How To Create Products Customers Want

Customer Discovery Process

Before I spend money on developing my mobile application I’ve been advised to find out what customers want. Reading various business articles many advisors believe this is a crucial first step.  

Customer Development is defined by Steve Blank as: 

  1. In an existing market, Customer Development means not only understanding potential customers, but your competitors in detail – their product features, their sales channels, their demand creation strategy, their business model, etc. 
  2. In an existing market, Customer Development means understanding whether your hypothesis of why customers will buy match reality. 
  3. In an existing market directly compare your product against the incumbent and specifically describe the problems you solve and why Company x’s products do not.

Source: Steve Blank

I set out to find out if my experience of grocery shopping was similar to other experiences. What I discovered was both surprising and insightful.  

Here’s my initial experience with the customer discovery process. How I found customers to interview, and my process for sending a cold email requesting a brief informational chat.

Preplanning

Your first step is to connect with twenty to thirty (per social media platform) potential customers, influencers, and or related industry professionals.

Social Media

Connect with industry insiders as early as possible. Eventually, you will need to send a cold email request asking for a brief 10 – 15 minutes informational chat. I found that Linkedin, Facebook, and surprisingly Instagram were my best options. If you’ve downloaded the apps for the last two you can connect via social media, and also use their calling feature.   

Forums & Online Communities

This is an outreach I can’t recommend because I didn’t have a great experience connecting with insiders. I found that posting a topic asking for an interview for research studies didn’t generate any results. Instead, it seemed like it was a big waste of time; writing the discussion, daily checking the results followed by deleting/closing the discussion. 

However, every entrepreneur has different experiences so I want to include these communities as possible connections as well.  

Forum Tips: 

  1. Join the forum/community as soon as possible, so that you’re connected with groups before you ask for help. 
  2. Read forum rules and regulations so that you’re aware of posting dates, and information needed to share a topic.
  3. If possible use relevant #hashtags to reach as many people in the community as possible.

The next steps involve getting away from your computer and attending events where your community meets. I did a quick Google search for business and health events in my city and found several possibilities.    

Talking To Strangers

A step out of my comfort zone included speaking to random strangers while grocery shopping. I figured it was a great way to multitask while picking up a few items of groceries I could ask people if they suffered from food allergies. I found that people were more than willing to talk while they waited in line for their deli meat, buying prepared food or in the grocery line.  

Also, I would look for products in shoppers carts such as alternatives to milk, peanut butter, etc. which increased my chances of them having a food intolerance or allergy. I had to slightly overcome (I’m still a work in progress) the real embarrassment of starting up a conversation with a stranger. It’s one thing to randomly greet someone as you pass by it’s a whole other thing to ask someone about their health and food preferences. 

Trade Shows & Conferences

Meet industry retailers, safety inspectors, manufacturers, and more at various trade shows and conferences. It’s a great place to gain insights into what commercial corporations focus on their products and customer base. *Tip: Prepare your list of possible interviewees ahead by researching panel guest(s) and moderator host.

Family Network

During the early stages of my customer discovery process, this was by far the best resource. After sending text messages or calling I was surprised how I was able to schedule interviews with their help. I’m the first person in my family trying to start their own business so there hasn’t been a lot I could ask for help with, but when I did need help they were able to rise to the occasion.

Family Pre-planning Tips:

  1. Plan on briefly explaining why you want to connect.
  2. Create a brief one to two sentences of a description of who you want to connect with.
  3. Give multiple options of reaching out to you via phone, email, mobile apps, etc.

Interviews

Email Format

What I learned begins with a subject line that provides the reason, states you don’t want any money, and is for an unpublished research project.  

Within the body of the email, I found short and sweet provided the best results. I included no more than three paragraphs. In the first paragraph, I used a one-sentence intro, the reason for contacting and what I planned on doing with the information obtained. Next, I provided my contact information, and how long I needed to speak with the individual, and a link explaining more information about the grant. Lastly, I concluded the email with a friendly message regarding my request.  

This format provided the best results with a simple response, even if sometimes the response was no thank you.

Email Surprises:

  1. Consultants requested fees even for a 10-15 minute conversation.
  2. Many potential customers and professional resources said no, with a reference to their schedule, but did not’ give a better date for a follow-up. I learned it’s a polite way to say no thank you.  

Follow-up

The follow-up responding to an email was the biggest surprise for my initial customer outreach. I didn’t factor in the time it takes to communicate with someone let alone factor in the time zone differences. Add extra time to your schedule to set up the interview, and write down helpful insights after your call has concluded.   

Reminders/Thank You Email

I used this to not only thank the person for his/her time but also to make sure that I included that I would like to stay in contact to keep them updated on my mobile application progress.

Thank You Email Tips:

  1. Keep it short, three paragraphs.
  2. Use signature with blog link included is another way for the interviewee to keep in touch with your progress.

What I Learned

It does get easier. The first interview was the hardest I didn’t know if I was doing the interview correct and I was really worried about talking too much and not listening. By the time I had spoken to the 15th person I was much more relaxed and I didn’t need as much prep work before the interview. I can’t wait to look back at my progress after I’ve spoken to the 100th person.

I learned technical terms for mobile application features, but most people don’t know the correct word for their problem, but they can describe it to you, and if you listen you can understand where their issues lie. I still need to work on not being influenced by what I want to hear to validate my idea, but listening to what each person issues are with dealing with their allergies.  

Lastly, I am a work in progress for learning patience with starting a business and requesting people’s assistance. The back and forth messages, and last-minute scheduling conflicts are changes that I realized I need to work on accepting and become more like Gumby and roll with the punches.

Continue Reading:

Twelve Tips For E-commerce Startups

Digital Marketing: Small Business Strategy​

Starting A Business In Korea

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