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Marketing In The Round

Using Lean To Find Marketing Attributes

I normally don't publish PR pitches verbatim, but this one really hit home for me yesterday.

Ash Maurya's RUNNING LEAN: ITERATE FROM PLAN A TO A PLAN THAT WORKS (O'Reilly, March 2012) explains that the fastest way to learn is to talk to customers. Not releasing code, or collecting analytics, but talking to people. When asked to do the smallest thing to learn from customers, many founders' first instinct is to conduct a bunch of surveys or focus groups. While running surveys and focus groups may seem more efficient than interviewing customers, starting there is usually a bad idea.

Here's why:

  • Surveys assume you know the right questions to ask: It is hard, if not impossible, to script a survey that hits all the right questions to ask, because you don't know what those questions are. During a customer interview, you can ask for clarification and explore areas outside your initial understanding. Customer interviews are about exploring what you don't know you don't know.
  • Worse, surveys assume you know the right answers, too: In a survey, not only do you have to ask the right questions, but you also have to provide the customer with the right choice of answers. The best initial learning comes from open-ended questions.
  • You can't see the customer during a survey: Body language cues are as much an indicator of Problem/Solution fit as the answers themselves.
  • Focus groups are just plain wrong: The problem with focus groups is that they quickly devolve to "group think," which is wrong for most products.

RUNNING LEAN provides detailed tactics on how to conduct a good customer interview, from finding the prospects to overcoming mental blocks when speaking to them once you have them there.

John's Dialogue:

What I like about this approach is the realization that testing models with customers may be setting a company up for failure because your model may not address the most important attributes your customers need.

Initially marketers have to determine what are the attributes that are most important to customers, so that they can develop a product that addresses those issues.

Apple did this in their efforts to manage product portfolios, first understanding what's important for building a smart phone or mp3 player, and then thinking about what technologies and platforms the company needed to address the attributes customers were most concerned with.

The real issue is understanding and weighting the attributes for customers, not whether a particular model has viability.