With the focus on “getting out of the building” as soon as possible and validating ideas with customers a la “the lean startup” approach, researchers often hit up the nearest Starbucks.
Starbucks happens to be a good place to find people to interview. Many people are parked there, mooching off the free wi-fi and monopolizing the power outlets. They feel guilty that they’ve been sitting there for a couple of hours when all they got was a $6.00 cup of coffee, and they are often happier to entertain someone else’s need than continue the work in front of them. So, yes, you may get 5, 10, even 15 minutes of someone’s time.
But are these the people you need to interview? And is this the best context for your inquiry? Is an interview the best way to get at your information? Are you set up to get the information you need?
Step 1: Who are the “right” people to interview?
Whose problem/whose insight are you hoping to tap into? (Hint: if you say “everyone” you are likely to be thinking too broadly about your target population.) How narrow or how rigid your requirements are depends on your product/service idea or your vision. With Lean Customer Research™ you can fine-tune your approach as you go along. Sometimes you discover a market that is totally different from your initial assumption. But you need to start somewhere. Just keep at it.
Here are some examples of quick targets:
- People who have between 25 and 50 pounds to lose who have tried diets/exercise before and haven’t been able to lose weight, but will invest in a solution if they think it will work
- Working professionals around 30 years old who are concerned about managing their expenses
- Brides who are looking for unique themes and destinations for their weddings
- Senior citizens who live independently and have a hard time remembering which pills to take at different times of the day
- Purchasing agents who need to find the right combination of packaging tape and corrugated boxes for the mix of products being shipped.
Step 2: Where are these “right” people?
Once you have defined your key target market, think about where they would be likely to hang out (either online or offline), and when. It should be clear to you that not everyone you need to connect to will be in Starbucks. A mother of a toddler may be at the playground in the morning. A teenager may be in that same playground at night. You may find people at a trade association meeting, an online forum, a linkedin group, or a senior center. As with your discovery of the “right” people, your discovery of where to find them may evolve as you go along. Just keep at it.
Step 3: What do you need to know?
What is the most important thing you need to find out? You probably have a number of questions, but focusing on the one or two major findings you are hoping to uncover is a good way to begin.
Step 4: What is the best method to get this information?
Is a face-to-face interview the best way to get the information you are looking for? Maybe observation, a brief telephone interview, or anonymous online testing will get at what you want to know. Say you want to know about what people would like to eat at the pancake shoppe. You can ask people about what types of things they’d like to see on the menu. Or you can observe what people order, how they eat, what they layer on their food, whose plate they nip tastes from. Obviously, you will get different sets of information from interviews vs. observations.
Step 5: Get out there and listen. And learn as you go.
You can start with one approach and switch mid-stream. No one is judging you, evaluating, or testing you on the purity of your methodology. Your real objective is to learn, to test the assumptions on which your business model or idea is based. The most important thing is to be honest with yourself and open to the insights you get from doing the research.
You can design and conduct more formal research as warranted. (I would be thrilled to help you if that’s what you need. Call me!) But if “Lean Customer Research™ is your approach, keep it simple, keep refining as you go along, and just keep at it.
Where are you finding research participants? I’d love to know.