Product/Service Development – early customer input from Peter Spear

It is a well-known fact that early customer involvement in product or service development leads to better results in the marketplace, much higher quality and lower costs. Despite the fact that this practice has been considered a best practice for several decades, most entrepreneurs and small business people still fail to follow it. The results are predictable and almost always negative.

Many business people think that doing some quantitative research on the Web will satisfy the need for contact with customers. But, like war plans meeting the fog of war, quantitative research will never replace going eye-ball to eyeball with a real live human being. This is not to say that one should not do the quantitative research, only that ultimately real people get to decide whether you actually have some value in your business.

Peter Spear, brand listener

Peter Spear, brand listener

Peter Spear, a Hudson NY-based “brand listener”, posted a great article, “What is brand listening?” on LinkedIn. It is not terribly long and filled with good observations so I suggest reading the whole thing. But, here is a chunk that is particularly on focus for many of my clients.

How would you recommend an entrepreneur do their own research to gain reliable insights?

The first thing I would say is to be clear that it is not the job of your customer or prospect to answer our marketing questions. Hence the need for creative listening. Ask them about them, not you or your product. This is the most common mistake made.

  1. Who you talk to matters. Don’t talk to friends and family. Recruit your interviews according to the behaviors of the category that matters for your business.
  2. I would probably recommend staying away from doing groups. Doone on one interviews. If you do not know how to manage a group, you will be overwhelmed.
  3. Listen widely. Give them space and time to describe their own experiences and stories they have had in the space.
  4. Be patient. Don’t interrupt. This will be harder than you think.
  5. Give full attention. Eye contact, body language matter immensely.
  6. Either give them a full experience or don’t. You can’t take back a bad or incomplete experience. Have either a functioning prototype or a minimum viable story.
  7. Stay away from the future. Asking people what they might do in the future is unreliable.
  8. Stay away from money. Paying money hurts. Avoid causing pain.
  9. Ask open-ended and indirect questions. Practice starting every question with What or How. What’s interesting? How does this feel different? What is this like? What does this remind you of? How would you describe that?
  10. Avoid asking Why questions. This puts people on the defensive and assumes there’s a rational explanation.
  11. Do not introduce your own language. What you call something and what they call something could be totally different. It is this difference that creates insights.
  12. Ask follow up questions. The first response is never a complete response.
  13. Ask about their language. Listen for emotional or descriptive words. Follow up by simply saying that word back to them.
  14. If you find someone explaining something vs. describing something, it’s probably not the whole truth. Focus on getting descriptions.