When a colleague of mine and I were visiting a customer some time ago, our initial intent for the meeting was to resolve a few specific issues they were having with our product. As we reached onto a particular topic, his next sentence was “wouldn’t it be really cool if you had…” I don’t need to finish the specifics of that sentence. You can fill it in with just about any idea. This type of question was all about confirming his initial idea. Further, the question was quite leading. It turns out there are thee basic ways you can interact with a customer.
Transactional: When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. This approach is exactly what it sounds like, it’s all about the transaction. you might hear a question such as: “Would you like to buy…”
Confirmatory: You may have heard a statistician say “If you beat up data it will tell you what you want to hear.” This approach is about confirming biases that one already has and not truly listening to what the customer has to say. You might hear questions that start with “Wouldn’t it be cool if you had…” “What if you had..”
Diagnostic: Let’s get to the real problem! This approach is all about trying to understand the needs of the customer with as little bias as possible and being open to hearing “Tell me about the last time you..” or “What happend when…” These are often based on concrete past events and decisions, not a hypothetical future.
A friend who runs a startup accelerator remarked that of all the startups he sees, the most successful are the ones who take a the diagnostic approach to understanding their customers. Which approach have you been following? I’ll admit to being in the confirmatory approach in my early product years, then I realized I was just looking to be right, and all that did was make my product more wrong.