Customer Development Essentials: Part 1 — Audience Surveys

There was a recent series of blog posts by Hiten Shah about doing a customer discovery survey the right way. Hiten is a master at finding out what the market wants and building products to fit those needs.

I love how he laid out a succinct framework for how to think about this process works and how it can fit in with the overall arch of product creation.

And so today I’m beginning my own journey of product development and it’s also starting with customer discovery survey.

As most entrepreneurs do I have a million ideas going around in my head every day. Things from wild and innovative solutions to competitive products in already established markets.

Most entrepreneurs I know suffer from this sort of lack of focus from time to time. The proverbial Shiny Object Syndrome his sunk more entrepreneurial journeys than we can count…my own from time to time.

The beauty of this customer first idea creation and validation is that is very concretely gives you not just the problem/feature paradigm you need to shoot for, but also the exact language that your target customers use to describe the pains they’re experiencing and how you solving them would feel.

If you’ve never run a survey to your audience before I highly encourage you to do it. Hearing their words about your market and product is really invigorating and also a little shaking.

We all think we know our market so well, but often times we go off creating what we think the market wants when instead it often times is something quite different.

How to Structure a Customer Survey

Starting out with a survey is a dead easy way to start gathering information about your target audience and the pains they’re experiencing around a certain problem.

The one thing you need to do before creating the survey is decide on an area that you want to explore. It could be File Sharing, as was Hiten’s example and latest project, or it could be podcasting, as was my most recent project: Seriously Simple Hosting — a dedicated podcast hosting platform integrated into WordPress.

Once you’ve narrowed in on an aspect of the market, or type of target customer, it’s time to start writing those oh-so-important survey questions.

Take your time here and really think about not only the exact results you’re looking to get from the survey, but also the types of things that you probably Do Not Know that might come out of open ended questions.

Hiten says in a later blog post on this topic that he spent hours writing the half dozen questions for his survey. That’s the kind of thoughtfulness that should go into this process.

As for the survey itself you can use something simple like Typeform or WuFoo to gather this information. Even a Google Form would work.

How to Ask Good Questions

When designing the questions a few things you should keep in mind:

  • Ask open ended questions — if you’re giving someone room to type a text area response make it a very open ended question, and give them the freedom to roam wherever they’d like with it. You’ll be amazed at what you get back.
  • Gather contact information — at the end of the survey ask for their email address. This is a good way to follow up with individual responses later if you want to clarify or dig further into their responses.
  • Give a little incentive — In our survey we let responders know that they’ll be entered for a $50 Amazon gift card. This might dilute the quality of applicants a bit, but will give people a little push to help you out. In the grand scheme of things the $50 you spend here is nothing compared to the upside of contact info and feedback from your potential customers.
  • Tell a bit about your product idea — this is tricky. You don’t want to tell people what you have in mind to build (because truthfully you shouldn’t know yet), but giving them an idea of the pain point around which you’re hoping to focus (file sharing, podcast hosting, etc.). And incentivize them to stay in touch with you as you go down this road. Early Access is a good idea here as a method of keeping in touch with them down the road.
  • Get some hard data to quantify your potential audience — things like company size, revenue ranges, hours spent a week on a problem, or existing workflows are all very fair questions to give and will provide you with a really nice overall view of the responses you’re getting.

From here you should have a list of 10 or so questions that you want to ask. In the survey I created I distilled this down to 7 total questions, one of which was the email address and product enticement hook.

My Survey

You can check out the survey live here. If you’re doing any kind of client work, invoicing, or customer billing, I’d love to hear from you.

In the end your survey should be just a starting point for understanding more of the customer landscape. What are they currently doing, where do their current solutions come up short, what types of things concern them about the topic, and a bit about where that exact customer fits into the overall market you’re looking at.

Next Steps

From here comes the fun part of actually going out and talking to those customers who responded to your survey, and especially some of those that you think have particularly interesting insights.

In the next article on Customer Development Essentials I’m going to lay out the exact framework I’m using to follow up with survey respondents, what the goals of those discussions will be, and how gathering all this information will guide our actual product creation.

This article originally appeared on If you enjoyed this please Share it with your friends, and Like it here. Stay tuned for Part II next week.