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Customer Interview learnings from “The Mom Test”

Uncategorized Aug 27, 2019


Photo by Hans Vivek on Unsplash

The Mom Test by is one of the best books I have read about customer interviews.

If you are a Product Manager or a UX designer or researcher, and you haven’t read it…..please just go and read it.

I just hope some of the nuggets I share here (with my own commentary) help convince you. Seriously its a short read, costs 10 bucks on Kindle and just so worth it.

Here are my main learnings from the book

  1. Go into customer interviews with the right mindset
  2. Talk about their life instead of your idea
  3. Ask terrifying questions
  4. Don’t assume that the problem space matters to them
  5. Get commitment. Ignore compliments
  6. Refine your customer segment until you get consistent problems and goals
  7. Get clever on finding conversations

Go into customer interviews with the right mindset

“Deciding what to build is your job.……You aren’t allowed to tell them what their problem is, and in return, they aren’t allowed to tell you what to build. They own the problem, you own the solution.”

In this simple sentence, Rob has cleanly stated the mindset you need to go into a customer interview with.

Your product team owns the solution. You know the technologies that exist, you know your business needs. So you can build solutions that solve customer problems, and meet your business goals. Your customers cannot do that.

But they know about their problems more than you. They know about their context, their constraint, their life way more than you.

So go in as if you are an investigative journalist. Or a detective. Who is about to go really dig into the customer problem. And try to separate out the problem from the solution.

Talk about their life instead of your idea

People lie unknowingly. And the more general the statement, the more likely that it is a lie. Let me give a few examples.

If you ask me “How many times a week do you workout?” I will answer “everyday.” Because that is my ideal self. I workout everyday, no matter what the circumstance.

Of course, ask me to open my calendar and workout log and show you how many times I worked out. Unless eating 🍟and 🍔is a workout, its a lot less than seven days a week.

Most people want to do two things:

  1. People want to believe that their actions closely mirror what they see as their ideal selves
  2. They want to be liked. They are social creatures. So they want to give you answers that would make you like them, think highly of them, and/or prove your hypothesis.

So they fabricate or exaggerate. Regardless of their intents and purposes, from your vantage point though, they lie.

To prevent these lies, get specific. Ask for actual events. Anytime you catch yourself asking “How many times do you do X,” replace it with “In the last <time period>, how many times did you do X. The more specific you can be, the better.

Ask for specific events

Ask terrifying questions

Ask questions for which — if you did not get the answer — could completely invalidate your idea. .

Rule of thumb: You should be terrified of at least one of the questions you’re asking in every conversation.

Rob encourages us to get over our tendency to fish for compliments because we crave approval. As I’ve written before, getting over the desire for approval is one of the first things I wish Product Managers could do.

So ask questions that scare you, terrify you. Because reality will hit you in the face one way or another.

Don’t assume that the problem space matters to them

A related piece that the book emphasizes is to not zoom into a problem area too prematurely. Example is: “What would you say is your biggest problem with going to the gym?”

This might be wrong because the whole problem space of fitness might not be on their radar at all. So now you have stated something that will anchor them.

So begin broad unless you are very sure that the problem space is interesting to them.

Get commitment. Ignore compliments

(From my earlier post on 9 speed bumps on the road to successful customer interviews)

This is the mistake I have made most often: Believing compliments.

I mean, they thought we were awesome. We had an awesome idea. They also wanted to get notified when we launched.

They also said they would “definitely use it.”


Home run!!

Except… think about it. They had to do nothing except say something nice. They got a jolt of pleasure having complemented you. And you felt better too!

Instead, focus on getting something from them that shows real effort on their part.

They can commit three things:

  • Time: Ask them to setup a specific time in their calendar for the next call. setup one hour in advance.
  • Money: Ask for a letter of intent upfront or some other monetary commitment.
  • Social capital: Ask them to introduce you to three of their peers who have the same problem.

Refine your customer segment until you get consistent problems and goals

If you aren’t finding consistent problems and goals, you don’t have a specific enough customer segment.

Rob points out that customers must be chosen with care. Use a combination of factors that help you find customers that 1) Care about the problem you are solving 2) Are easy to reach

This was one of the mistakes I feel I made when I launched ImmigrantHQ. My target customer was someone either moving to the US in six months or just having moved here.

I underestimated how much effort it would take to reach the customers.

A third factor that Rob mentions is find customers that you helping find Personally Rewarding.

Which is why I love being a PM for Crashlytics, helping developers! And running Intentional Product Manager, helping Product Managers learn skills that help them move on to the next stage in their career.

Get clever on finding conversations

Most of us are not creative enough when it comes to finding customer conversations. We wait for our customer success teams…..

Instead try some of the idea the author suggests

  1. Organize meetups for your customers
  2. Go to conferences where they hangout
  3. Blog about the industry
  4. Ask your investors for introductions
  5. Cash in favors

Once again. Read the book!

If you liked the blog post, you will love my free course “How to be an outstanding Product Leader without working insane hours.” Go ahead, enroll now!





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