Customer Development and Research

A Handy Handbook – “The Mom Test” by @robfitz

There have been quite a few books, articles, blogs regarding Customer Development and whatever topics it may incorporate, yet I am always happy when I stumble upon content that I actually find usable. I mean, involving advice that may actually improve your practical skills.

“The Mom Test” is a good example for that; it’s a pretty good handbook that will train your brain instead of filling it with mumbo-jumbo. (And yet again, I got no mugs or bucks for saying all that.:D)

Plus, the author, Robert Fitzpatrick is not only a really cool and inspiring guy (or at least that has been my impression every time I met him at local workshops and boot camps:), but he also knows quite a lot about startups and potential reasons for failing.

And as he admits on the landing page dedicated to his book:

“It’s super easy to screw up.”

Like, not having proper conversations with your customers. Either not trying to talk to them at all, or what’s worse, trying to talk to them but ending up having a pitch-like monologue and reassuring your hypotheses in a false positive way.

This latter is a phenomenon that is well discussed in the book – to cut the story short, it happens when you think you heard exactly what you wanted, such as super-positive stuff; then you lean back with a smirk on your face and you are sure people gonna love your product. But in reality, it turns out you were wrong, wrong, wrong…no one cares and it seems like something had gone wrong when asking bad questions (like, too generic, hypothetical ones instead of specific experiences) or interpreting what you heard in a blind-sided way.

As Robert puts it:

“You don’t need to end up with what you wanted to hear in order to have a good conversation. You just need to get to the truth.”

How can you improve your Customer Conversations skills then? The book covers many areas with specific recommendations and useful techniques, yet owing to the fear of being haunted by the Banshee of Plagiarism;), I only gonna provide a teaser:

  • The mystery of the expression “Mom Test”
  • How can you avoid the trap of staying too generic (and missing the real problem points) and better anchor topics? (Getting back to specifics, experiences by the right questions; the perfect moment for “zooming” in)
  • How to find out whether the problem is really worth tackling (and whether your target customers already try to deal with it)
  •  How to decide whether you are making real advancement and getting relevant signals (commitments) instead of sheer compliments or “zombie leads” (this is especially relevant in B2B segment in my point of view)
  • How to learn from what customers say in a wise way (not just obeying or rejecting them)

We know it’s not always rainbows and butterflies as the song says, and I don’t believe that everything the book advises is completely realistic in real-life situations.

You gonna do stuff that the book mentions as mistakes; in my opinion, sometimes it can be worth mentioning your idea (just not at the wrong moment), some people are indeed open to criticise your product and won’t just compliment you (especially in specific segments where self-esteem runs high), some times it is worth talking about general topics, practices as a context etc. What really matters is how you interpret these things and whether you can stay objective when it comes to your own “baby”.

But at least you should try to improve on your skills. Or the way you think and ask. That’s why I think this sincere confession by Rob is brilliantly spot-on:

“I make tons of mistakes. At least now I notice and have a chance to fix them. Most bad conversations can be fixed. You’re trying to do something difficult. You’re never going to be perfect, but it always helps to be better.”

…Now go read the book, folks!;)

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