What Is a Solution Interview in Customer Development?

19 July 2022

Veronika Nedashkovskaya

Content Manager

There’s a joke that goes, “Before the idea is validated, your product team is just collectively hallucinating”. The customer-centric business methodologies have proved that even excellent ideas fail if people don’t need them.

If you’ve already found your niche, discovered the money-generating idea through problem interviews and created the first version of your future product, it's time to confirm if it really works by conducting solution interviews. Here’s what they are and why your project needs them.

A Few More Words About Customer Development

Customer development is a business methodology based on a principle that a business can and should be built around solving a potential customer’s problem or creating a value proposition that will somehow improve a potential customer’s life. 

To put it more simply, the entrepreneur first has to identify the customer’s problem or need and then solve or satisfy it, but not the other way around. As Steve Blank, the creator of customer development, said, “No plan survives first contact with customers”.

One of the most effective customer development tools is creating a minimum viable product (MVP)—the first functional version of a product with a minimal feature set yet sufficient to test the idea and market hypotheses. The underlying principle is to define the target audience through their pain points and collect the first feedback from real customers. This feedback becomes the basis for further development.

It’s All About the Customer

As the name suggests, this business (and product) development methodology revolves around the customer and their problem rather than an idea or unique functionality. Most often, customer development is contrasted with a product-oriented development strategy. The latter relies on the motto, “Let’s make a great service or application, and a buyer will appear”. And often, entrepreneurs get carried away by adding new complex features and ignore customers and their needs. That’s why businesses fail.

What Is a Solution Interview?

A customer development interview is an essential part of the methodology. It helps startups validate product hypotheses and ideas, learn what challenges consumers face and create a solution that satisfies customer needs.

The product discovery starts with problem interviews. They are used to identify a potential customer and non-obvious difficulties they face. Solving these problems provides a foundation for the first feature set. The problem interview’s goal is to understand how the customer thinks.

Solution interviews happen when a startup already has a prototype or an MVP. They allow the businesses to test if the resolution they found works for customers and how it can be improved. Problem and solution interviews are crucial phases of the process addressing different angles of customer development.

The Goal

Ideally, an MVP should help entrepreneurs create a working service that will primarily meet customer needs. However, the very idea behind the MVP may be wrong. In the early stages and until the product has fully entered the market, it can be easily missed. But once you start scaling your business, all mistakes of the initial concept will come out and lead to resources and money losses.

The main objective of solution interviews is to get feedback from customers. They are carried out when you already have something to show the customer—a prototype, an MVP or a product. It means you already have a way to fix the customer’s problem that you identified during the problem interviews.

Simply put, you focus the interviewees on the problem, describe and let them try the solution, understand weaknesses and get feedback. Now you can ask more direct questions that didn’t fit the problem interviews.

The results of a problem interview are not always easy to interpret as they rarely give a definite "yes or no" answer. Rob Fitzpatrick writes about this in his book The Mom Test. Meetings (or other types of research) should not be “just fine" (when you receive generic compliments). Neither should they leave a feeling that they went “so-so” (most likely because of understatement or wrong questions). Problem interviews reveal people’s experiences that you probably didn’t even think about and lead to additional reflection and discussion with the team.

If a problem interview hasn’t destroyed the idea but left a feeling of uncertainty and brought new thoughts about improvements, you should go for a more decisive study to prove the idea’s viability.

The Stages

In customer development, a typical solution interview usually has a script with three main stages.

  1. Problem. Reflect on the problem that was revealed in previous interviews.
  2. Proposal. Describe the solution, tell interviewees about it, present it or show it in any way. Find out its strengths and weaknesses but do not pitch.
  3. Agreement or sale. During the meeting, you can agree to sell your product or have further cooperation.

Solution Interview Questions

As mentioned above, a solution interview is a great way to ask your potential customers more direct questions to eliminate previous uncertainty.

Meeting Customer Expectations

  • How could this product solve your problem?
  • How useful can this solution be for you?
  • In what situations would you personally use this product?
  • What advantages and disadvantages do you see in this solution?
  • What are the weaknesses of the solution? What is it missing?
  • How would you tell your friend about this product?

Price, Value and Willingness-to-Buy Check

  • How much money do you lose because this problem is not solved?
  • Does the offered price match the benefit of purchasing the product?
  • What price will match the benefit you will receive from the solution?
  • Does your company have a budget for this?

Although payment is the best indicator of willingness to buy, the purchase is not yet your goal. You need people to invest money in you and your idea. Time is often more important than money. And if the product can prove its value, the money investment is already a purely technical issue.

If you ask a person if they’ll buy it when the MVP turns into a complete product, most people will lie saying “yes” just to avoid upsetting you or being in an awkward situation. You need to find ways to make people commit.

  • The best option is to sell right now: Are you ready to buy now?
  • If people are not ready to buy, ask what’s missing: What features do we need to add to get you to buy our product?
  • You can arrange further meetings when the product is ready: What is missing for you to buy the product immediately?
  • Ask for pre-payments, make a pre-order with a receipt and schedule another meeting (financial obligations).
  • Schedule another meeting (temporary commitment).
  • Ask to share information about your product on social media (reputational commitment).
  • Ask to send three private messages telling friends, colleagues or family about the product.

Pro-tip. Avoid any questions about the future—such questions embellish reality. However, you still can ask your target customers about the product’s basic functionality:

  • What minimum would be enough for you to buy it?
  • What should not be in the product? What will negatively affect your decision?

Do not try to sell (insist, convince or advertise) your product and be neutral. The goal is not to generate revenue (yet) but to confirm that people are ready to buy it (share information with their friends or do any other action) and verify if what you offer actually solves their problem.

Final Thoughts

Hypotheses of what should be in the product before launch are mostly wrong. Even the most genius idea in your head may turn out worthless. And polishing non-working ideas equals wasting money. Moreover, you don’t need a sophisticated app with a flashy design—you need to ensure it covers the customer's needs and solves their problems. In many cases, it can be a simple MVP with three screens to start selling it.

Problem and solution interviews are a brilliant way to find the product-market fit. While the former helps you identify the market need, the latter gives you the chance to finally confirm the product’s viability. There will be no “well, maybe yes” or “probably no” options. Everything is clear. Either someone needs your product, or you need to pivot and look for other hypotheses.

At Rocketech, we focus on long-term partnerships with startups from product discovery throughout all development stages. Besides the technical aspects, we also provide business consultancy and are always happy to share our expertise. Do you want to know more about customer development interviews? Contact us for more detail.

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