how to run customer development interviews

Ten tips to run effective customer development interviews

how to run customer development interviews

Meeting with customers during the early stages of a new product definition provides an understanding of the underlying needs, opinions, and motivations behind their behaviour. It validates assumptions about the problems we are willing to solve and informs a value proposition. At the same time, we have the chance to develop ideas or hypotheses to be tested with a successive quantitative research.

Customer interviews help develop a deep understanding of the situation before deciding to take action. Having 40+ hours of interviews is not like sitting at a research agency de-brief reviewing a bunch of PowerPoint slides. I usually come back from the experience with real faces in my mind, people’s words surface to rescue me whenever I need insights to take a difficult decision.

However, as most of the valuable things in life, it’s not easy stuff. Interviews take a lot of practice, and at the end of the day we might feel exhausted. They don’t cost much money, but do require quite a lot of time to recruit the right people, to organise the agenda to accommodate them, and to run the actual sessions.

Here are ten tips I put together on how to run effective customer development interviews.
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online surveys for new product

Are online surveys really effective to inform a new product design?

online surveys for new product

Preparing an online survey may be the first thing that comes to mind to gather customer insights.
In fact it’s easy-peasy: join a free tool, brainstorm the most burning questions we have about the new product and share the survey on Facebook or LinkedIn hoping for a snowball effect. It all s
ounds like a brilliant idea.
However, there are at least three reasons why online surveys at a very early stage of a new product definition are more likely to produce harm than benefit, and might end up to provide incorrect information to guide us through the new product definition.
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Most startups fail because there is no market need for what they do

Why most startups fail and how to succeed?

startups Fail Because No Market Need

The hard truth of startups and new products is that at least 72% of all new products fail, causing damage to individuals’ savings, company’s cash flows and P&L, and affecting the morale of the team involved. The Silicon Valley Venture Capital Greylock Partners and the Venture Capital Database CB Insights analysed startups post-mortem earlier in 2017 and confirmed that user and customer demand is a north star for the success of a new business idea or a new product.
According to, the TOP1 startup mistake is “Building something nobody wants.

This all look like commons sense in fact. If there is no market need, whatever awesome product we will manage to put together and promote, we won’t sell it.
So the question is: how do we find out whether there is customer demand for a business idea, and how does the product need to be to satisfy that demand BEFORE investing big money

Eric Ries, author of “The Lean Startup” wrote something interesting about this: “startup success is not a consequence of good genes or being in the right place at the right time. Startup success can be engineered by following the right process, which means it can be learned, which means it can be taught.” 

So there is a recipe for success.
This is great because entrepreneurship has a magic power, it triggers positive energies and it leaves people with an irresistible willingness to start doing things.
However, all these positive energies can be very easily transformed into negative when they are not channelled in the correct direction.
And with negative I mean: having quit a day job, having spent most of our savings, having re-mortaged the house and ultimately having trouble explaining to our life partner, family and friends why we have done all of that and we haven’t been able to succeed. That’s awful.
Let’s follow the process then. Instead of jumping into build mode and start developing and hiring people immediately, these are the questions that we need to answer in order to build and launch a product customers need and for which there is market demand:

  • Which problem are we going to solve?
  • Who has the pain in our market?
  • Who are the early adopters?
  • What is the value proposition able to satisfy their needs?
  • How much are they willing to pay for it?
  • What is the minimum set of features required for launch?

The way to answer most of these questions is to engage with customers from the very early stage of the new product development, get to know them profoundly, create a value proposition based on the insights captured that relies on the company’s key strengths to create a competitive advantage customers care about, and test and iterate that proposition on the market until we reach product-market fit.

Most of this can be done before investing any substantial resource into the business, and that’s really the best thing about Lean methodology.
The most difficult thing is to resist from the instinct to jump into “build mode”, and invest some time to de-risk an idea before investing heavily in it.
Anyone is in love with their idea, and the last thing we want to know is that it’s not a good one. But the sooner we realise an idea is flawed (i.e. there is no market need for it) the better it is.
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