Customer Development and Research

Out of the Building #2: Peer-to-Peer Research

This week, we utilise a new approach: making benefit of customers relationships to other (significant) people. Do you like the idea of having access to a great bunch of people by actually interviewing just a few of them? Then read on.:)

WHAT? This technique slightly resembles those used by secret services all over the world, yet involving much less sensitive issues (and doing it in a rather friendly way). The main principle is that when you approach your target customers to conduct an interview or a group session with them, you also ask them to ask relevant people within their own environment (e.g. special subcultures, special types of people or just people like them).

These can be informal chats, small talks that are connected to the topic. You should always prepare a few questions and key topics as a vague guide but should not expect your “agents” to act like a rigid field worker following a survey as that would kill the fun and the spontaneity. Rather look out for spontaneous mentionings, sincere reactions and exciting tendencies and ask your “agents” to collect such observations.

WHY? You will not only be able to get multiple reactions/responses (if you manage to involve 5 people and they collect further info from another 5 people, that makes 25 impressions!), but it will also make your job more pleasant and fast. Also, people might get more sincere with “interviewers” that they already know, so you can expect that replies will be more honest even if they DON’T like the idea (which they might not reveal should they talk to you directly).

Also, you might get access to subcultures that are not easy to approach if you are not friends with them or one of them, but they might open up talking to a friend.

Another advantage is that you can demolish geographic barriers: if you find a potential customer (e.g. someone who signed up) in a faraway corner of the world, it gets easier to reach their peers than it would have been on your own.

HOW? Don’t sweat it too much and make it really engaging for your agents if they are not receiving further incentives. (Remember, in research, respondents usually receive some incentive. People just love rewards as a motivation.) When you approach target customers, ask them at the end of the talk whether they would love to participate in this unique experiment and ask a few friends about their opinion, too. If the topic/project is interesting or you are a nice person, the chances are they might help you indeed.:) Give them an email address and ask them to write about their surprising field experiences, exciting impressions in a week or two.

If you are “working” with people on your sign-up list, you could send out an engaging invite and ask them to reach out to some friends (always include a few hints about which kind of people are important to you) and talk to them over the next few weeks in an informal way. As you have a constant connection to these people, your job might be easier in this case (and these customers are probably also already engaged to some level so might be eager to help!).

 WHO? Always try to approach people that 1) belong to your target group so they probably also know others in your target segment, too (e.g. moms and fellow moms) 2) have access to your target group (e.g. kindergarten teachers have access to moms) 3) are your friends but you know they have a huge network so they can approach relevant people out of your own (biased) network. Also, always add some “hints” what kind of people you would like to hear from and ask your agents to make notes regarding the main characteristics of the “source of information” (e.g. this was said by a mom of 2 little kids, this was said by a retail assistant etc.).


Top ten moms on Instagram. Example for a group that loves networking and talking and might be great “agent material” if they (or their friends and family!) are relevant to you.

WHERE? The main advantage is that you can even organize it remotely while your “agents” will work in their usual environment. They can also “report” to you either virtually or you can organize another quick live chat with them.

WHEN? According to the special, indirect, informal character, this might be better to validate ideas than MVPs or features. But it can be a complementary feature for any consumer interviews at any level.

FINAL ADVICE: Make it really, really engaging. Make it seem like an important mission, a great experiment where your “agent” can provide game-changing information. In one word, let them know how important their contribution is and always give them just enough guidance to make sure they seek relevant info but don’t get bored or confused.

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