The anchor question

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Now that I’ve got my problem hypothesis, I need to come up with my anchor question. This will be the question I use to start the conversation with my potential customer.

Keep in mind, back to our common mistakes, we don’t want to lead the conversation too much and come right out with the problem too directly. If we do that, we miss out on the opportunity to find out whether this a problem the customer even cares about enough to bring up on her own.

The goal is to come up with a question that puts us in the ballpark of our problem without calling it out too directly. To show you what I mean, let’s talk through some examples.

Not too broad

Okay, so while it’s important to leave the first question open enough to see where the customer takes us, we don’t want to ask something so broad that we end up talking about a problem way out in left field that we don’t really care to solve.

For our fly-tying monthly subscription box, here’s an example of a question that’s a little too broad:

Too broad: "What’s the hardest thing about being a fly fisherman?”

While problems related to tying flies would certainly fall into this category, you can imagine how many other problems the customer might throw out there that have truly nothing to do with your hypothesis. The customer might mention he has a hard time getting his partner interested in his hobby, or she might say she wishes she knew more about which locations around the U.S. are best for trout fishing.

While these answers might still interest you, we would do better to reign in the boundaries of the conversation a little bit more.

Not too specific

While we don’t want to start with a question that’s too broad, we also don’t want to ask a question so specific that it keeps the customer from answering honestly. Here’s an example of a question that’s just too specific:

Too specific: “What’s the hardest thing about gathering all the materials and instruction you need in order to tie your own flies?”

With this question, there are only a very limited amount of answers you can receive, and you won’t really find out whether this problem is pressing enough that your customer would pay for a solution.

Just right

The key to a great anchor question is to come up with something that will land your customers in the ballpark of the problem, but will also give them the chance to show you whether your problem is the one they care about. Here’s an example:

Just right: “What’s the hardest thing about tying your own flies?”

With this question, you can imagine that the answer might be "it’s annoying to track down all the materials I need in order to tie them".

This answer would potentially support my hypothesis that a monthly subscription box of materials and instruction would be worth paying for — of course, I need to ask more questions to learn more.

But they could also say something like, “it’s always hardest to know which type of flies will work best on which kinds of fish,” which doesn’t necessarily support my hypothesis, but instead points me towards something else.

While it might seem scary or disappointing to think that potential customers might not even bring up my problem, this reality is extremely telling. If your problem is not even pressing enough for your customer to come up with it on her own, you can bet that she won’t be convinced to spend her hard earned money trying to solve it. You’d be much better off learning about a new problem and why that’s important.

“If your problem is not pressing enough for a customer to identify it herself, you can bet she won’t spend her hard earned money on a solution.”

Action: Create your anchor question

Now it’s time to create your own anchor question. You’ve seen example anchor questions that were too broad, too narrow and just right. Rematch this lesson if you need to, come up with a few ideas, and share your anchor question ideas in the forums, asking “which of these do you like more for my problem” or “is this too broad, too narrow or just right?”

So, if you haven’t yet, create your anchor question and get some feedback from a friend or the community. When you’re ready, we’ll move on to the next lesson.