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7 tips for customer development interviews

We’ve been knee-deep in customer development interviews over the past week, and thought we’d share some of the things that we learned about the actual process of interviewing your customers.

Disclaimer: We don’t claim to be experts at customer development. We do claim that learning from others’ experience is critical to getting better.

Tip #1: Expect people to be early (like, really early)

It’s obvious that your interviewees may be late or not even show up (life happens), but don’t forget people may show up 20 minutes early. If you aren’t ready, or at least prepared to have them greeted and asked to wait, you’ll look foolish.

Tip #2: Confirm the day before

Your visitors don’t want to flake, and you don’t want to lose a single opportunity to interview a potential customer. A simple confirmation email the day before the interview will do wonders. This is something we didn’t do consistently enough.

Tip #3: Limit interview to about 30 minutes (but leave room on for another 30)

Don’t force your most loyal potential-customers to sit through a grueling hour long session that they come out of feeling completely drained. You want them to leave with a good feeling about you and your product (see tip #4). Treat their time with respect by being organized, removing anything that isn’t totally necessary from your set of questions, and adjusting the interview based on your sense of the interviewee’s energy level. However, make sure you leave enough room at the end of the interview to continue the conversation and dive deeper, if you sense a good connection.

Tip #4: The interview is also a sales opportunity

Don’t forget that your interviewee is also evaluating you and your product in the course of the interview. They will form opinions about your product and its future based on your questions. They will form opinions about the health of your company based on your energy level and your ability to inspire. If you at all care about having the people you bring in as future customers/users, make sure to take advantage of the face time to “sell” (in moderation). Do your best to have your visitors leave with a positive feeling about your company. Note: This applies to job interviews as well.

Tip #5: You’ll need stamina

You don’t want your last interviewee to come away thinking you have no energy, or that you don’t care what they think. Unfortunately, by the time you get around to the last interview, you are often mentally exhausted and physically tired. Knowing that your last interview is just as important as your first, make sure you space out your interviews (no more than six in a day), that you nourish yourself sustainably throughout the day/week, and that you catch your energy dropping before your potential customers do.

Tip #6: Write conclusions immediately after each interview, and meta conclusions at the end of each day

You don’t want to end the interview process with a bunch of scribbles and unstructured notes. You’ll dread the most important part of the process (the analysis and lessons learned), and you’ll gloss over some key information. Immediately after each interview, list out the things that you want to take away from that interview (knowing that you can always go back to the detailed notes if you need more information or if you find a different trend developing). What we also found useful was gathering a meta-conclusion at the end of each day, allowing us to start with a highly focused set of data at the end of the process.

Tip #7: Best part of the process may be meeting some really great people

Something we didn’t foresee coming out of this process is the amazing people we’d meet in the course of the week. There’s something unique about the people that are willing to set time aside and trek to your office for a random set of questions about a product they barely know about for someone they’ve never met. We’re exited about all of the new friends we’ve made, and are extremely grateful to everyone that came in.

Bonus Tip: Have donuts

Self explanatory.

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