Financial Data
Updated 26 Feb 2020

How to interview prospective customers

If you plan on starting your entrepreneurial journey by way of a customer discovery process (and you should always start by way of a customer discovery process), here’s how to go about it.

GG van Rooyen, Entrepreneur, 02 March 2016  Share  0 comments  Print

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We’re normally all quite rushed and stressed. During this time of the year, however, we slow down. Some of us even get bored. So it’s the perfect opportunity for you to swoop in and ask a few questions.

Search out the bored parents who are being dragged to the beach at the crack of dawn by their kids.

‘Can I ask you a few questions?’

Look out for those couples who, having been in each other’s company non-stop for three weeks, have nothing left to say and are sitting wordlessly at a café table. These are the people who will help you build your business.

Related: Connect to your customers with mobile technology

If you happen to be travelling by air, you are truly fortunate. Few places on earth offer a greater concentration of bored people than an airport. In fact, even if you aren’t flying yourself, grab an empty suitcase and visit your closest airport.

By masquerading as a traveller you can strike up an idle conversation, and then turn it into a discovery interview.

The interview process

How, you might ask, does one go about conducting a discovery interview?

“You need to start off by looking at exactly what it is you are trying to achieve,” says Ignitor’s Paul Smith.

“Your aim should be to try to identify who the early adopters of your offering might be. You also want to identify what their biggest problems related to your particular offering are, and whether any solutions already exist. Lastly, you want them to articulate what the limitations of the current offerings are.”

“A lot of entrepreneurs make the mistake of trying to create a one-size-fits-all solution that will appeal to a broad spectrum of customers. That’s the wrong approach. As Google’s Paul Buchheit famously said: ‘Start out by making 100 users really happy, rather than a lot more users only a little happy.’ Scaling the business comes at a later stage. Initially, you want to identify a small market of early adopters, and then own that market,” says Justin Coetsee.

Don’t talk, listen

“Don’t pitch too aggressively,” says Smith. “Your aim is not to sell your idea, but to gain a proper understanding of your ideal customer. You need to listen, not talk.

“Be friendly. Start with some small talk, and then explain that you plan on launching a new product, and are therefore busy trying to get advice from potential customers.”

It’s important to give context. Tell a story about the problem you’re trying to solve for customers. Set the scene, and then let them talk. As you continue to interview people, a portrait of your early adopter customer will slowly begin to emerge.

Pay close attention to the people who are eager to buy what you’re selling.

  • How old are they?
  • Are they male or female?
  • What sort of work do they do?

The more commonalities you can find between the people who are interested in your solution, the better.

It is also important to ask probing questions.

  • How often do they need to deal with the problem you’re trying to solve?
  • What do they find particularly frustrating about the problem?
  • How have they tried to solve the problem themselves?
  • Why are current solutions not satisfying their needs?

Related: You don’t have to be a magician to create a magical experience for your customers

“Once you have done all of this, you can end the interview by asking if they would like to be contacted if and when you come up with a solution. This is a great way to generate solid leads before you even have a viable product,” says Smith. 

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About the author

GG van Rooyen, Entrepreneur

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