#SaaS: A Simple Customer Discovery Plan

We are in 2019, an unbelievable number of articles, guides, and other white papers has been written about customer discovery already, and yet, I feel like plenty of early-stage founders could spend much more time talking to potential customers.

This post aims to share a very simple and actionable plan to conduct customer discovery at early-stage.

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Goal: Talking to more prospects to articulate better Persona — Pain Point — Value Proposition.

Let’s start by defining what the goal of this customer discovery plan is: to articulate clearly Persona — Pain Point — Value Proposition.

Persona: the description of your prospect/customer profile. The more precise this description is, the better.

Pain Point: the pain point you solve for this specific persona. The clearer the pain point is, the better.

Value Proposition: how your product solves (or will) this pain point. The sharper your value proposition is (concise and straightforward), the better.

The goal of this customer discovery campaign is to end up with a very simple spreadsheet where you have ranked two to three (maximum) of these “persona — pain point — value proposition” combinations, validated by enough interviews (> 10). You can keep all the “persona, pain point and value proposition” tested (or that you will test), in a backlog tab.

Three signs that show you should do more customer discovery.

1- You have a spreadsheet with your personas, but you haven’t spoken to enough prospects.

The majority of founders knows the concept of customer personas and has a spreadsheet listing them. A minority logs the number of interviews they conduct. My personal belief is that before drawing any conclusion, you should discuss with, at least, ten of each persona.

The solution: add in your persona spreadsheet a column with the number of interviews conducted.

2- Your personas, pain points or value propositions are too vague.

As I wrote above, a majority of founders have created their persona spreadsheet, but often the description of the personas, their pain points or the value propositions are too vague. Generally, it’s the sign that the spreadsheet has been created during a team meeting, discussed for a couple of hours, but not validated in real life with enough interviews.

The solution: talk to more prospects until you can articulate precisely the personas, their pain point, and your value proposition.

3- You have too many personas, pain points or value proposition listed

Another sign is when you have twenty different personas listed with ten pain points that your product can solve. I don’t doubt that in some years your product will appeal to a wide range of customers and help them solve plenty problems, but let’s be realistic when you start it’s more likely that you’ll appeal to a precise segment of users for a precise pain-point. Too many personas and pain point listed shows that you haven’t prioritized them well enough or a sign of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

The solutions: it’s while conducting prospect interviews that you’ll be able not only to define your personas and their pain points better but also to prioritize them. Try to rate these pain points from “nice to have” to “must have”, and focus on the “must have” ones.

Process: Setting up processes to ensure execution

Now that we know what we want to achieve, let’s talk about the steps to get there.

Step 1: Set a specific number of prospects you want to interview weekly.

It’s a crucial aspect because having this metric will:

  • Enable you to measure your progress: it’s binary, did you talk to enough people or not?
  • Make you accountable: when you commit to a specific number of interviews, you cannot have excuses not to do it.

I believe five interviews per week is a good number at the beginning.

Step 2: Set up a customer discovery committee.

Another key aspect is to conduct this customer discovery campaign as a team. Too often I see this task undertaken by the CEO only. Instead, set up a small “customer discovery” committee that will let you:

  • Interview more people: the aim is not to conduct the interviews altogether but to share the load across several people. In my opinion, three person is a good number for this committee. That way, if you aim to interview five prospects per week, you end up with two interviews per person.
  • Make the task more enjoyable: it’s simply more motivating to conduct such campaigns as a team rather than alone.
  • Create peer-pressure: when you see other team members reaching their goals, it creates pressure for you to execute as well.
  • Analyze the results with different perspectives: in the ideal scenario, the people in this committee should come from different backgrounds like marketing, product, sales, tech.

I think the ideal committee size is three people with different backgrounds. For example, the CEO + a marketing person + a product person is a great combination. Two committee members must interview two prospects / user per week, and the other one only one (not a huge load and you can rotate this allocation).

Step 3: Set up your analysis plan.

For each interview, the interviewer should:

  • Take notes — bullet point style.
  • Share his notes with the committee in a single and common doc (a Google Doc where the notes from every interview are shared).

Once per week, or once every two weeks, you should have a committee meeting where you:

  • Discuss together your findings.
  • Derive actionable tasks to be completed.
  • Sum up your conclusions (in the same Google Doc).
  • Update the “persona — pain point — value proposition” spreadsheet shared in the first part of this post.

Step 4: Set up reporting

Share your findings / lessons learned with the whole company with a simple email after each committee (once or per week / every two weeks).

Step 5: launch the campaign and work in sprints.

Now that you’ve set up everything, you can start the campaign and work in “sprint” mode:

  • Start of the week: quick committee meeting to allocate interviews to each person.
  • End of the week / every two weeks: committee meeting to discuss the findings and come with the new actionable tasks.

Of course, don’t just execute blindly but iterate based on what works for you.

Interviews: It’s about learning, not selling.

I’m not an expert at conducting interviews, but I’m a big believer that it shouldn’t be over-engineered at that stage (you don’t need to be an expert at this to execute this plan). In my eyes, what is essential is to keep some key principles in mind:

It’s not about selling; it’s about listening. A common mistake is to believe that you need to convince the person you interview to use your solution or to show how great your product will be. The aim of these interviews is not to find new users, but to make the person talk as much as possible and to listen to her/him as much as possible. It’s by analysing, afterward, what they said that you’ll understand better their pain point and can test different value propositions.

Your aim is to understand each persona deeply. For each persona, you should be able to describe exactly what a typical day for them looks like, what frustrates them, what excites them, how they work etc. It’s not only about what your product can do for them, but about understanding your customers deeply. You have to become an expert at your “persona”, and not just at your product.

You’ll get better while doing it. Don’t be scared if your first interviews are not great or if you don’t start with a well prepared two pages long script. It’s typically the kind of tasks that you need to repeat over and over to get good at. It’s better to iterate often on what you ask, the way you do it than to believe it requires very special skills. Anyone can do it.

If you have any question you can ask me on Twitter / shoot me an email.