Steve Blank makes a set of simple but critical points in his recent Udacity video about the importance of getting out of the building and talking to customers. As we work with companies of all sizes and maturities at SeriesC, we often field questions about how to get this done, or see leaders who appreciate the need to talk to customers but aren't sure how to start.
There is an art to talking to potential and current customers. The first step is to ask yourself the right questions to find out the who, what, when, where, why, and how of getting the information you need. Here is how to get that discussion started.
What? – What is it that you want to learn? This may seem obvious but dive a little deeper. Start by setting a hypothesis. Just like any other study using the scientific method, a hypothesis is necessary to help frame questions and determine the direction research needs to go.
Next, create goals for the study. This should be a list of facts that you would like to know – or, perhaps, things you think you know but would like to validate with outsiders who do know. Like any other goals you have set in the past they need to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-based). For example, a goal for a company trying to understand poor reviews in the app store might be to learn which features have been mentioned most frequently in negative reviews in the last 6 months. A goal for a large company trying to bring a new line of business to market may be to validate its hypotheses on what its best customers would most likely embrace in new service offerings.
Who? - Who knows the information you are seeking? Do you need to talk to current customers, potential customers, lost customers, or industry experts? Maybe a mix of all four? Your hypothesis and goals should inform this. You should already have a clue as to who might have answers to your questions about your business. You may find out this clue is wrong once you start talking to people, but your best guess is the right place to start.
There is a big WHO and a small who. The big WHO is your hypothesized target group. The small who is the target sampling of a few who will give you a good representative perspective without breaking the bank on time and resources. The internet has many great tools for helping to select the right size and type of sample to answer your research questions. Or, you could just make some informed gut decisions: Choose a sampling of ten people, aiming for a mix of prospects and customers, segments, or other demographics that matter to you.
How? - How should you talk to your target group? Basic data collection techniques include casual conversation, surveys, experiments, secondary data or research, observation, focus groups and in-depth interviews. In picking the right type of data think backwards from what you want to know. In what form would this information be easiest and most actionable? How important is recording and sharing the feedback within your organization? Would the feedback be more objective if you had a neutral third-party do the interviewing, or are you likely to get better results if you take this person out for coffee in person? Combine the answers with knowledge your target group and you will arrive at how to best collect your data. Don’t become paralyzed if this all seems to difficult to implement. Even a casual conversation can be fruitful. If you’re stuck, just pick up the phone and invite someone to lunch.
Where? - Where is closely related with how. Begin by thinking about where to talk to your target group. Is it easier to reach them through an email survey, at your next client quarterly review, or directly at a retail location? Where are they most likely to give you honest answers and where are they most likely to give you useful answers? The answer might be the same place, but it also might not. Remember to return to your goals when making the decision about the best way to reach your customers.
When? - Set a calendar for your data or information gathering. Plan out how long you expect each step to take and stick to it. Research can be daunting. Having a schedule will help you stay on track. As part of this schedule make sure not to overlook your data collection times. For example, when talking to customers at a retail location try different times of day. By only talking to them during only one window you may be missing out on potential facts that are time specific such as wait times during the lunch-rush or the difference in customers during the week and on weekends. If your customers are enterprise leaders, be respectful of time commitments. Be on time, and take no longer than the time you promised to take.
Why? - To be blunt, you don’t know it all. You never will. And just when you think you do know it all, rest assured that the market will change, and throw what you know back into question. Your best assumptions are only assumptions until they are validated by the people who matter most – the people who are buying what you exist to sell them. So start with smaller questions. Why did I collect this information in the first place? How can it benefit my organization? How can use what I now know to change my strategy to appeal to the right target market?
Hopefully these questions can guide your next marketing research project, whether it’s a simple brave trip out of the building or a full-blown objective study. Need help? Leave us a comment or contact our consultant team.