7 Tips For Talking to Your Early Users or Customers

Talking to users can feel like going on a blind date — half dread and half intrigued. isn’t?

Have you ever wished you could just peer inside the mind of your users and find out exactly what makes them tick?

Have you ever wished you could get so attuned to them and see the world through their eyes.

But then you wonder that it may not be a good thing cos you may not like what they see.

I have been to that block and now I can lend you my trench coat and fedora because you are going to need to 

Put on Your Detective Hat!

Detectives don’t risk scaring off their informants by asking blunt questions. 😉 

Rather, detectives find other ways of getting the information they’re looking for. 

—- Use your detective skills. 

You will draw that information out of them in such a cool and casual way that they don’t realize they are giving away their secrets. 

And that is easier said than done. First, let’s backtrack to consider whom are your desired users.

A lot of the tips that I share are distilled from this book written by a YC founder, called The Mom Test.  We all like to talk to our friends and family about our products and consider them our guinea pigs even though they might not really user the products that often.  

They say you shouldn’t ask your mom whether your business is a good idea, because she loves you and will lie to you. This is technically true, but it misses the point. You shouldn’t ask anyone if your business is a good idea. It’s a bad question and everyone will lie to you at least a little . As a matter of fact, it’s not their responsibility to tell you the truth. It’s your responsibility to find it and it’s worth doing right.

3 Common Mistakes We Made in Unser Interviews:

  • Sell them on using your product.  No. This  is not the time to be pitching the product. The goal of a great user interview is to learn about their life, to talk about specifics around the problem area that you’re trying to solve that the user may be going through, to extract data that will help you improve the product or improve your marketing or improve your positioning. 

  • Talk about hypotheticals. If you ask questions like, if we built this feature, would you be interested in using it or would you be interested in paying for it?  They might answer with fluff, the chances of them coming straight out and telling you the truth are slim. Instead, talk about specific problems that have already occurred in the user’s life.  Try to extract information about the path that led them to encounter that problem.

  • Not listening,  and you do a lot of  talking in a way like pitching investors,  pitching employees, or partners.  But your interest should be really in listening and taking notes and bring real facts about users’ lives to the table for the team. 

5 Great questions that everyone can ask during their early customer interviews. 

  • What is the hardest part about doing the thing that you’re trying to solve?

  • How do you currently attempt to solve that problem? 

In general, the best startups are looking for problems that people face on a regular basis or that they’re painful enough to warrant solving.

 This question can help confirm for you whether the problem that you’re working on is actually one that real users feel is a pain point, feel is something that they actively want to solve in their life. 

  • What is the context of last time you encountered this problem?

The goal of this question is actually to extract context around the circumstances in which the user encountered that problem. 

Why was this hard? 

To drill in more:

What were the specific things that they encountered that were difficult? 

The reason why you want to ask this question is because you’ll hear many different things from different people. 

So, the benefit from asking this question is not just to identify the exact problem that you may begin to solve with your solution to this problem, 

but you’ll also begin to understand how you market your product, how you explain to new potential users the value or the benefits of your solution. 

In general, customers don’t buy what. They don’t buy the what. They buy the why.

So, answers that you get from customers to this question of why. 

Why was this past problem that you encountered so hard may actually inform your marketing or your sales copy as you build out the rest of your product. 

  • What, if anything, have you done to try to solve this problem? 

if potential customers are not already exploring potential solutions to their problem, it’s possible that the problem that you’re trying to solve is not a burning enough problem for customers, for them to be even interested in your better solution to this product. 

secondly, what are the other competition out there? What will your product be compared against as you end up rolling out your solution and offering it to end customers? 

  • What don’t you love about the solutions that you’ve already tried? 

This is how you begin understanding what the features are that you’ll build out for your better solution to the problem. 

Users in general are not great at identifying the next features that they want in the product. 

Just like the old Henry Ford quote, when we were developing the automobile, our users would have wanted a faster horse rather than a car. 

So this question specifically targets, what are the problems with the existing solutions that they’ve already tried? 

These are specifics and you can begin to kind of figure out what the differential between your new solution and the existing solutions already in the market will be. 

Talking to users is useful at pretty much all stages of your company.  But there’s three critical phases to an early stage company. 

  •  The idea stage, before you’ve even begun developing any of your product
  •  The prototype stage,  a rough beginnings of your product, but no users yet
  • Have launched and striving for product market fit

How can you find your first users? —  Honestly, some of the best companies are products or services that are built for the founders themself. 

So start with yourself. Test your user interview strategy on yourself. Try to walk through a situation where you’ve encountered that problem. 

Every good user research strategy begins with just one or two people. The critical feature here is executing an unbiased and detailed customer or user interview strategy rather than just trying to pitch your idea to them.

Industry events are great ways to get a high number of new customer interactions. Just go in guerrilla style randomly setting up meetings with potential users and met them in the coffee shop outside of the conference. 

Honestly, you’ll learn so much through the first five or ten user interviews that your process will dramatically improve from those first interviews to the next batch.

As you move past the idea stage into testing your prototype with users, the next major kind of benefit that you can get from talking to users is figuring out who will be your best first customer.

 This is critical because it’s possible that if you choose the wrong first customer, that you may be led down a path that constrains you or artificially traps you without actually getting paid by that first customer. 

So, I’ve created a framework that you can use to begin to identify, before you begin working with them, who the best first customers will be. 

During user interviews, at this stage, your goal is to get to the bottoms of  three facts about the customer. 

  • The first one — how much does this problem cost them today?

how much revenue do they stand to earn if they solve this problem? 

how much expense do they currently spend trying to solve this problem?

How much money is wasted today as they try to solve this problem. 

  • Second one — how frequently do they encounter this problem?

 Do they encounter it on an hourly basis, a daily basis, quarterly basis, yearly basis? The best problems that startups can target are ones that are encountered more frequently. 

This is usually beneficial for two reasons. One is, they encounter a problem on a more regular basis. It means that the customer’s feeling the pain of that problem on a more regular basis, and they’ll be much more receptive to a potential solution. 

The second reason why you want to tackle a problem that people encounter on a more frequent basis is, you’ll get more chances to know whether your product is actually solving a problem.

So the best first customers are ones that have this problem very frequently. 

  • The third thing — how large is their budget for solving this problem? 

So, again, as you’re trying to identify the best first customers, make sure that you’re trying to, make sure that you’re asking questions about whether they actually have the ability to solve the problem, given the choice.

 I like to visualize answers to these three sets of customer questions as overlapping Venn diagrams, with best first customer being at the center of the Venn diagram where they have the highest numerical answers to the three questions that I outlined.

The last stage before product market fit that can benefit from user interviews is actually the process of iterating towards product market fit. 

Paul Graham’s cut definition for product market fit is when you’ve made something that people want. 

Mark Andreessen and also has an amazing blog post about a product market fit, where he describes it as when the product is just being pulled out of you. 

When you no longer have to push the product on customers. They’re just pulling it, pulling it from you. But the problem with these definitions of product market fit is that they’re vague. They’re also retroactive in that you have to already have product market fit in order to know that you’ve reached it. 

So they’re not as useful for helping you figure out which features you need to build in order to iterate, in order to improve your product to get to product market fit. 

You may have heard of the app Superhuman, which is a super fast email client. 

Well, the CEO published an amazing blog post a little while ago about how he built a, well, how he was actually annoyed with this vague definition of what product market fit is and how it was a lagging indicator that didn’t help him predict product market fit. It only told him whether he’d achieved it or not. 

He wanted to create a real time quantitative system that’d help guide his company towards product market fit, and of course it involved talking to users.

Just going to touch on it, but I would highly recommend reading the entire thing because it is fantastic. In it he describes a process where on a weekly basis he asks pretty much all his customers, but it doesn’t even have to be your entire customer base, it could just be 30, 40 users, a critical question. 

How would you feel if you could no longer use Superhuman?

 Three answers?

  • Very disappointed
  • somewhat disappointed
  • not disappointed

He measured the percentage of users who answered the question, very disappointed. These are the users who most value your product. These are the users who your product has now become a key part of their life. It’s kind of weaseled their way into their daily habits. He read some analysis that said that If 40% or more of your user base reports that they would be very disappointed if your product went away on a weekly basis, that that’s kind of the signal. 

That’s the the differentiation point that it says, if you get past this point your product will just grow exponentially.

 He evaluated a number of other successful companies and realized that the answer to this question was always around or above 40%. 

So, again, I probably won’t be able to go into it too much more in detail, but I would recommend reading this blog post.

You can do this through the advice that the Superhuman CEO lays out in his blog post. 

  • The third thing to do during user interviews at this stage is to remember to discard bad data. 

Some of the kind of worst bad data that you may encounter is compliments. People may say, “Oh, I love the new design,” or “Man, this thing is really useful.” You may love that during the course of your user interviews, but they actually are not useful information because it’s not specific.   Fluff is not actionable. 

Whenever you’re in the middle of a user interview and you start getting onto this hypothetical fluff, try to steer it back to specifics. 

Again, you’re conducting a user interview, not to pitch your product, but to learn about problems or issues that the user has faced in their past so that you can improve it in the future. guinea

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