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Customer Discovery means talking to customers. Do you have a plan?

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In a prior post, we looked at what makes a good Value-Positioning Statement where we suggested using this classic template in a powerful new way – using it to guide a more rigorous thought process and as a starting point for customer discovery.

By taking this approach you can articulate a hypothesis to be validated, as well as create a living document for internal alignment, product and go-to-market planning, and investor pitches.

Ok, so let’s skip ahead. Now that you have a solid Value-Positioning Statement that describes your business concept, it’s ready to be tested. What’s next? It’s time to have customer discovery conversations with stakeholders in your target market.

Before reaching out, however, it’s important to have a call plan. What answers do you need? How are you going to ask them? How are you going to put the “customer” at ease, get them open up to you, and have a meaningful conversation, not just a transactional question/answer session?

Sure, conversations rarely go as planned. It’s impossible to know in advance what direction it might go. BUT, if you want to increase the odds of gaining critical insights, collect valuable evidence, and establish a connection for what could become a future customer, there’s a systematic approach you can take.

Here are four major elements that should be included in each Conversation Plan. They are:

1) Key Questions to be Answered – What are the 3 to 5 highest priority questions that need to be answered? What are the fundamental unknowns that are critical to your Value-Positioning hypotheses? Be sure to make the distinction between what answers are needed and what/how questions are asked to obtain the answers (creating those questions comes later in the Conversation Script).

2) Target Personas – Who can likely answer those questions? Who are the primary personas to contact? Identifying those personas and getting their agreement for a call or meeting can be tricky, so for more guidance have a look at these two posts:

Who/Where/How Do you Recruit for Customer Calls?
and How do you ask someone you don’t know for a “Discovery Conversation”?

3) Conversation Script – This is the heart of the plan. Each conversation must be tailored to the questions you need answered, the domain knowledge of the persona being targeted, and how much time is available for the conversation.

You need to consider things like:

  • How are you going to frame the conversation?
  • What questions are you going to ask and in what sequence?
  • How will you phrase questions without injecting your views?
  • How will you cover everything in the available time?
  • How are you going to make this an open and flowing conversation?

In concept validation discussions, we like using a “challenge statement” approach. In this scenario, you make a statement about the problem or the proposed solution. That statement may be slightly provocative to elicit a response but not to the extent to potentially impact your credibility.

An example challenge statement would be: “The process of scheduling meetings with people in other organizations wastes my time, is a significant source of frustration and must be improved.”

Once that statement is put forth, the stage is set to obtain an initial reaction. First ask for their immediate thoughts from which you can ask probing questions to peel back the layers. Your goal is to see the world through their eyes and specifically as it pertains to the answers you need.

There is both an art and a science to developing a good conversation script so ask your company advisors for assistance if they have experience in this area or feel to contact us at the Evidology Group for a copy of our detailed Conversation Planning Guide.

4) Logistics – Every good plan has well thought out logistics to ensure your call goes smoothly and objectives are achieved. Who will be on the call from your team and what are their roles? Are they leading the call, assisting, taking notes, or just observers? What is the exact timing for everyone gathering on the call (don’t be late!), exactly how long is the “customer” available, and if using web/video conferencing, what’s the plan for dealing with technical issues?

While working on your plan here are a few other important things to keep in mind:

1) Be flexible – Having a plan doesn’t mean being rigid. As mentioned above, conversations rarely go as planned. Think of having a plan as giving yourself a framework: a clear understanding of the questions that need to be answered, the preferred order you wish to progress through the conversation, and a set of specific questions. Having this framework in mind you can more easily adapt as the conversation unfolds.

2) Do a post-call debrief – Get back together with the participants from your team right after the conversation while it’s still fresh in everyone’s minds. At a minimum, discuss the following questions:

  • What were the key learnings and their significance?
  • Were there any missed opportunities for learning?
  • What adjustments, if any, are needed for future conversation?

3) Constantly iterate – Employ a highly iterative process. With each conversation, the Key Questions List and Conversation Script will evolve based on learnings, the need to cover different topics in various degrees of detail, for different Target Personas, and of course tailoring for each individual person.

I hope you found this blog useful and invite you to contact the Evidology Group. We would be happy to provide a copy of our detailed Conversation Planning Guide with instructions for creating a Conversation Script, best practice tips, and other practical information.

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