Your customer research will have both formal and informal channels. The formal channels include interviews, surveys, focus groups, and data research. This type of research takes time to setup and time to conduct which leads some entrepreneurs to skip it. Doing so can put them on the road to a failed business as they will not understand who their customers are and what they want. That can lead to creating a product that does not address anybody’s needs as well as ending up with no target market to market to.

“Customers don’t behave like your business plan.” – Steve Blank

The informal channels are conversations with friends at school, colleagues at work, and interactions online. These are likely going to be the first times you get feedback on your idea. The benefit is that these people will readily tell you their opinions and help you maintain excitement over the long development process. However, you often need to take their opinions with a grain of salt. They will refrain from providing negative feedback to not hurt your feelings but sometimes that is the feedback you need in order to make informed decisions.

Here are some ways to conduct customer research:

Customer Interviews

With interviews, you want to prepare in advance a set of questions that you ask everybody. When everybody gets the same questions, you can better compare answers and make conclusions based on the data.

You also want to make sure to include some open-ended questions which give the interviewee the opportunity to tell you things that you might not have considered. Open-ended questions often start with “how”, “why”, and “what”. Some to try:

  • What do you currently do for <the problem your product/service solves>?
  • How would your life be different if you had my <product/service>?
  • What price point would you buy my <product/service> at?
  • Would you tell your friends about my <product/service>?

Following up many answers with the question “Why?” can lead to further insights that really get to the root of their wants, needs, and desires.

Market Surveys

Surveys allow you to scale your interviews so that you do not have to do each one individually. You can also enlist people you do not know to take your surveys over the Internet. Google Forms is a great way to do this for free.

With surveys, you can also get quantitative results (based on numbers) in addition to qualitative results (not based on numbers such as the open ended interview questions). To get quantitative results you can ask a series of questions with “yes/no” answers or “On a scale of 1 to 10…” To get your results add up all of the answers and then divide by the number or survey responses.

If out of 100 survey responses 65 said yes and 35 said no, then 65% of people responded yes to the question. If you are doing a scale of 1 to 10 then add up all 100 answers and then divide by 100.

In addition to your quantitative questions ask the same questions you ask in person-to-person interviews.

Focus Groups

Focus groups are kind of a hybrid of interviews and surveys. You can ask each person in the group to complete a survey (either at the beginning or end of the meeting). You also then ask your interview questions in a classroom type setting like a teacher might do with students. This encourages discussion between the people in the group which will help you learn about possible objections people might have to your product or service as well as what you can say to overcome those objections.

What You Should Learn from Customer Research

What you will have learned by the end of this process is:

  • What your customers want.
  • What your customers need.
  • What features your customers want before they buy.
  • How to market to your customers.

It is only when you truly understand your customers will you be sure you have a product that will have customers that will buy it (called “product/market fit”).