Many startup businesses fail because their owners skip a critical step in development: talking to potential customers before opening the doors.
It should be an obvious, early task for entrepreneurs. Will people buy what you're offering? If so, what will they pay? The answers may surprise you.
But not getting customer feedback is a major mistake that can cost you a lot of time and money – and ultimately, your business.
Here's an example of how valuable raw customer feedback can be. Robin Chase, co-founder of Zipcar, recently spoke to me about the birth of the car-sharing company. She wrote possible names on index cards and then handed them to people, without explaining anything about the business. All she would ask is, "What do these names suggest to you?"
Chase quickly discovered several of her favorite candidates for the name only confused customers. Though the company offers car-sharing services, names with the word "share" in it were a turnoff.
Ash Maurya, the founder of the measurement-apps company Spark59, discusses effective customer research in the book Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works. There's a right way and wrong way to do it. Here are a few tips on getting feedback effectively:
Skip the focus groups. Often, one person in the focus group has a strong opinion and hijacks the discussion, pressuring everyone to agree with him or her. So you've got 10 people in a room, but you end up with just one opinion.
Ditch the surveys. Conducting a survey can be problematic. Rather than pose questions and suggest answers, it's better to let your customers tell you what's important to them, Maurya says.
Watch the body language. The other problem with simply sending out surveys, Maurya says, is you don’t get to see how customers react to your idea. “Body language cues are as much an indicator of problem/solution fit as the answers themselves,” he says.
Have you done customer research lately? Leave a comment and tell us what you learned.