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The Power of Customer Interviews
Most entrepreneurship teachers are familiar with how powerful customer interviews are in validating a business model. But how do we motivate our students to leverage that power?
So often our students resist conducting customer interviews.
Their push back makes sense:
- They’re nervous about talking to strangers.
- No one’s shown them how to do this interviewing thing.
- They don’t learn this technique somewhere else.
- They’ve never seen or heard sample interviews.
- They are overwhelmed; it feels like too much work.
- Students have to find people to interview, ask them for the interview, and conduct and analyze the interview.
- All the while, they’re worried about looking and feeling stupid.
In the article below, we’re going to offer you a two-step approach to motivate your students to take advantage of…
The most powerful business model validation tool we have at our disposal: customer interviews.
The first step of this approach is to provide the underlying business model theory so they understand why customer interviews are a critical step in their validation journey. We’ll show you how to use the business model canvas to help you do that. But that’s not enough to get your students talking to customers.
You’ll also need the second step, which is to invite them to experience the transformative power of customer interviews by observing a real interview during an experiential exercise.
Be sure to download the Lesson Plan below for full-details.
Customer Interviews and the Canvas
How do you communicate to your students that customer interviews are the critical component of business model validation? If you use the Business Model Canvas or the Lean Canvas, use them to illustrate this point.
Show a canvas to your students and pose this question:
“Which business model components will customer interviews help you validate?”
Most students point to the Customer Segments or Value Proposition components. Those are both correct, customer interviews will help them directly validate those components.
Customer interviews will also help them validate the Customer Relationships and Channels assumptions. It turns out, when done effectively…
Customer interviews will help your students validate assumptions for almost half of their business models.
The business model assumptions that interviews don’t validate directly will be validated indirectly because everything is derived from the top right corner of the business model canvas.
Customer interviews are the most powerful tool we have for validating business models.
Well-executed customer interviews are far more useful than surveys, focus groups, market research or observations. Every hypothesis your students make can be validated with them, or as a direct result of what they learn during them.
Experiencing Customer Interviews
Once you’ve described why these interviews are so important, it’s time to let your students experience the power of customer interviews first hand. To do that, we invite you to run an exercise with them.
First, ask your students to create a product for parents of children with ADHD. You can do this individually or in teams, whatever fits your class best. The assignment is to design a product for this customer segment.
Note: many of of your students will have no clue how to serve this customer segment and will find this step of the exercise challenging…which is exactly what you want.
Next, ask them to design a Facebook ad to market their new product. The Facebook ad should include several components, including:
- A compelling headline
- An image and
- A description that motivates their customer to take an action (e.g. Click here to learn more, Buy now, etc.).
Once your students have completed both steps, discuss how confident they are they’ve got a product customers will buy, and a compelling ad for that product. During this discussion, highlight the difficulties they encountered coming up with a product in a vacuum, and how difficult it is to come up with a compelling marketing strategy (or even one ad) without speaking to customers.
Make Customer Interviews Real
Next is the really fun part. In the lesson plan below, we’ve included a recording of a sample customer interview with the parent of a child who has ADHD. Play that interview for your students.
During the recording, your students will hear:
- Two very real problems this mother has encountered,
- The emotions the mother feels associated with those problems,
- The solutions the mother has tried to solve those problems.
These three things – the problems, the emotions invoked by those problems, and the attempted solutions to the problems – are customer interviewing gold. Those are aspects on which we build all the components of a business model going forward.
Have your students listen to the interview so they can hear how informative these conversations can be. The first seven minutes of the recording is the interview itself. It’s worth noting that although this was an interview with a real potential customer, it was conducted as a demonstration. Most interviews your students will conduct will be 30-60 minutes long.
The following ten minutes of the recording are a group of students and I discussing what they heard during the interview. Consider listening to this section of the recording if you think it will help prepare you to answer questions your students may have.
After listening to the interview, invite your students to redesign their product.
This time they get to leverage the fact that at least one mother of a child with ADHD has a problem getting that child to sleep. They also know that mother is worried about what sort of coping mechanisms her child will need once she’s an adult.
Your students should use the problem they heard during the interview as inspiration for their new products.
For any company they start, your students can leverage the conversations they have with their potential customers to design their company and the product.
Once they’ve designed their product, have them redesign their Facebook ad. During this phase, make sure your students leverage the guilt and frustration they heard from the mother.
Entrepreneurs use emotional language to connect with their customers and demonstrate they understand the customers’ problems. When a customer sees or hears language that resonates with them on an emotional level, they know “this person understands me.”
When your students create an ad that addresses the guilt of being a mother of a child with ADHD that has been undiagnosed, their potential customer perceives that ad more positively because “finally, someone understands my experience.”
Your students can also reference the competitive solutions the mother has tried to solve her problems. Using the problems, emotions, and solutions the mother evoked during the interview is a way for your students to tell customers like her,
“We understand your problem. And because we understand it, we are uniquely suited to solve your problem.”
After they’ve built their new ad, open a second discussion comparing and contrasting what it was like building a product in a vacuum without speaking to customers versus building a product and ad inspired by customer interviews.
Talk about the benefits of collaborating with customers to create a product, and how doing so can help them market that product as well. Talk about how willing the customer was to talk about her problems, and how she seemed to enjoy the experience (i.e. people enjoy being genuinely asked about their problems so they shouldn’t feel like they are imposing on their interviewees).
Also be sure to talk about how it may feel like extra, and sometimes uncomfortable, work to talk with customers before creating a product, but how…
Nothing accelerates the creation of a successful product more than talking to your customers about their problems.
Now that you know how to help your students feel what it’s like to use customer interviews as the inspiration for a new product, and can explain their relationship to the Business Model Canvas, you have the tools to motivate your students to do their own customer interviews.
For more details, take a look at the complete lesson plan we’ve provided below, including the link to the sample interview recording.
Get the Experiencing Customer Interviews Lesson Plan
We’ve created an experiential, 45-minute, Experiencing Customer Interviews Lesson Plan to help you motivate your students to talk to their customers. It encapsulates everything we’ve talked about above.
Use it as a basis to motivate your students to interview customers.
It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it.
All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it the comments below so we can improve it!
Interviews, Not Guesses
You want students to develop powerful solutions that solve real problems for real customers. To do that,
They need to become comfortable interviewing customers.
If you want your students to interview customers so their solutions are more powerful, try this technique in your next course.
In future articles, we’ll talk about who your students should target for interviews, and what to ask during them. If you’d like those lesson plans, subscribe here to get them in your inbox.