Customer Knowledge, Personas & Interviews
We are coming to one of the most important parts of starting a business. Once you know why you are creating your business (problem), what you are creating (solution), for whom you are creating it (target customers), why customers should use it (value proposition), and how customers pay (revenue model), let's get to know our customers deeply and validate some of those assumptions through interviews.
What are Customer Knowledge and Personas?
Customer Knowledge includes everything you learn about your Target Customers. At this stage, you can do that through:
Check out Framework: Customer Knowledge for more information.
Customer Personas help to structure these learnings. Customer personas are semi-fictional representations of your ideal clients. A customer persona covers the characteristics of the ideal customer (demographic, geographic, behavioral and psychographic) but in more details than what we've done previously and based on the the research from this article. Framework: Persona covers what kind of information you want to know about your customer segments. You can get familiar with it here:
These four methodologies: desktop research, observations, interviews and focus groups are not mutually exclusive. In fact, you should be using several of them. Desktop research is an absolute must combined with one or two other methods of your choice. But only desktop research is not enough.
Why are Customer Knowledge and Personas important?
Learning about the customers and deeply understanding them is extremely important for several reasons:
1. Cheaply validate or disprove an existing problem: Instead of investing time and money directly into the solution, find out first whether your solution solves a customer need
2. Problem solution fit: as Albert Einstein once said:
"If I had an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solution".
The better you know your customers' problems and pain points, the better you can formulate a creative and needed solution
3. Marketing & Communication: it allows you to create better marketing and communication strategies and spend less money.
Customer personas, on the other hand, are simply frameworks to structure thoughts, research and insights and create profiles to be used later.
How to do Desktop Research?
With doing research online, you want to look at multiple things:
Available reports about customer behavior/trends, surveys previously done by researchers and statistics
Additionally, check out forums, blogs, comments on social media to see what people are asking, what they discuss about your topics and what problems they are mentioning.
Finally, it's insightful to check what people are searching for on search engines. One tool to use is the Answer The Public. This website classifies the most searched thing according to designated topics.
Structure your findings and put them together in one place. Based on your research, you might be able to already adapt your Target Customer groups. For each of your target groups, start creating a Persona profile (Framework: Persona) based on your research and your assumptions.
How to do Observations, Customer Interviews and Focus Groups?
Observations are not always possible but definitely the best way to learn about your customer. You can gain much insights by observing how the customer goes through the process of solving a problem and how he uses a solution. For example, if you were to build a company similar to Uber, you could spend a few days riding with drivers to observe how they behave as well as how the passengers do.
Interviews & Focus Groups
Interviews are simply face-to-face discussions with target customers in which you ask open-ended questions for discovery purposes. You can do the same in group settings (focus groups) with 3-10 participants. But if you choose focus groups make sure to make several of those (3-5).
Let's look at the process of Observations, Interviews and Focus Groups. The process can be separate into 5 steps.
The Lean Methodology recommends to approach building startups like experiments. Therefore, before starting to execute, formulate your concrete hypotheses with the help of Startegyzer's Testing and Learning cards Framework: Learning Cards.
With your defined Target Groups, you already know who you want to invite for observations, interviews and focus groups. You just need to think about where to find them. In the persona profiles, there are 3 important sections for this part:
Interaction: Where (online & offline) does the persona interact?
Information: Where does the persona search for information when they search for something relating to the topic?
Communication: What is your persona's preferred way of communication?
Based on this information, identify exactly where you will find participants for your discussions with the customers. Here are some ideas:
Family, Friends and friends who know friends => select the people
Contacting "random" people on LinkedIn => select the people
Online social media groups of like-minded people => identify specific groups
Offline associations, clubs, forums local gatherings, etc. => identify specific groups
Organize an event
"Get out of the building" and ask random people. Here, you have to find a place where your target customers hang out. For example, people who have pets go to specialty shops for pets, you can just stand in front of that shop and ask to talk to customers.
Be creative here, there are so many ways to quickly and cheaply get in touch with specific people! The better you have defined your segments, in Part 1, Block 3, the easier it will be to find places online & offline where you can catch them.
Put together a list of groups or individuals with their contact (Framework: List of Contacts) details and draft a message or personally ask them for an interview or an observation.
You can find some tips to "ask them out" (for an interview, of course) in Framework: Invitation.
At Creidea, we particularly like this framework from "The Mom Test" by Rob Fitzpatrick because the approach is humble, honest and doesn't mention the idea. You'll be surprised how many people are willing to help! We've personally tested it and it worked!
Now, based on what you've identified in the Learning Cards, formulate 3-5 questions you'd like to ask them (you can use the questions from the Framework: Persona or come up with your own questions ).
Watch out for the rules of asking the right questions (Framework: 5 Question Rules)!
The main idea is to NEVER ASK WHETHER YOUR IDEA IS GOOD because they will lie to you anyway (Check out the book The Mom Test for more information on how to ask the right questions) or the video below when he summarizes his points.
Conduct the observations, interviews and focus groups and make notes!
Make sure to add a "Call to action". A call to action is a "request" designed to trigger an action or response. Typically, it is the "Leave your email to be the first one to know" in the end of a survey. However, with observations, interviews and focus groups it's a bit trickier, so you'll need to be creative. You could ask your interviewee to refer you to another person to interview, for example. A call to action is important because it shows interest and commitment more than just saying "yes, I'm interested", "I like it" as most people would do it anyway. That's why an interviewee agreeing to perform a certain action, in the best way to confirm their interest.
5. Analyze & Summarize
During each observation or interview, document all your findings.
After each observation or interview:
Make sure to share your findings with the whole team
Update the Framework: Persona for each type of Target Customers. Along the way, you might find new Targets or exclude existing ones.
Review questions you want to ask the next participants (you can change those)
Fill in the results for the Framework: Learning cards
You've now talked to a few potential customers and learned quite a new deal of information. Based on these learnings, go back to your Problem, Target Customer, Solution, Value proposition, Summary and Revenue model to make adjustments.
Maybe your Basics & Business Model stay the same but maybe, you've now completely pivoted! A pivot is simply a change in one or multiple parts of your basics and business model (problem, target customer, solution, value proposition or revenue model). If you do, this is a very positive thing! It means that instead of building something no one would buy, you already pivoted at the beginning without wasting time and money!
We'd love to know how your experience with customer interviews was and whether your pivoted in the comments below.
Supporting Tools & Additional Resources
What people are asking about on Google: Answer the Public
Book: The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, by Eric Ries
Innovation tools: Strategyzer
By the way, you might not be busy all the time with this part since you'll be waiting on the interviewees. If that's the case, then move on to do Market Analysis at the same time!