7 Ways to Create Customer Discovery Buy-In & Drive Adoption

Leading a group of entrepreneurs through the Lean Startup process of customer discovery can be a rewarding yet daunting task. One of the greatest potential challenges is getting the entrepreneurs from the mindset of, “My idea is the golden ticket,” to, “I’m open to learning from my customers and adapting accordingly.” Before you say, “Get out of the building and talk to your customers,” you need to educate the entrepreneurs on the process, create customer discovery buy-in, and build the right incentives for success. When they embrace the concept and feel the impact that the customer discovery process can have on their startups, your job becomes much easier and your startups become more successful.

Here’s a collection of tips to help you flip this mindset adjustment and start your entrepreneurs off on the right note:

1) Assign reading — Prior to your program, you may want to consider assigning a Lean Startup reading list. Here are a few great books and articles to consider: Talking to Humans by Giff Constable, Running Lean by Ash Maurya, The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, Why The Lean Startup Changes Everything by Steve Blank, and Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder.

2) Day 1 discussion on Lean Startup — Spend your first day discussing why the Lean Startup has become so popular. You can discuss the transition from business plans to business models, examples of large companies with Lean Startup in their DNA (Airbnb, Dropbox, Wealthfront, and Intuit), and even companies that failed from a lack of product-market fit (Webvan and Pets.com). Here’s one great example from a 2013 Lean LaunchPad Class at UCSF where the Chief Surgeon discussed how the methodology saved him years of product development.

3) Use relatable examples — Discuss successful examples of teams from previous cohorts. Walk through their Business Model Canvas weekly iterations. Show how successful teams invalidated hypotheses and pivoted throughout the program. If possible, bring a team in to talk about their customer discovery journey and answer questions.

4) Set the stage — This isn’t going to be easy. Warn your entrepreneurs that this is a difficult process riddled with emotional swings that takes a lot of time and commitment. They should expect an emotional rollercoaster and a long road ahead.

5) Business Model Canvas (BMC) exercise — Explain each segment of the BMC and provide time in between the explanations for the teams to fill in their canvases. Review the entries made and verify that the teams’ hypotheses are accurately framed. Are their customer segments specific enough? Have their value propositions inaccurately been added as features? Confirming a great first take of your teams’ canvases will set them up to gain the most from their customer discovery interviews.

6) Provide the right incentives — Every Lean Startup program differs by industry, program length, culture, program structure, funding, etc. As such, the incentives that you provide should be unique to your specific use case. Here are a number of incentives that our customers employ to drive customer discovery activity:

  • Grade — Academic institutions have a very straightforward way of getting their students to engage in the process: if they don’t, their grade is affected.
  • Financial incentives — Often times, accelerators or incubators may hold off on providing funding until certain customer discovery milestones have been accomplished by participating startups.
  • Acknowledgment — Publicly acknowledge the teams that are performing well. This helps to establish a standard for how other teams should be performing.
  • Guilt — Depending on your leadership style, you may consider placing teams that do not actively engage in the customer discovery process under a magnifying glass. This can be accomplished by not allowing the teams to participate in a weekly presentation or expelling them from the program.
  • Access — Enforce the need to conduct a certain amount of discovery interviews or testing before being granted access to mentors, the next stage of programming, demo day, etc.
  • Success — The ultimate incentive should be the desire to succeed. If you have successfully educated your cohort of teams on the effectiveness of the methodology, the teams will be intrinsically motivated to follow the process.

7) Create a rigorous schedule and stick to it — By designing your program around a set of mandatory metrics and check-ins, entrepreneurs are enforced to engage in the process. Here are a few methods that may work for your program:

  • Customer interviews — Mandate a certain number of customer interviews per week. If you feel that the teams should accomplish 100 customer interviews in a 12-week program, the ongoing goal should entail speaking with a minimum of eight customers per week.
  • Weekly/bi-weekly presentations — Host frequent presentations or check-ins that allow teams to share updates on their progress. Who did they speak with? What did they learn? How will this impact their business model and discovery process moving forward?
  • Course videos — Assign weekly viewing of lectures from Steve Blank’s online course, How to Build a Startup.

Every Lean Startup program is different and operates in its own unique environment. What works within one cohort may not work in another. Developing a successful program is itself an iterative process that should be built through trial and error. Just as the entrepreneurs embark on the journey to find a scalable and repeatable business model, you should consider doing the same. We hope the tips listed above will help get you started or spark ideas to improve the effectiveness of your existing programs.