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Customer Discovery: Do You Pitch, Use a List of Questions, or Follow a Script?

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In an earlier blog post, we covered the five major elements of a Customer Discovery Conversation Plan. One of the elements was a Conversation Script. Our clients tell us this script has more value than they ever imagined prior to creating and using one.

What exactly is a “script” and why is it needed? Isn’t a simple list of questions sufficient? Briefly, our version of a customer conversation script for concept validation has:

  1. A framework of topic areas and their planned order in the conversation
  2. Statements to set the context, for discussion, and to transition between topic areas
  3. A list of specific questions to be asked under each topic

Sure, you could just make a list of questions but here are three reasons why you should consider creating a script:

  1. The context you set, the order in which you explore topics, and the way you ask questions can make a huge difference in the relevance and quality of information collected
  2. This approach is more likely to foster a true conversation, rather than a transactional Q&A exchange, and one that could become the first of many conversations with that individual
  3. Conversations easily go in directions never imagined. Suddenly your time is up and call goals have not been met. A script containing a framework or roadmap makes it easier to keep your goals in mind.

So for this post, let’s focus on the starting point – a general-purpose framework you can adapt for conversations based on the evidence you need to collect from each target persona. For each persona and set of conversation goals, develop a targeted script by keeping the topic sequence but removing non-relevant topic areas, adding/deleting/altering the number and type of questions in each area, and updating how you transition from one topic to the next.

For example, when talking with end-users about simulation-based training you’re more likely to focus on their priorities and problems: how they do things now (simulators being used), and what capabilities deliver value for them. And when talking with department heads (budget owners) about the same subject, the focus will be on their priorities and problems: how they do things now (how simulation-based training fits within the curriculum), and how they fund and buy these types of things.

With that in mind, here’s a master framework you can adapt to your own needs:

1. Conversation Expectations

At the outset, you want to take a minute or two (literally) to set up the conversation for success. You want to demonstrate professionalism, establish credibility, and show respect for their time. This section is primarily statement-based where you:

  • Introduce participants on your end and their role in the call (conversation leader, notetaker, observer, etc.)
  • Restate the reasons and objectives for the call to reinforce prior communications leading to this moment
  • Tell the customer what to expect during the call (you’ll make statements, ask a series of questions, etc.) and how their feedback will be used
  • Confirm the available time

2. Customer Profile

In this section, you ask questions to understand the scope of their role and responsibilities, about their team – its size and structure, how long they’ve been in that position and/or the industry, etc.

Your goal is to understand the basis of each person’s perspective and what might be shaping their feedback. Equally important, you want to be able to identify common characteristics about them and their organizations for creating segment profiles when looking across all conversations for patterns or trends. Additionally, this information informs a more granular Ideal Customer Profile.

3. Problem Importance & Change Motivation

Next, start collecting the evidence needed to answer the critical questions driving your conversation plan. We like to start with validating whether the problem you’re trying to solve exists in their mind and where it fits relative to your customers’ perceived priorities, problems, and their urgency to solve the problem.

You want to know:

  • The order of magnitude of this issue; is it a 5-out-of-5 burning issue or a 1-out-of-5 nice-to-have?
  • How they measure the impact of this problem being solved or not being solved; the KPI or performance metrics impacted
  • Whether solutions to problems like this get funded

4. Current State

Once you know how your target problem fits in their world, it’s natural to shift the conversation to how they do things today, dig a bit deeper into how the problem manifests itself, and what current plans or projects exist to solve the problem.

In this section, you uncover critical information such as:

  • Existing tools, systems, and processes
  • Competitive options with associated strengths and weaknesses
  • Current economic impact if not covered earlier
  • Solution compatibility considerations
  • Change management challenges
  • General background for interpreting responses in the next topic area

5. Solution Value Drivers & Differentiators

Now with an understanding of the problem from their perspective, how things are being done today, and what’s being considered for the future, the conversation easily shifts to getting feedback on your proposed solution.

This part of the conversation is about getting their thoughts on each major capability that makes up your solution. Does each capability have value, how much value, how is that value measured, and which capabilities are more important than others? You want to know the “why” behind their answers and dig into what they believe to be meaningfully different and better than other available options.

6. Future State.

After receiving feedback and creating an understanding of your proposed solution, it’s time to probe a bit more on its relevance and overall value by assuming your solution – plus their view of the ideal solution – has been implemented. You want to further uncover the impact on their business, objectives, and goals.

7. Buying Process

After validating the target problem and proposed solution, it is critical to gain an understanding of how customers buy. What triggers the buying process, who are all the stakeholders, what decision-making steps do they go through, where does funding come from, how does that process work, and how long does it typically take going from “need identified” to “purchase order”?

You may have the best product ever but there could be systemic barriers to it being bought that must be uncovered. At the very least, you need this information to develop a repeatable sales process and set expectations with investors.

8. Closure & Next Steps

A few minutes before the conversation needs to be wrapped up, shift into closure mode. Someone has just spent their valuable time with you. Make the most of the opportunity by showing your appreciation and adding a few final questions.

Show appreciation by telling them how much you enjoyed the conversation (assuming this is true) and thanking them for their time. You should also note a few points that were especially helpful or informative that highlight the value of their contribution.

The “asks” part is simple and embedded in three key questions we like to include with almost all customer conversations:

  1. Do you have any other thoughts or ideas that might be helpful for us?
  2. Who else would you suggest we talk with to validate/get feedback on this idea?
  3. Do you mind if I come back to you later for a follow-up discussion?

As mentioned above, this is a master framework that can be adapted as needed for a wide range of discovery conversations. Concept validation involves several iterative stages talking to various stakeholder personas with different knowledge domains. In some conversations, your focus will be problem/solution validation, in others the buying process, and in many cases, it will be a blend of topics intentionally covered in different levels of detail.

In all of these scenarios, by having the topic flow in mind throughout the conversation you will be able to better navigate unpredictable conversations. And when compared to a transactional Q&A exchange, you’ll obtain higher quality information and are more likely to initiate a relationship that could lead to them becoming a future customer.

We hope you found this blog useful and invite you to contact us at the Evidology Group. We would be happy to send you our script template and help you validate your product or services concept.

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