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10 tips for conducting a customer discovery interview, Marketing and Sales

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#1. Focus on listening and silence

To fully understand your customers, you must not just interview them, but actively listen to them, take the time to understand their needs or their problems, explore the sources, the roots of these needs. Listen to your customers, even when they are silent. When conducting these interviews, be comfortable with silences. Listen to them and try to imagine what the person is thinking or feeling at the time.

#2. Explore past experiences

The best way to predict your target’s behavior is to understand how they behaved in the past. To do this, it suffices to ask people to recount their past experiences and, through questions, to understand how this experience was lived. Thus, she plunges back into these events and reconnects with her memories and emotions. By listening to their story, you can understand the motivations, hopes and frustrations of the person in this situation. Exploring specific experiences is your best tool for understanding that person’s needs.

#3. Avoid talking about your idea

The purpose of these interviews is to discover and better understand the needs of your customers. I’ve noticed time and time again that if one talks about or even suggests a solution, then the conversation quickly switches to the solution and what features there might be. And in this situation, we stop learning about the needs of the person. For my part, if I think about my product during the interview, I am no longer in active listening and I therefore do not hear everything that the person tells me.

#4. Dig into needs

During interviews, you or your interlocutor may express the need for a solution. For example: ≪ I need the latest iPhone. ≫ Here, the person expresses a need for a product or more generally for a solution. It’s interesting, but it’s not a literal need. When you hear this in an interview, you may dig in and ask why an iPhone “needs” it. Or what will an iPhone allow him to do? The key question being why, which gets you back to the person’s real need and not their solution expression.

#5. Distinguish the conscious from the unconscious

There is a difference between what people think, what people say and what people do. Difference sometimes conscious, but often unconscious. (…) We also sometimes observe this phenomenon during elections, when there is a significant difference between the polls based on the declarative and the facts, what people actually voted for.

#6. Reduce your biases

You ‒ and the person you are interviewing ‒ come into this conversation with your biases. These biases are in your questions, but also in your interpretation of the answers. Pay attention to leading questions. To reduce bias in interpretation, you can do these interviews in pairs: one conducts the interview and the other listens and takes notes. This allows you to compare what you understood during the interview. It may help to listen to the interview again if you recorded it. Like a film that we watch a second time, the reading is different and we discover new elements that we had not seen the first time.

#7. Only interview one person at a time

People speak more freely if they don’t feel judged. Having someone close to them during the interview can prevent them from speaking up. (…)

#8. Stick to the facts

In the answers you will get during the interview, try to distinguish between facts and opinions. This may seem obvious, but we quickly fall into the trap. ≪ The latest iPhone is the phone for me ≫ is an opinion. If the person bought the latest iPhone, that’s a fact. The opinion that takes you in the wrong direction: ≪ I find this product brilliant, it’s really the best… ≫ And the fact that stands out: ≪… but I bought the competitor’s which is less good, but prettier . ≫

#9. To take notes

After doing 10-20 interviews, it becomes difficult to remember who said what exactly. Taking notes will help you remember what each person told you. Don’t just trust your memory. (…)

#10. Reformulate

During the interview, you can rephrase what your interlocutor told you. This allows you to: 1. check whether what you have heard and understood is what the person was trying to explain; 2. follow up with your interlocutor so that he continues to develop the situation and tell his story.

The expert customer of his problem

Only the client is aware of his needs and problems. Sometimes he ignores them and you can help him dig in and allow him to become aware of them. It is not the client’s role to tell you what he wants, or even to know what he wants.

Henry Ford before the car was marketed is credited with this quote: ≪ If I had asked one of my customers what he wanted, he would have told me horses that go faster. ≫ Customers did not imagine a car. On the other hand, by asking why they would like horses that go faster, we would then understand the real needs to arrive at their destination more quickly, hence the usefulness of the car. Do not ask the customer what he wants, but try to understand his need.

You seek to understand how this person has had certain experiences in the past. Focus your questions on how and why the person did this or that. Try to figure out what she liked and what she didn’t like. Dig around specific experiences and ask her to tell you a story.



Franck Debane is the author of the book “Pass en mode startup. 6 steps to start your business”, published by Editions Eyrolles in December 2021.

THE AUTHOR: Engineer and entrepreneur, Franck Debane, helps companies start new businesses and launch new offers using startup methods. Both mentor and investor in start-ups, he has helped more than 1,000 entrepreneurs to launch, structure and develop their business. He is also the co-founder in France of the Lean Startup Experience group. This text is taken from his book “Pass en mode startup. 6 steps to start your business”, published by Editions Eyrolles in December 2021, 160 pages, 27 euros.

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