3 common mistakes (we won’t be making)

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Before we get into our 5 step process for conducting interviews with customers, there are a couple of big mistakes we need to talk about. These are really common, but there are some key reasons they just don’t work very well.

Mistake #1: Talking directly about your idea

Okay, so this part might seem a little weird. After all, we’re trying to validate or invalidate our idea here — why shouldn’t we ask people what they think about it?

First of all, talking about your idea with potential customers will put you right into sales mode. Of course you want your ideal customer to like your thing, so you’ll probably start to feel this impulse to convince them. You’ll feel pressure to explain your product perfectly, which just leads to more nervousness for everybody.

At the same time, your potential customer might start to see what you’re looking for and, in attempt to be friendly and helpful, tell you what you want to hear. You could end up interpreting their desire to be polite as validation, which makes this whole exercise a little pointless.

Take that pressure off by making the interview about your customers. This is about their ideas, their feeling and their real problems, it’s not about you or your business. Remember, you’re a researcher looking for the truth not a salesperson trying to persuade.

So, we’re not going to talk directly about our idea because it can muddle the results of our conversation. It might seem counter-intuitive, but if you try it you’ll see just how much you can relax and maybe even enjoy these conversations.

Mistake #2: Asking leading questions

Similar to talking about your idea, asking questions that can lead someone towards a certain answer will not help you.

Keep in mind that most of us are people pleasers who want to feel like we helped out. If we get the sense we will get the answer "right" by going in a certain direction, most of us are probably going to do that. If you lead your customer, you might be inadvertently steering them towards the answer you’re looking for. Again, thats NOT what we want — we want honest, real answers from people so we can truly challenge our assumptions and make our idea much stronger.

Also, if we plant an idea in the customer’s mind we will likely miss out on the beauty of seeing where they would have taken the conversation. They might pick a direction very different from what you were expecting, and if that happens it’s extremely important. More on that later.

Instead, we’re going to ask questions that allow the customer to steer, keeping ourselves in "discovery mode" by staying objective and curious about the person on the other end of the conversation.

Mistake #3: A mile wide and an inch deep

During this entire process, we have to keep in mind that this is a conversation and not a game of 20 questions. These interviews actually aren’t about covering as much ground as possible with the person on the other side of the table — you don’t want to have a million questions lined up.

In future lessons we’re going to get into the details of asking great follow up questions to avoid this mistake, but for now you just need to remember that this is a two-way conversation, not an endless peppering of tough questions.

OK, that’s it — those are 3 classic mistakes people make about customer interviews.

  1. Don’t talk about your idea directly. It can lead interviewees to just telling you what you want.
  2. Don’t ask leading questions. Again, our goal is to hear the truth from these interviews — leading questions won’t lead to deep insights.
  3. Don’t go a mile wide and an inch deep. Remember, this is a 2-way conversation, it’s not about peppering them with tons of questions.

Okay, so now that we know what we won’t be doing, let’s head to the next lesson to start learning about the 5 step process for designing conversations with your potential customers.