Alex Osterwalder: Don’t Believe Your Customers!

We all know that customers don’t always do what they tell us. Yet, I often see people validate their ideas based only on interviews, surveys or focus groups without testing customer intentions. That's risky. In this post I’ll share how a Fortune200 company faced this pitfall and outline a simple technique to test customer intentions that goes beyond what they tell us.

Strategyzer is currently coaching an established consumer brand to build a new growth engine around an exciting market opportunity. 20 brilliant and experienced people work in five teams to design and test potential business models and value propositions with our tools. 

In a 2-day workshop they prototyped initial Business Models and Value Proposition Canvases, then generated and prioritized a number of customer hypotheses to validate or invalidate. All teams are committed to prototyping, testing, and evolving their ideas “in the field" before refining them more deeply. In fact, many team members found it extremely energizing to get in touch with customers early on in the process rather than writing a business plan.

Most of the teams started testing their customer assumptions with interviews and surveys. That’s a great way to get first rich customer insights. Yet, there is a danger in using this data alone to validate your ideas, because customers don’t always do what they say. They might tell you that they’re interested in doing something, but will they really?

It’s not so trivial to go beyond customer opinions or their hopes and learn about their actual behavior. There are several ways to do so.

One is to simply ask better interview/survey questions that insist on learning about facts. For instance, don’t (only) ask potential customers about their opinion, e.g. “Would you…?”. Rather, ask about concrete facts or instances, e.g. “When is the last time you have…?”.

An even better way to validate ideas and verify if customers really mean what they say is to conduct experiments. Here’s a simple and cheap technique from our new book "Value Proposition Design" that we taught the teams from the Fortune200 company. We showed them how to conduct an experiment by setting up a unique tracking link for customer interviews/interactions to verify a customer's "true" interest beyond what they might say.

1. “Fabricate” a unique link
Make a unique and trackable link with a service such as that points to more detailed information about your ideas (e.g. a document download, a landing page, etc).

2. Pitch and track
Explain your idea to a potential customer or partner. Give the person you talked to the unique link during or after the meeting and mention that it points to more detailed information. You could, for example, embed the unique link in a sales brochure specifically made for this person. Or, you could simply send the link by email after the meeting.

3. Learn about genuine interest
Track if the person you talked to used the link or not. If the link wasn’t used it may indicate a lack of interest, even if they stated their interest during your meeting with them. It may also indicate that they are preoccupied with something that’s more important to them than what your idea addresses.

Of course there are many more techniques to verify your customers' true intentions. This one has proven to be a very simple and effective one that you can use even in very highly regulated sectors, like medical devices or pharma.

Most important is that you don't simply believe what your customers say, but try to dig deeper to learn about their real-world behavior before you accept an idea or hypothesis as validated.

What techniques do you use to test genuine customer interest beyond what they might tell you in interviews, surveys, or focus groups?

Geschreven door Alexander Osterwalder op 22 januari 2015

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