Customer Development and Research

Wise, Wiser, Wizard – Some Recent Lessons Learned

Some stories end well, some stories end okay. And some of them “leave a bad taste in your mouth” (thanks, U2). Generally, the whole point of customer research is to learn, and eventually, being ignored by your target customers is also a very valuable feedback.

Most of my projects are usually running smooth (also when it comes to recruitment aka finding people who are eager to answer your questions), but lately I had to go down some bumpy roads, too, and I am happy to share my own lessons learned.

Intercontinental or just simply international projects are an exciting challenge, but brace yourself. It won’t be easy.

The quintessence of today’s startups is to have a global focus. I deeply agree with that. However, it can be quite difficult to engage people from thousands of miles apart. Online options are of course much more feasible than other kinds of methods (like, getting a plane ticket:), but they are also limited.

By limitations, I mean human psychology. It is very hard to convince people to give you 10 minutes of their life without standing there face-to-face, having a phone number to call or knowing them personally. Why? Because it is really easy to ignore the other person without feeling bad. It’s a sad realisation but it is indeed true.

How to allay the problems?

  • Squeeze some direct contact detail out of your target customers AS FAST AS POSSIBLE. People not always trust virtual personas so it won’t be easy, but you can enhance their level of trust by providing as many personal contact details as possible, too, providing a wide range of options like phone number, Skype name, Google Hangout etc.
  • Link your Facebook or LinkedIn profile so that they can see you are alive and not some spam bot.  Try to get at least a Google Hangout address or Skype name as soon as possible to be able to keep an eye on them (ready for action).
  • Get a local phone number. For a US-based project (done remotely), we got a Skype number. I definitely think this leads to a higher sense of credibility yet the problem is that it is linked to your online account so you have to be online as much as possible (considering local time zones, of course). This can be quite challenging.Note: the sound quality of Skype can be exceptionally crappy in case of phone calls. I had calls when I felt at least one of us thinks the other person is an extraterrestrial.
  • By the way, time zones…Well, it’s a pain in the ass anyways, so prepare for it.:) The best solution is to try to ask for potential available time slots or prearranged online appointments. (Especially if you still didn’t get a direct contact info from the other person…) And of course: try not to forget to leave your Skype/GH when you arrived home at night, even if you are just watching TV and chilling – you never know who might call you.
  • Be prepared for disappointments based on cultural differences. Honestly, not every society is the same (what a smart observation, I know). E.g., the majority of American youngsters may be sharing every minute of their lives on Social Media but they might think you are a stalker/weirdo/creep if you contact them to chat about it. (Thanks to the kind exceptions that helped me recently and were a real pleasure to talk to!:)
  • Let them come to you. Reach out to as many channels as possible. Use a big net when fishing, so to say. The more channels you use, the higher the chances are that some people will get interested and reach out to YOU. Yes! Actually, the best interviewees I had were some times coming to me in a voluntary way, or at least not addressed on an individual level but replying to a vague request/post. It is often much more effective than trying to persuade people who just don’t really have the time to get back to you or they are not that interested. (In some way, it’s also part of the validation…)
  • Use the proper channels. Use sites/resources that are attracting people with similar interests (Google+ seems to be quite good for this sake) or sites where the people are especially social/eager to connect with others (like discussion boards, “buddy” sites, Linkedin etc.). I also sent out many direct requests to international target customers (for two recent projects) but I found that this criteria led to a higher success rate than direct mailing.Note: Also, stuff like MTurk was not really working well in the teen segment, even if it would have made our lives much easier. For other segments it may work better but for our project with youngsters, it wasn’t a big hit.)
  • Try to find people that were socialized in that environment but currently live here – like exchange students, “fresh” expats etc.
  • Also: don’t forget that some people don’t speak languages. Always try to use the local language IF the segment is not really educated in general. I sent English-speaking survey links and letters to some industry professionals in CEE countries, hoping they would help. Well, they didn’t really help us. There may have been several reasons that we are not aware of (I am pretty sure the type of the industry wasn’t one of the most open-minded and legal ones), but I think language probs were among them. We iterated the process and translated it into languages like German and Slovakian – I don’t say the response rate skyrocketed but we received some minor feedback at last.

I hope you found these observations useful. You know, you never stop learning, also when it comes to customer development practices. But that’s an essential part of life, isn’t it?

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