’t like to disappoint other nice people.

Many nice people really enjoy being interviewed for customer research; it makes them feel important, as if they are helping you define a better product that better suits their needs.

Most people like this so much, that many of them like to spend a few hours in a focus group research lab for a few slices of bad pizza and some drinks while watching reality TV at home.

And that unfortunately leads to ‘feature creep’. Customers who don’t want to disappoint you, or customers who feel important because you ask their opinion, will give you plenty of ideas to make your product better, and they will assure you that they will buy your product as soon as possible while you have all those adds features.

That leads you to a product like “the Homer” – a car with too many features, which no one wants to buy.

The truth is known in customer research, but it is buried deep. To get there, we need to develop our research skills and thicker skin.

Here’s a great way to find out the truth about what’s really going on for the customer you’re talking to, and where to solve the really valuable problems in their business.

  1. Ask them, “If I could solve one problem for you right now, what would it be?”
  2. Ask them “why?”
  3. Whatever their answer, ask them “why?” again.
  4. Whatever their answer, ask them “why?” again.
  5. Whatever their answer, ask them “why?” again.
  6. Whatever their answer, ask them “why?” again.

On average, the truth is in the customer’s answer the fifth time you ask “why?” asks.

And if you can solve that problem, you’ll find that some or all of the top-level problems also fall like dominoes.

Q: If I could solve one problem for you right now, what would it be?

A: It’s 2:00 PM on a Friday at the end of the month, I’m giving up 10 minutes of my time to talk to a startup founder and I’m afraid we won’t get our monthly bills on time.

Q: Why are you afraid you won’t get them out in time?

A: It happens most months – we have this crazy struggle on the last day of the month to get bills.

Q: Why do you have a crazy scramble on the last day of the month?

A: We have to wait for the timesheets to be signed off by the Director of Consulting Services before converting them into invoices, and they are always late.

Q: Why are they always late?

A: Because all consultants leave their timesheets until the last minute because filling timesheets is a lot of non-billable time that takes them away from their billable consulting hours.

Q: Why is filling out timesheets a lot of non-billable time?

A: I think because it is a manual process that they can forget or postpone.

…OK, now there’s a potentially valuable problem to solve.

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