“Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.”– Seth Godin
If you’re responsible for your company’s growth strategy, you probably already know how important it is to have a clear customer profile. When you have an intimate understanding of your customer’s wants and needs, you’re more likely to choose the right strategy to grow your business.
The constant socioeconomic shifts due to new technologies, cultural expectations, demographic changes, etc. also means customer needs are constantly evolving. Many companies have some sort of customer profile but the above shifts mean they might already be outdated.
The global pandemic is a prime example of major disruption that may have shifted your customer’s behaviours. In a very short period of time work-from-home became an employee expectation, and virtual offerings (e.g. classes, events, etc.) became the alternative for in-person activities. If a company didn’t catch onto this change in their customer profile quickly, they would’ve been left behind.
So wherever you are with your customer profile, here are three simple steps to get started:
1. Schedule Five Customer Interviews
As good as your business model may be, it cannot and will not survive forever…That means you must constantly gather information on shifts in your competitive environment, especially those that might affect the behaviour of your primary customer.– From a Harvard Business Review article Choosing the Right Customer (2014)
That’s right. Just five interviews!
There’s research from the user experience space that shows that testing only five users reveals over 75% of usability issues. Discovering 75% of usability issues gives you a great head start on building the right solutions. You can get more insights from talking to more customers, but you’ll see diminishing levels of return on that time.
Let’s say you schedule five customer interviews for 25-minutes each. That’s slightly over two hours of time spent better understanding current issues customers are facing. It’s little upfront investment for reducing risk and clarifying your value proposition.
If you already have an existing customer base, you’ll have plenty of potential interviewees to choose from. I would suggest selecting those that you believe from your ideal customer base.
To know if a customer is ideal or not, imagine growing your business by 10x the number of customers. Would you want ten times more of that customer? If you answered yes, then you’ve identified a good ideal customer.
If you don’t have an existing customer base, you can invite people in your network for an interview. Think about people who are decision makers in their roles and the type of people you’d love to work with and provide an offering to.
If you’re a B2B company, I would suggest these five interviews to be focused on the key decision maker. If a VP of Sales is your key decision maker, focus on scheduling interviews with people with that title. Uncovering their pain points should be your priority above all else.
Step 1 is complete when you’ve identified your five customers you’re going to talk to. Once you’ve identified those folks, it’s onto Step 2.
2. Prepare Your Interview Questions
Your interview questions likely depend on your product and your relationship with the customer. However, there are some standard questions you can ask. I’ve modified these questions from Value Proposition Design by the Strategyzer group.
There are three key themes you’ll want to cover in your interview:
Responsibilities are the core jobs and tasks that the customer has. It may also include things that might not be in their job descriptions. Here are some sample questions:
- As the [insert title], could you talk a little bit about the core responsibilities you have?
- Outside of your expected responsibilities (i.e. your job description) what else do you have to take on? Is there anything that’s surprising you?
Pains are the main issues and challenges they face. The pains usually hinder or prevent the customer from executing a strategy or getting a job done.
- What are some of the things that frustrate or annoy you the most?
- What are some of the risks you’ve taken that you were worried about? Are they typically financial, social, or technical risks? Or something else?
Gains are what success looks like for the customer. They’re likely specific goals they need to achieve, or things that allow them to create an ideal environment to be successful.
- What solutions or ideas really work for you? Why do you think those solutions work well?
- What would make your life a lot easier? What do you wish you had right now?
- If money or budget isn’t an issue, what do you dream about doing? What might you invest in?
The questions above should be more than enough to pull some interesting insights from your customers. It’s also important to trust your intuition. If something that your interview said piques your curiosity, you might want to ask a follow-up question to explore an underlying need or challenge that the interviewee has.
The conversation should take around 25 minutes. If you need more time and the interviewee is engaged, it may be appropriate to ask for another 5-10 minutes to wrap-up the interview.
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3. Visualize The Customer Feedback
Once you’ve run at least five customer interviews, it’s time to review and compile the information. The Customer Profile Map from Strategyzer is a good place to organize the information. In addition, in order to organize the information you collect, I suggest using a virtual whiteboard tool like Miro to visualize the map.
For each section, I aim for about 12 sticky notes. Sometimes there’s more and sometimes there’s less. As long as you have about 8-12 data points, that should give you a good sense of the customer profile.
Once you’ve conducted five interviews, it’s time to compile the maps into one unifying map. This is where it’s helpful to use a tool like Miro. You can group the stickies into specific themes and create a holistic version of your customer profile.
Following the above steps will give you a good sense of what are your target customer’s key priorities. So go out there and interact with real customers! Here are a few more quick tips before you start the interview process:
- Ask if the interviewee might be open to you recording the conversation. This will help you go back to the recording if you missed anything. It’ll also be an opportunity to share direct customer insights to your team.
- Don’t spend too much time on the customer responsibilities/jobs at the start of the interview. Spend most of your time uncovering the pains and gains.
- Have one person who is consistently at all your interviews. Ideally this is the project owner for this Customer Profiling project.
- Wrap-up the interview by asking if they have any favourite resources that they follow or consume (e.g. books, magazines, blogs, thought leaders, etc.) on a regular basis. These are great resources for you to follow as well.
P.S. If you’re looking for help developing a customer profile, I’m happy to help. You can fill out this contact form to schedule a conversation.