What Do Customers Want? Tips for Effective Market Validation Interviews

Product development through customer feedback

There’s no better way, in fact, there’s no other way, to validate your great idea for a new business than to talk with customers.

If your goal is to create a product or service that customers will buy, it’s never too early to start conversations that help you better understand their pain points, their existing solutions, and how they perceive and talk about the problems they have. When you solve a problem for your customers, you are developing your product for long term success.

Every customer has problems they want to solve. Either something is costing them too much money or taking too much time. Maybe they need new features to protect or regain market share, or perhaps they have identified an exciting new revenue opportunity but can’t quite reach the market.

If you do customer interviews the right way, you will gather valuable information that will help you create the right survey questions to drill further down on feature sets and product design—or you’ll quickly learn that your great idea wasn’t so great all.

Gather initial customer input to create more detailed product surveys using these three tips and two tools as part of your product development process:

  1. Accept that interview information by its very nature is qualitative and unstructured. Keeping the discussion informal and comfortable for the customer encourages them to talk; an invitation to coffee is an ideal way to start. However, don’t lose sight of your goal. You are there to collect as much information as possible about customers’ problems; once the person across the table starts talking, take lots of notes. Having a note-taking template and a few questions ready in advance helps keep things on track.
  2. Find the story in the data. Taken together, you can develop a good picture of the challenges and opportunities of a market. Look for trends around demographics, behavior, or functional responsibilities.
  3. Ask honest questions. You are looking for the truth, not the answers you might hope to hear. Keep your questions open-ended. Don’t ask “either/or” questions. Don’t attempt to shape the answers by the questions you ask.

And the tools:

  • The Art of Customer Interviews provides more detailed tips on how to collect unbiased data that identifies the product offering that will turn your potential market into paying customers.
  • Check out this interviewing guide from Google Ventures library. The extended process is insightful, but for interviewing, zero in on Day 2.

Effective interviews are the foundation of an effective product development process. The information that you gather from face-to-face interviews helps identify the specific markets and people you want to survey. It will be invaluable in creating questions that will most efficiently gather the input that your startup can use to define the products and features that address the problems that your target markets need to solve.

Do you have a favorite interview question you ask your customers? We like to hear from you.