The Mom Test — how to talk to customers and validate your idea
“Go and talk to your customers” is the advice given to every entrepreneur out there. Only after we talk to customers, can we understand their needs and goals.
However we commit a lot of mistakes during these “customer interviews” and end up with insights that are not useful.
The Mom test is a book by Rob Fitzpatrick that will help you understand how to hold insightful customer conversation and know if your business idea is actually worth it. The content of the book makes it extremely useful for entrepreneurs, product managers, user researchers and sales professionals.
It offers some fantastic insights on the common mistakes we make, the questions to ask, the questions to avoid, finding customers to interview, nailing down the customer segment, running these meetings and taking effective notes.
Here are my notes from the book.
The three rules of The Mom Test
- Talk about the customer’s life. Don’t talk about your idea.
- Talk about specifics and past experiences. Don’t talk about generics or hypotheticals in the future.
- Talk less. Listen more.
Applying these three golden rules to all your customer conversations will help bring out the truth that’s lurking beneath.
Things to focus on while talking to customers
- Customer needs and goals
Sample Questions: What are the major problems you face with while doing X? Why does this problem bother you? What are the implications of this problem not getting resolved?
2. Specific instances in the past
Sample Questions: When was the last time you faced this problem? How did you resolve it?
3. Current Status
Sample Questions: What is the workaround you are currently using? How satisfied are you with this workaround?
4. Dig beneath ideas
For any feature requests/suggestions they make, understand their motivations and the reason they want it. Use these to separate the must haves from nice to haves.
5. Emotional Reaction to the problem
If they show deep emotion of frustration/anger while taking about their problem or a high level of excitement while discussing the solutions, they can likely be the first adopters of your product.
Things to avoid while talking to customers
- Talking about your idea — When you start talking about your idea, you either enter into a “pitch” mode or begin seeking approval. This derails the conversation from the original goal of understanding the customer.
- Compliments —Praise about your idea or the product you are building. It gives you the impression that “you are doing great”, when it actually amounts to nothing.
- Fluff — Avoid discussing generics or hypothetical future scenarios. For example: would you buy this? Do you think this is a good idea? How often would you use this etc. If there is something in the future, of course the other person wouldn’t mind doing it.
- Interrupting them when they are speaking — You might be tempted to correct them midway or question an assumption they are making. However, this might cause you to miss out an important insight which you had not even thought of. Further, it appears rude and could turn the other person off.
- Obsessing over small unimportant details before getting the big picture right.
- Wasting time on getting generic information which was obvious or could have been accessed through a simple google search.
Identifying the right customer segment
- If you go too broad, you will keep on getting different customer problems from different segments. Deciding what to build, what to ignore would become a challenge as everything would be important in this case.
- You should keep slicing until you have a specific enough segment you can talk to and know where they are physically. Basically, finding a ‘who-where’ pair.
- Finalizing a ‘who-where’ pair will help you come up with a clear strategy on how to reach out to our potential customers and begin conversations with them.
Getting potential customers to talk to
- Cold emailing and conversations — Attend conferences around the relevant topic, hang out around potential places where your customers might frequent.
- Getting potential customers to you — Organize meetups, begin teaching about it, blog about your industry etc.
- Use your network to get warm introductions — Get people to make introductions for you. Cash in on the favors done in the past.
Every meeting is either a good meeting or a bad meeting. A good meeting leads to advancement of customer relationship while a bad meeting is vague where you didn’t get useful information or are not clear on the next steps.
Good Meetings: In these meetings you either get some commitment from the prospect or a clear rejection. The currency for commitment can be of three types:
- Cash — Customer is willing to pay for the solution immediately or as soon as the first version is ready.
- Time commitment — They are willing to spend a non-trivial amount of time understanding more about your product. For example, an hour long session on how it will fit into their workflow.
- Reputation — This is especially useful for B2B products. For example, they might agree to 1) Introduce you to decision markers in their organization 2) Connect you with their peers 3) Write a testimonial 4) Work together
On Taking Notes
Meetings are useless if you don’t make notes and share your learnings with the entire team. Otherwise, all the knowledge ends up staying in your head.
The author advises on the following:
- Write exact customer quotes — Tag them with symbols to describe the emotions customers experience while describing problems and solutions. (for example, anger, frustration, excitement etc)
- Use the feature icon to highlight feature requests, star icon to indicate follow-up tasks, person icon if there are additional people you need to talk to.
Holding insightful customer conversations is part art and part science. Learning it early on helps us devote our time and energy to problems and customers that really matter.
If you are looking to become adept in this, this book is a must read.