Prototype Challenge: Getting Outside the Building

Once you’ve completed a few split tests (and don’t kid yourself, you’re never really done with them), it really pays – as in dollar bills – to talk to real, live human beings – preferably ones who have dollars bills and are ready to spend them.

Yes, you need to talk to your customers.

Before they become customers.

To do this, we’re going to borrow & tweak a qualitative research technique called The Long Interview (via John Mullins). The goal of the long interview is to present an idea to a potential customer to see what s/he might do with it. It’s less Do you like? and Would you buy? and more What do you think? and How would you use?

In other words, this is an exercise in eliminating your own biases from the prototype product you’ve created.

As Steve Blank would say, you need to get out of the building. Yours that is.

It’s altogether too easy to create a product for the reality that we live in instead of the reality our customers live in. You may have started this prototype challenge by putting yourself in your customers shoes but you need to put those shoes on again & again throughout the process of testing & refinement.

This is also an exercise in gathering the information you need to exceed the expectations of your customers.

If customers already know they need what you plan to offer, they’ve probably already told someone about it, including your competitors.
— John Mullins, The New Business Road Test

As you continue to develop your prototype beyond the minimum viable product stage, you will need to synthesize customer feedback into innovative ideas that meet your customers needs in ways they haven’t yet imagined. It sounds like a tall order but, with careful information gathering & a little practice, you’ll soon have the hang of it.

Create products that people aren’t asking for but that they desperately want.

Back to the long interview.

First, I’ll be honest here. I tend to do this kind of information gathering informally: at a conference, over coffee, on a random Skype call. I even work the principles of this technique into surveys, tweets, and Facebook updates. Once you understand what you’re trying to accomplish, you can find opportunities for “market research” everywhere — without having to do market research.

2 Guiding Principles

  1. Remove your own bias. This means not being too excited about your own idea. It also means not asking leading questions or supplying language that affects the answer your customer is trying to give you. Your job is to approach your prototype, questions, and responses as cooly & objectively as possible.
  2. Concentrate on your customer’s experience. You want to know what your customer does, says, thinks, and feels. You want to know how her day unfolds, what barriers stand in the way of achieving her goals, what small inconveniences annoy the heck out of her.

Regardless of the format of your “interview” make sure your questions follow these two guidelines.

Step 1

Consider what you’re trying to accomplish with this product. Are you aiming to help people make personal change easier? organize their finances? feel beautiful everyday? run faster? eat better?

Great, so you want to know more about their experiences around this subject. Let’s take “organizing personal finances.” So you might start by saying, “Tell me about the last time you tried to organize your personal finances.”

Note: no personal bias, completely focused on the customer’s experience.

Then you might go further: What have you found frustrating about organizing your finances? What’s kept you from sticking to your plan? What would be the benefits to you in having your personal finances organized? What else might be easier to organize or adjust if you got your finances in order?

The goal of Step 1 is to have a clear & deep understanding of your customer’s personal experience around the topic you’re working with. This can give you the basis of your marketing, a new perspective on the prototype itself, or just a new way to talk to your customers.

Step 2

Show them the prototype. Or have them read the sales page. Or let them see the mockup. In whatever way you can, expose them to the product or service you’ve started to create.

Note: don’t forget to eliminate your personal biases and concentrate on their experience.

Once they’ve had a minute or two to digest what you’ve presented to them, ask for their reaction. What do you think?

Start as broadly as possible (remembering not to lead) and observe their reactions. Sure, some of those reactions will be verbal and you can record those. But what about tone, body language, careful thought, hedging?

Then, move on to asking about particular scenarios: What if you lost your job? What if you changed banks? What if you received a financial windfall? Asking your customer to give their reaction to your product in a number of scenarios can force both her and you to think outside their usual reaction to such products.

The goal of Step 2 is to get as honest a reaction to your product as possible. You really want to know what people think, what else they might like, how this product fits into their day to day lives, and what they hate about it.

Who should you talk to?

Find people who you can talk to about your prototype who are as close to the ideal customer you’ve envisioned as possible. Don’t worry about talking to a wide range of people – that will only give you a wide range of useless results!

Also, don’t talk to friends. But talking to friends of friends are great. Ask people you know well if they know anyone who fits the profile of your ideal customer. You could end up meeting some new friends and do some shockingly good research at the same time.

Now, get out there and start researching!

Download the Day 4 worksheet here.

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