Key skills: Asking good questions (Chapters 1 & 3) Avoiding bad data (Chapter 2) Keeping it casual (Chapter 4) Pushing for commitment & advancement (Chapter 5) Framing the meeting (Chapter 6) Customer segmentation (Chapter 7) Prepping & reviewing (Chapter
Trying to learn from customer conversations is like excavating a delicate archaeological site. The truth is down there somewhere, but it’s fragile.
People say you shouldn’t ask your mom whether your business is a good idea. That’s technically true, but it misses the point. You shouldn’t ask anyone whether your business is a good idea. At least not in those words. Your mom will lie to you the most (just ‘cuz she loves you), but it’s a bad question and invites everyone to lie to you at least a little.
It’s not anyone else’s responsibility to show us the truth. It’s our responsibility to find it. We do that by asking good questions.
The measure of usefulness of an early customer conversation is whether it gives us concrete facts about our customers’ lives and world views.
The Mom Test:
- Talk about their life instead of your idea
- Ask about specifics in the past instead of generics or opinions about the future
- Talk less and listen more
It’s called The Mom Test because it leads to questions that even your mom can’t lie to you about. When you do it right, they won’t even know you have an idea.
You’ll notice that none of the good questions were about asking what you should build. One of the recurring “criticisms” about talking to customers is that you’re abdicating your creative vision and building your product by committee. Given that people don’t know what they want, that wouldn’t be a terribly effective approach. Deciding what to build is your job.
The questions to ask are about your customers’ lives: their problems, cares, constraints, and goals.
It boils down to this: you aren’t allowed to tell them what their problem is, and in return, they aren’t allowed to tell you what to build. They own the problem, you own the solution.
There are three types of bad data: Compliments Fluff (generics, hypotheticals, and the future) Ideas
Fluff comes in 3 cuddly shapes:
- Generic claims (“I usually”, “I always”, “I never”)
- Future-tense promises (“I would”, “I will”)
- Hypothetical maybes (“I might”, “I could”)
While using generics, people describe themselves as who they want to be, not who they actually are. You need to get specific to bring out the edge cases.
To move toward this truth, you just need to reject their generic claims, incidental complaints, and fluffy promises. Instead, anchor them on the life they already lead and the actions they’re already taking.
When you hear a request, it’s your job to understand the motivations which led to it. You do that by digging around the question to find the root cause. Why do they bother doing it this way? Why do they want the feature? How are they currently coping without the feature? Dig. You should dig in the same way around emotional signals to understand where they’re coming from. Just like feature requests, any strong emotion is worth exploring. Is someone angry? Dig. Embarrassed? Dig. Overjoyed? Dig!
Getting back on track (avoiding bad data):
- Deflect compliments
- Anchor fluff
- Dig beneath opinions, ideas, requests, and emotions
Every time you talk to someone, you should be asking at least one question which has the potential to destroy your currently imagined business.
When you fall into a premature zoom, you can waste a ton of time figuring out the minutia of a trivial problem. Even if you learn everything there is to know about that particular problem, you still haven’t got a business. Rule of thumb: Start broad and don't zoom in until you’ve found a strong signal, both with your whole business and with every conversation.
In all of these examples, the risk is in your product, not in the customer. They’ll pay if your product gets big enough. Product risk — Can I build it? Can I grow it? Customer/market risk — Do they want it? Will they pay me? Are there lots of them?
What all this does mean is that if you’ve got heavy product risk (as opposed to pure market risk), then you’re not going to be able to prove as much of your business through conversations alone. The conversations give you a starting point, but you’ll have to start building product earlier and with less certainty than if you had pure market risk.
Pre-plan the 3 most important things you want to learn from any given type of person (e.g. customers, investors, industry experts, key hires, etc). Update the list as your questions change.
When all the customer learning is stuck in someone’s head instead of being disseminated to the rest of the team, you’ve got a learning bottleneck. Avoid creating (or being) the bottleneck. To do that, the learning must be shared with the entire founding team promptly and faithfully, which depends on good notes plus a bit of pre- and post-meeting work.
The process before, during and after the meeting:
- If you haven’t yet, choose a focused, findable segment With your team, decide your big 3 learning goals
- If relevant, decide on ideal next steps and commitments
- If conversations are the right tool, figure out who to talk to
- Create a series of your best guesses about what the person cares about
- If a question could be answered via desk research, do that first
- Frame the conversation
- Keep it casual
- Ask good questions which pass The Mom Test
- Deflect compliments, anchor fluff, and dig beneath signals
- Take good notes
- If relevant, press for commitment and next steps
- With your team, review your notes and key customer quotes
- If relevant, transfer notes into permanent storage
- Update your beliefs and plans
- Decide on the next 3 big questions
Results of a good meeting:
- Facts — concrete, specific facts about what they do and why they do it (as opposed to the bad data of compliments, fluff, and opinions)
- Commitment — They are showing they’re serious by giving up something they value such as meaningful amounts of time, reputation risk, or money
- Advancement — They are moving to the next step of your real-world funnel and getting closer to a sale
Asking for and framing the meeting:
- Vision — half-sentence of how you’re making the world better
- Framing — where you’re at and what you’re looking for
- Weakness — where you’re stuck and how you can be helped
- Pedestal — show that they, in particular, can provide that help