Customer learning is the new black

What is there to do when your new product or service is not yet ready to be released? How to hold sales meetings when there isn’t anything to sell? Too often companies just wait for an MVP launch and sit in their ivory towers making hypotheses. Don’t let your company be one of those, there is another way. You can always do customer learning.

This is how it works. First, make a few assumptions on your business’ future. For us, those assumptions were something like “We could change the game in car dealer business or redesign customer user experience in hotel business”. After the initial assumptions we made the best possible mock-ups of our upcoming service and started to call potential customers. There is no need to have sales material ready or an elevator pitch finalized at this point. Just explain what you do and why they should meet you. We said “We are designing a new service and would like to learn how we could make it a service that you are obsessed to have”. Sometimes the response was “no thanks”. Sometimes it was “I don’t think so, but could you send me something to test drive”. But occasionally we got a response of “What the hell, let’s have some coffee and you can try to impress me”.

Customer learning is not about you or your fantastic MVP. It’s about understanding your potential customer’s business. So, you have to let them talk. This is why we follow a simple agenda when meeting potential customers.

  1. Brief introduction and clarification of why we are here today
  2. Lots of questions and discussions about their business. Questions like “What channels your customers use to become actual customers” or “If you could use a magic wand, how would you change the way you close deals?”
  3. Let them play with our demo briefly. The potential customers do this by themselves, we help them only if they get stuck. We observe and learn. Maybe our MVP isn’t that intuitive after all.
  4. Finally, we ask about pricing. We avoid questions such as “How much you are willing to pay for the service you just tested” as it is too easy for people who do not actually make purchasing decisions to reply “I would pay 100€ per month”. Instead, we ask the following questions: “What would be the price that you consider too high for that service” and “What would be the price you consider so low that it would make you question the quality of the service”.

What do we gain from these meetings? The answer is that we get lots of detailed information from different industries which helps us to validate our initial assumptions. When we ask questions like “why do you do that” and “why have you not tried to do it this way” in these meetings we actually participate in our potential customers’ business development process. This kind of business development validates our value proposition, excludes irrelevant features and gives potential customers options and ideas for redesigning their business. We are also able to find a range for pricing, although it may not always be easy: some customers replied that they are willing to pay 2000 € per month for our service while some said they could consider it if it costs less than 15 €. Despite of this we are starting to find out a saturation point where the majority of the potential customers locate the value of our service.

In a nutshell, customer learning is not a new kid on the block, but one way to combine lean start-up philosophy, behavioral interview methods, customer journey blueprinting, service design and old school cold calling sales actions into one package. With these takeaways from customer learning meetings, during the next year we are going to release our new…

And that’s another story.