The Guide for Perfect Customer Development: How to Talk to Users

13 August 2021

Alexey Borisov

Co-Founder of Rocketech

This topic is massive to pack it up in just one simple post with whole details. So we will split into a cycle of topics where we will try to talk deeply about Custev and how to make it. This is the first material where we will talk about How to talk with users.

For the past 5 years, all over the industry, you have heard about the importance of Customer Development, design thinking, customer discovery, UX research, and [substitute yours]. Each expert insists on a specific methodology and positions it as a panacea for all product troubles and business failures.

All of the above methodologies are just special cases of the most important skill of any grocery person – the ability to talk with customers.

By and large, it doesn’t matter if you study your clients in strict accordance with the Design Thinking methodology, or start frantically inviting them for in-depth interviews for an hour and a half in the office. It is important that you basically communicate with your target audience.

No approach will give you instant results, but with constant and long-term use, any of them will lead to a paradigm shift in your attitude towards the product. Start communicating with customers and your product will transform.

The beauty of communicating with clients is that even if you go to clients with a specific question about functionality, usability, etc., you may not get an answer to it, but you will definitely get a lot of useful feedback, some of which you did not even know.

How to talk to customers? 

These are from the second video of the YCombinator 2019 startup school. Eric Migicovsky explains how to talk with customers.

  • In our (YC) experience, the founders of the best companies communicate directly with customers throughout the life of the company, without intermediaries. If you are a founder and a person has appeared in your startup to whom you can delegate communication with clients, postpone this moment as long as possible.
  • Typical interview mistakes are coolly synthesized in The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick
  1. Don’t share your ideas! Your job is to get the experience out of the client.
  2. Do not ask the questions: “If we make such a feature, will you use it?”, Instead, study the path that led the person to this problem and to the fact that he began to look for a solution to his problem
  3. Listen! And talk less! Your task is to extract as much information as possible in 20-40 minutes.

Top five questions of problem interviews 

  1. What was the hardest part when trying to deal with a problem? —This question will let you know which problems are really hurting people and which ones aren’t.
  2. Tell us about the last time you encountered this problem. — from this question you will learn the context. Also, stories are remembered 22 times better than facts, and you will better remember the stories of each individual respondent
  3. What was hard about that? — Asking this question over and over again about each problem, you will get to the bottom of the real motivation. And through the answers to this question, you will find out what exactly your product will be bought for, for getting rid of what specific pains.
  4. What did you do to deal with this problem? — If customers are not looking for a solution to their problem, they may not have a problem and you shouldn’t be making this product.
  5. What do you dislike about the solutions you’ve already tried?

Customer interviews are incredibly valuable in the three stages of a startup in the Pre-Product <> Market Fit stage.

  1. I have an idea? → we conduct problematic interviews and clarify what problem we are actually solving
  2. Have a prototype? → looking for an audience segment to launch on
  3. Launched? → iterate over and type the necessary features

Do you have an idea?

Where to find the first people to interview

  • Conduct first interviews with the co-founders and the team. Look for the very first clients among friends, friends of their friends.
  • Find these people in the real world and talk to them live. For example, a startup from the latest batch, YCombinator, is making a product for firefighters, and cold emails didn’t work at all. They drove to the fire stations and caught the firefighters for a 15-minute conversation, and they responded with pleasure!
  • At industrial events: conferences, meetups

Some hacks

  • Take notes! Lots of detailed notes. If you do not have time to write, ask a colleague/friend to write down
  • Start with a small number of interviews: the first 10 interviews will give you a LOT of valuable information.
  • Be careful about the time people are willing to give you. Try to get as much valuable information as possible from the first 10-15 minutes. It can take even one hour to talk. 

Have a prototype?

If you select the wrong clients for your tests, you may be framing yourself with the wrong feedback. Try to find ideal clients for prototype testing — add questions about numbers:

  • How much does it cost you to solve this problem? — how much money is burned out or the client can earn if he solves this problem.
  • How often does a customer face a problem? — Problems that a customer faces often tend to hurt a lot and customers are looking for solutions and may be willing to convert to your product. If customers, who often face this problem, do not start using your product, this is a strong signal that you have screwed up somewhere.
  • How big is the budget for solving this problem? – for b2b-specialists, only those who manage the budget can answer this question.

Ideal customers for your prototype often face a problem: they have the budget or the credibility to buy your solution and it hurts: they can make money with your product or save money.

Iterate towards Product <> Market Fit

Eric strongly advises reading the article how Superhuman searched for Product <> Market Fit.

The material about how the Superhuman product-market fit searched by-polls

As a survey (and subsequent segmentation) to find out if your product has Product <> Market Fit by Sean Ellis — the founder of, the person raised Dropbox and Eventbrite at their launch.

Some hacks

  • Take the phone from customers at registration so that you can call them at the right time
  • Don’t make features from support. Take money for non-existent features.
  • Never mind positive feedback. This information will not give you information from which you can make decisions.
  • Avoid bad data, because it will guide you to the wrong features

Main material output

It is necessary to constantly work with the end-user and collect feedback from him and make high-level decisions based on this from in-depth interviews and not only. We remember that we have a startup and we need to save money, that is, we do not make features that no one needs.

Read the next series of the guide:

Customer Obsession

Creating knowledge through hypothesis testing

Problem interview checklist


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