How to master customer interviews and find product/market fit

By Jack Bartrop, Head of Product Marketing at GrowthMinds

 

 

It’s brutal but 9 out of 10 startups are destined to fail20% of small businesses don’t even make it through their first year.

 

How does a business make sure it makes one of the 10% of startups that survives and also become one of 0.5% of businesses that go on to scale? These are questions the business world’s finest minds have tried to answer, each giving different answers based on their own experiences and outcomes.

 

From our experience, you’re much more likely to succeed in the long run as a startup if you put in the time to scope, validate and maintain your product/market fit. To make sure you’re building a product or service which people care about, you have to fully commit to learning everything you can about the jobs you believe you can help people get done. No market need is the most common reason startups fail.

 

Why do you need to find product/market fit? You wouldn’t make a key and then try it in lots of different locks, you would find a specific lock and then create the right key for it. This is the same when developing, positioning and selling a product or service. The best way to find what locks people are desperate to open is to ask them.

 

6 Bizarrely Specific Movie Moments UK Censors Banned – Page 3

Source

 

Customer interviews are the best way for a business to understand the level of passion that your market has for your product and the problems it solves. If this passion is strong, you have something that you can easily sell. If not then progress will be slow. Depending on where your business is on the journey to scale, valid and useful insights can be gained from interviews with potential customers, current customers or churned customers. 

 

Without a tried-and-tested process, a lot of time and energy can be spent on trying to find the right people to speak to, convincing them to give up their time, making sure you ask the right questions, then translating their answers into business decisions. This is the main reason why many startups (probably around 9 out of 10) love to skip this process in favour of ‘failing faster’. There are only so many mistakes a growing business can make.

 

Having followed this process many times to validate product/market fit for ourselves and for our startup clients, we’ve developed a series of templates to remove as much time, energy and guesswork out of the customer interview process as possible. With this structure, you’ll find it a lot easier to extract honest insights from your interviews.

 

We highly recommend reading this article to the end before applying to receive our free customer interview templates, but if you’re in a hurry you can skip straight to the end.

Before we get started on customer interviews, what exactly is product/market fit?

Product/market fit is the concept of building a product which is perfect for its target market and serves a specific need that people are motivated by.

 

This may sound basic, however, Fortune reported that 42% of startups fail because of lack of ability to gain this critical learning. So, whilst most founders instinctively believe that they have it, the reality is that a good portion don’t.

 

Product/market fit is about having a financially viable market opportunity, learning which unserved needs are causing pain, and meeting those needs with a product that removes the pain.

Product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.

The only thing that matters is getting to product/market fit.

Marc Andreessen

General partner of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz

Think of your product as a person turning up to a busy party. If you have product/market fit, the whole party would flock over to greet you and fight amongst themselves to spend the night with you. If you turn up without product/market fit but are committed to finding it, you might go around sparking conversations, telling jokes, showing off some party tricks, seeing what lands and what doesn’t until you’re the life and soul of the party. Turning up and making no effort to get to know anyone is almost worse than turning up to the wrong party entirely. Customer interviews are the equivalent of making an effort to get to know everyone at the party.

 

 

Why is product/market fit important?

Without finding product/market fit, your business will struggle to activate your target market.

 

This is something we have seen from the companies that we meet and advise on a day to day basis. Many of them are facing growth challenges that are attributable to this problem:

 

  • Struggling to move from early adopters to mass market
  • Sales cycles that drag on without any particular client motivation to move forward
  • Difficulty getting sales decisions
  • Poor sales conversion rates
  • High churn rates based on low product adoption
  • Growth is far slower than expected

 

Many businesses believe that the reason for these problems is that not enough people know about them. Brand awareness is essential to scale, but it is useless if it doesn’t impact sales. Lots of startups get excited when taking a new service to market and try to start accelerating sales and marketing activity to scale as fast as possible. Sadly this approach rarely works. That’s because until you’ve had the opportunity to put your product into people’s hands, and learn from them whether it actually solves their pain points, you don’t know if you have something that is sellable.

 

Source

 

 

How do customer interviews help with product/market fit?

No product can guarantee to remove an audience’s pain points unless it has been tested. Asking the right questions through customer interviews can give you valuable insights into the problems and ongoing issues an audience may be experiencing. This is your chance to dig below the surface and challenge your assumptions.

 

One of the most fundamental outputs from well executed customer interviews is to understand people’s Jobs-to-be-Done. There are many schools of thought around Jobs-to-be-Done but a useful way of framing Jobs is as ‘Be’ goals and ‘Do’ goals. 

 

Charles Revson, founder of Revlon, famously quoted saying, “In the factory, we make cosmetics. In the drug store, we sell hope.” This summarises customer JTBD from the point of view of ‘Be’ goals, suggesting that people buy make-up in order to ‘Be’ different, in other words; feel results from making a change.

 

The perhaps more common perception of Jobs-to-be-Done is as ‘Do’ goals, summarised by the Leo McGinneva quote in Theodore Levitt’s 1983 book, The Marketing Imagination: “They don’t buy quarter-inch drill bits. They want quarter-inch holes”. ‘Do’ goals are therefore more directly motivated by tangible outcomes that result from an action or series of actions.

 

Source: Powers’ hierarchy of goals as represented in “On the Self-Regulation of Behavior” (Carver 2001)

 

To validate your ‘product’ ‘fits’ the ‘market’, you have to understand whether you can alleviate the main pain points people experience getting ‘Be’ or ‘Do’ goals done and whether people are motivated enough to pay for this transformation. Only once you have validated this ‘fit’ can you understand whether it’s possible to model a scalable business around it.

 

Investing the time to do customer interviews will save you a lot more time, energy and potential crushing disappointment later on.

 

camillebbrown-b55y_jwbb3d.jpg

Source

 

When should I be carrying out customer interviews?

It’s easy to see why asking real-life potential users what they think of a product or service makes sense. However, in the whirlwind of startup life, this vital step is often skipped. No matter who your friends and family are, you can’t always rely on them for the brutal, honest feedback you need.

 

Customer interviews are like checking your parachute for holes before jumping out of a plane. The earlier you carry out customer interviews the better, but it’s also never too late. No matter where you are in your startup journey, you can incorporate customer interviews to optimise your product/market fit.

 

Placing your product or service in a new context can change everything, so you’ll need to clarify whether your ideas have the growth potential you expect. Even if you already have an established service or product and you’re looking to expand your client base into a new demographic or industry, you owe it to your new idea to validate it. Knowing people like your product is great but knowing why they like is far more valuable.

 

Flight Of The Conchords Feedback GIF

Source

 

How do I find the right people to interview?

For businesses with a good number of current customers or churned customers, accessing interviewees can be quite straightforward. Finding and engaging potential customers in the interview process will take more thought. The type of people you want to be interviewing should be representative of a larger demographic you’re looking to drill down to.

 

Let’s say you’re looking to find out what are the problems of hiring managers for tech startups. You may get some great feedback from just targeting this specific group, but to get the broadest possible feedback, you could break your interviewees into two categories. Speaking with hiring managers across industries will give you broader insights into the problems and solutions that could impact your product/market fit. For a different perspective, your second demographic category could, therefore, be senior people in tech startups.

 

With feedback from both hiring managers in general and senior people in tech startups, you can better identify trends in your feedback and more accurately test your assumptions on how your business idea could impact the problems faced by hiring managers in tech startups. Once you identify your categories of potential customers to interview, you will give yourself a better chance of tapping into existing communities and networks. Narrowing down the exact types of people that may engage with your business will reduce the time you spend trying to hunt them down.

 

If your product is aimed at a B2B market, doing advanced searches on LinkedIn Sales Navigator combining job title, seniority, industry, group membership etc. will help to create a list of profiles most likely to be trying to getting ‘Be’ or ‘Do’ goals done that you need to find out more about. If you need help identifying and automating how you contact these profiles, feel free to get in touch.

 

If your product is aimed at a B2C market, highly targeted ad campaigns are an option if you have the budget to invest. Depending on the subject-matter, engaging with interest or demographic-based groups on social media channels or forums can yield participants. Services like UserInterviews.com also have databases of willing participants that can be accessed for a fee.

 

How should I contact and persuade participants to participate?

Our customer interview templates available at the end of this article provide editable emails and LinkedIn message sequences that you can tailor to your customer interview recruitment outreach.

 

Over explaining your objectives in your initial message could come across as if you are trying to sell something. Rather than asking the recipient to suggest any time in the near future to talk, giving two clear options will show you’re serious and will stop you getting into a long game of scheduling ping pong.

 

20-30% of the time, your suggested slots won’t work but most people will suggest an alternate time in their reply. You may get a reply asking for more information, but if this happens at least you’ve already captured their interest.

 

Once the replies start coming in, do not let any email or message go more than 24 hours without a reply. No exceptions. No one is going to want to help you if you don’t seem bothered about speaking to them. The longer you leave a reply, the more likely they’ll change their mind.

 

Where should I start with my customer interviews?

To ensure you’re as prepared as possible before sharing your product or service with the world, a templated set of customer interview questions will enable you to structure and analyse the feedback you receive. Formatting your questions will also ensure you don’t change the wording from interviewee to interviewee based on what you want to hear or what mood you’re in.

 

Creating a template for your questions will give you control over the information you gather, allowing you to identify trends which can impact how you approach product/market fit later. We typically record an interview over Zoom and then convert the audio to text using Otter.ai. This allows us to go back and pour over every juicy detail while also quickly getting a text version to cut up, start comparing alongside other interviewees’ answers and pull out useful quotes to share with other stakeholders.

 

We always get the best outputs from customer interviews when there is space in the interview for more free flowing conversation and extra probing questions but as long as you have a solid structure, you will be able to ensure you get all the information that is needed to make more informed decisions. 

 

We always recommend 20 interviews as a minimum number in order to extract solid insights and confidently understand trends. Once you have your interviews booked in and you have your interview questions prepared (see below) all you have to do is go in with an open mind.

I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.

Socrates

Customer Interview Questions

What questions should I ask in my customer interviews?

 

Now for the good stuff.

 

We believe there are 10 key lines of questioning that form the structure of a good customer interview. There are supporting questions you can ask to make sure you get the right kind of output from your interviewee in case they seem reluctant to provide detailed answers. Putting your own stamp on how these questions are shaped and ordered will be the key to getting valuable insights from your interviews but we highly recommend you use the 10 questions below to frame how you do this. Remember, the whole point is to test your assumptions not lead them to provide the answers you’re hoping to hear.

 

 


 

Key jobs to be done

What are the 3 biggest problems in your job that are causing you pain?

 

Source

 

As the whole point of your customer interviews is to help validate that you’re zoning in on a compelling service, the best place to start an interview is to find out what your interviewee’s 3 most bleeding pain points are when attempting to get the ‘Be’ or ‘Do’ goals done that you believe your product can solve. Does the problem you’re hoping to fix really exist and do if it does, are people that bothered by it? The phrasing of the question above obviously lends itself best to a B2B context but for B2C, the word ‘job’ just needs to be replaced with the specific ‘Be’ or ‘Do’ goal that you’re trying to understand more about.

 

Here are some additional problem discovery questions you can use if an interviewee struggles to think of 3 pain points.

 

What are the main things you’re focusing on right now with _______________?

Is there anything that you’re struggling with?

What do you least look forward to when doing _______________?

 

Job buy-in

What backing and budget are you given to solve these problems?

 

Source

 

The aim of this question is to understand who else is invested in your interviewee removing pain points in how they get their ‘Be’ or ‘Do’ goals done. In a B2B context this could be senior management backing or how a particular department views its priorities. Understanding what budget is available to solve these problems will not only help guide whether your solution is priced fairly but it also gives an indication of how urgent the problem is perceived to be. For B2C, this question should be asked less formally but understanding who else could influence your interviewee’s purchase decisions can be essential to your market positioning.

 

Here are some additional questions you can use to understand who else is connected to solving their 3 most bleeding pain points.

 

How confident are you that _______________ understands  _______________?

Do you feel this is enough budget to solve _______________?

Who do you think cares the most about _______________?

 

Current solutions

Can you tell me about how you’re currently going about solving these problems e.g. processes, tools and support?

 

Source

 

This is the question that gives you the opportunity to get under the skin about how your interviewee currently approaches getting their ‘Be’ or ‘Do’ goals done. The number of individual actions involved that make up the job or define the pain point will determine how long an answer you need from this question. If there are processes involved, you need to understand what happens at each step of the sequence. It is also vital that you understand what tools and people are used to execute these processes. Even if you are experienced in getting this same job done yourself, it is always eye opening to understand how people think about and approach the same problems.

 

Here are some additional questions you can use to get a more comprehensive answer:

 

How long have you taken this approach to _______________?

Tell me about the last time you did ____________, how did that go?

What have you tried in the past to fix this?

You mentioned ____________, could you tell me more about that?

And can you tell me what happens after _______________?

 

Current solution positives

What do you like about the current fixes that you’re using?

 

Source

 

Your potential customer’s experience in getting their ‘Be’ or ‘Do’ goals done will heavily depend on what the market for existing solutions looks like. Before diving into the root causes of a potential customer’s 3 most bleeding pain points, for greater clarity and balance, it is vital that you understand what your interviewee likes about their current solution. Depending on what their current solution is, sometimes the word ‘like’ can sound a bit strong, so ‘useful’, ‘good’ or ‘beneficial’ can be used as alternatives. If your interviewees’ experiences are more positive than negative, you may need to rethink what features and positioning will inspire them to switch. If your interviewee’s answer around current solutions included a sequence of actions, it can be useful to review each step of that process and ask what they like at each stage. 

 

Here are some additional follow up questions you can use to unpick positive experience from negative experiences.

 

Is there anything about _______________ that you couldn’t live without?

If you were recommending _______________ to a friend, how and why would you do so?

When you _______________ how does that make you feel?

You mentioned ____________, could you tell me more about that?

Tell me about the last time you did ____________, how did that go?

 

Current solution negatives

What do you dislike about the current fixes that you’re using?

 

Source

 

It’s likely that the previous question could flow directly into this one, but it is worth trying to separate discussions around positives and negatives so you can analyse answers more easily later on. As with the question above about positives, the word ‘dislike’ can be switched for alternatives such as ‘find frustrating’, ‘find stressful’, ‘find unhelpful’, ‘find unnecessary’ if this better helps your interviewee to come forward with their experiences. Honing in on each specific action they take in a sequence to get their job done will provide detailed insight into the root causes of a potential customer’s 3 most bleeding pain points.

 

Here are some additional follow up questions you can use to draw insight from their negative experiences.

 

What parts of _______________ do you dread?

When you’re trying to _______________ how does that make you feel?

You said you currently use ________, what doesn’t it do very well?

You mentioned ____________, could you tell me more about that?

Tell me about the last time you did ____________, how did that go?

 

Ideal solution

In a dream world, what would be the best solution to your problem and what would that look like?

 

makemethink_4.gif?resize=222-214

Source

 

This question allows you to take your interviewee out of the reality of their current situation and prompts them to describe how they would like to approach getting their job done if budget or technology were no object. If your interviewee ends up describing something similar to what you have built or are planning to build, then this could be a great indication of product/market fit. It is always worthwhile pushing your interviewee to think of a dream solution rather than a realistic improved solution. Even if their dream solution isn’t currently possible, these product aspirations are always the source of market changing innovation.

 

Here are some additional follow up questions to help your interviewee construct a imaginary solution in their head:

 

And how do you think people will approach _______________ in 5/10/20 years time?

What would a product have to look like for you to make an instant switch?

Thinking again about what you like about the current fixes that you’re using, what would make this even better?

How much would  _______________ that ________ be worth to you? Would you pay for it?

If you were to start all over again, what would you do differently?

 

Sources of solutions

How are you going about finding the best methods for solving your problems?

 

Source

 

Identifying where and who your interviewee goes to understand how to get their ‘Be’ or ‘Do’ goals done can help highlight channels to distribute your solutions or methods of presenting your product’s value proposition. Your interviewee’s answer to this question will also help identify how easily persuaded they are to try a new solution.

 

Here are some additional follow up questions you can to make sure you capture all the sources:

 

When you have a question about _______________, where do you look for answers?

And who in your network would you ask for advice on solutions to _______________?

What have you tried in the past to fix this?

Is there anyone you follow online who you would listen to if they recommended a solution to _______________?

Are there any brands or publications you follow for advice on _______________?

 

Risk of failure

What is the danger of not resolving the 3 biggest problems in your job that are causing you pain?

 

Source

 

This question gives you an indication of how much urgency there is in the market to solve the problems your product can help with. Digging deeper into the risk of failure can help to understand why current solutions exist and what negative experiences people are willing to put up with in order to avoid the much bigger headache of not getting their ‘Be’ or ‘Do’ goals done. These emotional triggers are vital to understand how to incorporate urgency into your own market positioning and how to differentiate your product from direct and indirect competition.

 

Here are some additional follow up questions you can to make sure you document the emotional and practical outcomes of an incomplete job:

 

What would happen if you stopped  _______________?

How long could you survive doing _______________ if you couldn’t _______________?

What would happen if _______________ was left as it is?

How would you feel if  _______________?

Do you think your current approach to _______________ is sustainable?

 

Reward of completion

What would be the value benefit of you solving these problems?

 

Source

 

Just like understanding the risk of failure can help construct your market positioning, depending on your market and product, urgency to switch to a new solution can sometimes be more compelling if presented as an aspirational outcome. This is often quantified as time, money or effort saved or gained. If this is how your interviewee describes the value benefit of solving their problems then it is worth prompting them to estimate a total value. Understanding the tangible value your product provides can be essential to clearly communicating the return on investment from switching solutions.

 

Here are some additional follow up questions you can to make sure achieve a clear understanding of how your interviewee feels about value benefit:

 

What would happen if you could do  _______________ tomorrow?

Can you estimate how much you would save or gain if you  _______________?

How would you reallocate the _______________ you saved or gained?

How would you feel if  _______________?

 

Measurement of success

How would you go about measuring the impact of solving this problem?

 

Source

 

Depending on the ‘Be’ or ‘Do’ goals your interviewee is trying to get done, it’s vital to know what information they would need to validate that they have solved the problem. If the risk of failure and reward of completion are very tangible, this answer could be very quantitative e.g. individual metrics or trackable growth. Even if impact can be easily measured, there are likely to also be qualitative measurements of success such as being appreciated by others or feeling less stressed about getting the job done in future. This question therefore helps circle back on the real emotional drivers attached to their key jobs to be done.

 

Here are some additional follow up questions to ensure you capture both quantitative and qualitative measures of impact and success:

 

If you were looking for a new way to approach _______________ how would you compare other solutions to your current one?

If someone asks you how _______________ is going, what do you tell them?

How would you feel if  _______________?

 

 

Bonus follow up questions: The better way to ask “why?”

Just asking “why?” when you’re looking for more detail can feel like the quickest way to get what you want, but in customer interview settings you need to give more clarity through your questioning. The clearer you communicate what info you need, the clearer the answers you’ll get in return.

 

Also repeatedly asking “why?” can add pressure on your interviewee which may stop them from really opening up. Interviewees are giving up their time to provide you with the insights you need, so you want to make them as comfortable with the process as possible.

 

 So why not make “why?” better?

 

It’s all about reframing your initial question and being more conversational. Here’s a few of our go to’s:

 

When you said _________, how did that make you feel?

Let me just get this correct, (summarise their main point), am I missing anything?

It’s interesting you said_________, could you tell me more about that?

What made you choose to do ___________?

 

All of these questions are aimed at summarising or recounting something your interviewee has said. This is no accident as it forces you to listen. If in any doubt, double-checking the feedback you receive will help you to recount your interviewees’ issues when you incorporate them into your product/market fit.

 

Extra Tips

Silence

Suggesting you ask nothing at all may go against all our advice above, but allowing for a few pauses in your interviews can provide some interesting unexpected insights. No one likes uncomfortable silences, so if you pause, your interviewees will often start filling the gaps with more useful information.

 

Hush Be Quiet GIF by Archie Comics

Source

 

What questions shouldn’t I ask?

As you start structuring your customer interview questions based on our suggestions, some will start to look more attractive and relevant than others. Wait to try them all in a real customer interview setting before customising the original questions too much.  

 

You ask, “Do you think this is a good idea to ______?” and your interviewee says “yes”. Deep down they may think it’s a terrible idea but they say yes because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.

 

If this happens, you’ve learnt nothing. You have a false positive on your hands.

 

In our list of questions, we suggested – “Tell me about your problems with _______?”

 

Depending on who your interviewee is, this could provide the perfect opportunity for them to lay out everything you need to do to find your product/market fit. However, this question can also just create an opportunity for them to vent and veer away from the insights you’re looking to gain. Getting to the specific triggers behind your interviewees’ issues will allow you to understand and empathise with the problems you can actually solve with your business idea. If you feel you’ve asked a question that is taking things down the wrong rabbit hole, don’t feel like you can’t stop your interviewee and reclarify what you need to know.

 

Edinburgh club picture dubbed 'most relatable nightclub photo in history' - but here's the truth behind the meme - Daily Record

Source

 

What if I want to get direct feedback from a potential customer on my product?

As we mentioned previously, your interviewees aren’t going to want to tell you directly that your ideas have no hope. That’s why when interviewing potential customers, we recommend not talking about your solution in any detail. Because you will naturally be willing positive feedback, without knowing, you can easily project the type of response you want to hear through your tone of voice and body language.

 

As hard as it may be to reign in your enthusiasm and excitement for your ideas, you don’t want to create the chance for your interviewees to send you down the wrong path just to hear what you want to hear.

 

Another cause of receiving false positives is when your interviewee feels pressured to give a certain answer because they believe its the normal or common way of solving a certain problem.

 

For example, if you were to ask:

“Would you use a website to discover new places to go on holiday?”

 

The most likely answer to this question is obviously “yes”. The way the question is worded perfectly sets up your interviewee to tell you exactly what they think you will expect to hear.

 

A better question would be to allow your interviewee to walk you through their thought process and drop bigger hints as to what it is they actually need. For example:

“How do you discover new places to go on holiday?”

 

Giving away as little as possible about the specifics of your product or service idea through the wording of your questions will keep the focus on your interviewee’s personal experiences and make sure that your not getting false validation of product/market fit. There will be plenty of time to shout about your idea when you reach product/market fit so let your interviewees do all the talking until you’re 100% confident the time is right to start showing your hand.

 

Source

 

Is there anything else I should be doing during the interviews?

Let the person you’re interviewing do all the talking. If they go off on a tangent, wait for them to finish and ask a new question which clarifies the information you were looking for. You’re not there to sell so don’t interrupt or challenge your interviewee’s answers. If you’re recording video or audio of your interviews, you won’t have to furiously take notes and potentially miss getting the best possible answers. Just listen.

 

Source

 

Don’t forget the silence trick. Sometimes slowing down and pausing for silence might be what you need to get your interviewee to really open up.

 

Final Bonus tip: One last question

You’ve finished your interview, you have a hundred new ideas to incorporate into your product or service, and you’ve made a friend for life.

 

Ask your interviewee if they can introduce you to more people like them. Maybe they can suggest a different social platform, online community or event to attend that you haven’t discovered yet. Actively tapping into your interviewee’s connections will increase your chance of finding willing interviewees that cover a cross-section of the audience you want to validate your ideas against.

 

Good luck!

Free customer interview templates

These templates we’ve created are great for making sure you can stay on track with your customer interviews. We create a custom workspace in Notion for each business that applies to get access to our customer interview templates. Each workspace includes:

  • Outreach message templates (LinkedIn and email)
  • Interview organization tables
  • Interview questions and answer capture
  • Interviewee overview

 

If you would like free access to the customer interview templates, just hit the button below and just drop us an email with a few lines about your business.