As a guideline for customer development with it is customer discovery interviews, I use the Startup Owners Manual from Steve Blank, with it Customer Development Manifesto. In combination with the book Running Lean from Ash Maurya.

Based on this guidelines I created my own experience with Customer Development. The first experiences are described in a series on this blog called: Example Project – Customer Development: Co-Founders Wanted (Overview).

Ans this all because…..
you might have the best new product idea in the world, but until you find customers, it’s not actually a business.
So better to be sure that there are customers before starting building.

It’s important to find customers and conduct customer discovery interviews so that you can be sure you’re building something that people actually want and avoid spending time and money on something that people don’t want. Listening to your customers can also help you improve your offering from something that people “kinda like” to something they “love” (source: 14 Best Ways to Find Customers to Interview from Mike Fishbein)

mike-fishbein
Mike Fishbein

Based on an the excellent article 14 Best Ways to Find Customers to Interview from Mike Fishbein, I would like to share my experiences with Customer Development.

1. LinkedIn groups
My experience with LinkedIn groups is that it is easy to make contact with customers or partners that may have or recognize the problem you try to solve. In stead of dropping your own post, it works much better to react on a problem you want to solve.

An invitation via a private message for a skype call works very well.

On the other side getting direct feedback by dropping your own post is poor. It’s not so strange because people like to talk about their own problem but not about your problem.

Advice: look for posts that include the problem you want to solve and react on it.

2. People you know
Using your own network is the easiest but my experience is that there are 2 big disadvantages. At first the common known disadvantage is that people you know talk to your mouth. They don’t want to disappoint you so they probably tell you what you want to hear.

At second my experience is that it is very hard to find the niche segment preferable early adopters that have the problem you want to solve.

Your own network is the perfect group to start but do also customer development with potential customers you didn’t know.

As a help for an introduction Mike provided a script for an example of an email:
“Hi [their name],Hope all is well! I’m looking for feedback on a potential product to help with [problem or process]. Given your experience, it would be great to get your feedback.I don’t have a product to sell (yet)…I’m just trying to determine if it’s a problem worth solving in the first place.Could I buy you a coffee next week to ask you a few questions and get your feedback?Thanks,[your name]”

3. Ask for referrals
Referrals is useful in combination with own network. You start with your own network because it is easy and ask for referrals. Referrals are more honest but my experience is that it is also difficult to get the right potential clients that have the problem you want to solve.

Mike suggest to find referral with the following introduction:
“Do you know anyone else who might have this problem that you would feel comfortable introducing me to so I could conduct a similar interview?”

4. Cold call or email
Allthough i have quiet some experience with selling solutions, I never used it for customer development. Strange as I really liked called calling (except getting the right person on the phone). In 2014 for sure I will try it.

Mike provided a nice introduction email:
“Hi [their name],I’m Mike [link to page with my bio]. I’m looking for feedback on a potential product to help with [problem or process]. I came across your LinkedIn profile and it looks like you have a lot of  experience with [problem or process], so I was hoping to get your feedback.I don’t have a product to sell (yet)…I’m just trying to determine if it’s a problem worth solving in the first place.Could I ask you a few questions and get your feedback over a fifteen minute phone call?Thanks,[your name]”

5. Meetup.com
Meetups are very nice. In theory you should have your perfect target clients together. You can talk to them which is the best interaction you can get. In practice you see that you’re not the only one who’s looking for the target group. In other words you meet many consultants who are simply or also looking for clients.

On the other side people are very open and really willing to help during meetups. It is part of the meetup culture.

It is the LinkedIn group in real. So find the person who promotes the problem you are looking for. It is hard but worth as meeting people is giving the best feedback. It’s suggested to make a separate appointment.

6. Conferences and events
I often considered to join conferences or events for customer development but I never tried but the challenge. I expect it is very hard to get in contact with potential customers that may have your problem.

7. Craigslist
www.craigslist.org I never used and I expect it didn’t have additional value in my projects.

8. Twitter
Never tried to get in touch with potential customers that have the problem you want to solve but for sure I will try in 2014.

9. Facebook
Never tried but interesting when you can easy find your target group on Facebook. I expect it works similar as linkedin groups.

10. Create a blog
A blog is an ideal instrument to discover to get inbound traffic for potential customers with the problems you want to solve. But it will take you a lot of time to write blog posts (create content) and you need to be patient to get traffic. Besides it can be hard to blog about a specific problem that is not so big but in this case you can blog about trends, news articles etc.

In my case, the blog (so this blog) is more to share the knowledge about my professional passion. It structures my knowledge and it makes it easy to communicate. But it also include some blog posts about problem(s), I would like to solve. For example:

11. Offline paper handouts in public places
At the moment, a startup that I am coaching is testing handouts. Till now the results needs to be improved as it was hard to find the right audience. In January we will try it on specialized events.

12. Kickstarter
Never tried but for some kind of products crowd funding is the ideal way to validate you problem-solution fit because you have funded at once. I expect it is still quiet some work to present a project in Kickstarter in the best way. I should recommend first to do some “light weight” customer development via Social Media and by hitting the street. Both dependable of the product. In this case you can already collect email addresses, likes etc which you can use to promote the project when you add it on Kickstarter (or another crowd funding website).

13. Hit the streets
Hit the streets is soemthing I tested during the Lean Startup Machine workshop. It is very efficient if you can find the right audience. Within half a day you may have feedback. I expect within a week (after you find the right audience) you can find the right solution for the problem you want to solve.

But we also tried this with a project where it seems to be the right way. Unfortunately we couldn’t find the right audience, so we are trying “Offline paper handouts in public places” (point 11) in combination with events (point 6).

14. Quora
I am not very experienced with Quora. Probably I will try in future but it has low priority.

Others
In my projects where I was looking for startups, I used websites like Angel.co and fs6.com. As I defined that I would like to solve technical challenges (problems) of startups, I am looking for startups that were looking for a technical co-founder. This works well, as the startups have a problem that I can solve. The only difference is that I can not solve it the way the startup sees their solution (which is a technical co-founder) but it gives very good feedback and relations that may be the first “customers”.

Summarized
Most important of all during customer discovery interviews (customer development) is to focus on the problem. The best is to forget your solution. It is probably not the solution you will offer and as soon as you start about your solution the customer discovery interview will only go about the solution. You will get an opinion about your solution but don’t get feedback about the problem as your customer experience it.

Second important is to find the right audience.

And talking delivers you better feedback then writing. And talking directly gives better feedback then via Skype or phone. It is not so strange because you have more interaction.

Further let your client talk and only guide the customer discovery interview the right direction. A good preparation will help.

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