Most of us agree that talking to potential customers about your product before you invest in building it is a good idea. And I think we pretty much all agree that asking Mom if she likes our idea doesn’t count as validation, except in the emotional sense. But sadly, people still seem to be fine asking any ol’ random person – who’s most likely not a potential customer – for their opinion. Just today, in an interview, a product management candidate said to me, “…and I talked to random people about what they liked. I tend to meet lots of people and it was good insight.” Except that none of those random people were potential users of the specific B2B product they were creating, so it probably wasn’t good insight. It was random insight.
So let’s take a step back. This person is a good product manager, they know who their customers are, they have a vision for the product, they work hard on creating a great experience, so why didn’t they test the idea with people who could be users one day? Why does this happen?
Connecting with the right people can be hard but it’s worth it
It’s way easier, and infinitely more comfortable, to ask your mom or your best friend or your colleague or some random person than it is to spend time finding the right people to ask. But even if it is hard, is it worth the effort to find the right people to talk to?
To answer that let’s put this in perspective: if you can’t find the correct people to ask about your idea now, how do you expect to find them and get them to use and/or buy your idea later? Good product managers will always find the right people to talk to.
How do I find the right people?
There are lots of helpful lists out there about where to look for interviewees, but before you go off hitting up Craigslist or Pinterest or your mom’s knitting circle, you need to spend time thinking about who it is you want to talk to, and targeting the channels they are mostly likely to be found in.
One way to do this is think about “who” is to create a persona for the ideal interviewee. Once you have a persona, ask questions to help identify where you might find them.
Some useful questions are:
- What does that person do all day?
- Do they have specific reading habits?
- Are they browsing online? Where?
- How do they communicate? Do they use email? Or chat clients?
- Do they use social media? What social channels?
- Where might they be buying existing products? Or searching for solutions?
- Are they more likely to be found offline? If so, where?
How do I approach people and get a positive response?
This, in my experience, is an important and often overlooked step. For example, at ThoughtWorks Studios, when we are researching and validating product ideas that support software product teams, it has become clear that different roles respond to different types of requests – even on the same channels.
Us product managers, for example, are usually very willing to help. When researching or validating ideas for Mingle a quick email request like this:
We have a product idea that we are trying to validate with software product managers. Would you be able to spend 30 minutes being interviewed?
We appreciate any time that you can spare.
will usually result in a “yes” even if they are super busy. And I rarely have to explain what and why I am asking. Likewise, PM-types are also more likely to retweet or share my request with other people they know, to help me reach a wider audience.
Developers, on the other hand, are a whole other breed. When researching for our developer-focused tool Snap, developers often do not respond to a personal email request. Or if they do, they regularly decline (“I’m not sure I’m the best person”) or ask questions about what I want to talk about or what I am doing. One way I have learned to get the best responses from techies is by asking devs I know to refer me to their friends. Likewise, I have found if I mention a specific and cool technology like Heroku or GitHub when making my request, I am more likely to get a positive response or for someone to refer me to someone they know.
My point here is that there is no one-size-fits-all place to get good responses. And there is no one-size-fits-all template to ask for requests.
My templates – one of which I shared above – might work for you, but they might not. It depends on your specific needs and customers. You need to get started and iterate to understand how your potential customers will respond to your requests.
Putting it all together…
To get what you want (and need) out of validation and customer development you need to:
- Know who your target customer is
- Find out where your customer is likely to be found
- Make a polite, friendly and clear request for help
- Reflect on your request, learn how people respond
- Change 2 or 3
A good way of confirming if you are finding the correct people to talk to is to ask: “Would this person buy product idea x?” If you think “yes” then you’ve probably found the right channel and the right way to ask. If not, try the process again.
The next step
Once you’ve found the right people you need to learn as much as you can from them in the right way. You can learn more about how to conduct customer development interviews and get the right value out of them from these insightful pieces:
Please also share your tried and tested methods for finding, and communicating with, the right customers in the comments below.