3 Steps to Understanding Customer Needs

3 Steps to Understanding Customer Needs

The core of every business organisation’s mission is to answer customer needs.  In order to do so you must first identify and understand them.

Understanding your customers’ needs is essential but superficial knowledge is not enough to ensure your organisation’s profitability. To achieve product/market fit, the point where you answer needs better than your competitors, you must get to a deeper level of understanding of those needs.

Benefits of understanding customer needs

An added bonus to mastering customer needs (and providing a solution that fulfills them) is that every marketing dollar spent will yield higher returns than those of your competitors, who don’t have the same depth of knowledge.

A deeper level of understanding your customers’ needs will also ensure an overall better customer experience, which we already saw in a previous post on the customer experience journey, leads to higher profitability.

Ok, so now that you are convinced understanding customer needs is in your organisation’s best interest, the question you may be asking is how to go about mastering them.

First you have to identify the needs you will be fulfilling (hint; don’t stop at the needs attached directly to your product/service, also look at the ones surrounding the entire customer experience). Once you have zoomed in on the needs to fulfill, you must not only understand the needs but the whole story around them.[1] This process requires lots of effort, time and knowledge of data gathering techniques. It isn’t as straightforward as it may seem.

As a marketer a huge part of my role, aside from finding the right customers, is to identify and understand their needs. Over the years, I learned that there are three steps to any quest aiming to either identify or understand customers’ needs.

Those steps are; Listen, observe, and empathise

Listen

customer needs - Baker MarketingThe very first thing you should do when you have a business idea is to talk informally with potential customers. This mostly means listen to their answers.   It also helps you figure out who your early adopters are. If it’s not possible for you to talk directly to potential customers, find people who know your potential customers inside out, and talk with them.

Don’t forget to set objectives for your conversation. Examples of conversation objectives are; to see whether the needs you think exist actually do, how they are being filled and the relative importance of those needs. In order to maximise the amount of information you take in, not only do you have to limit how much talking you will do, but you need the proper mindset. Your mind should be open and devoid of as many filters as possible. Always remember that explaining your project in length and your view of the world is just taking time away from achieving your goal. Listen.

On a side note, many of the entrepreneurs I meet are worried that someone will steal their idea before they get a chance to develop it. Unless you have a truly patentable solution (very few are), and potential customers can either beat you to market (they already operate a company in the same field) or spill the beans (to an existing competitor), you have nothing to worry about. Honestly, initial business ideas are very rarely marketable. Even if they were, almost no one wants to put in the blood, sweat, tears and go through the hell that starting a new business entails. Furthermore, even if they did, they’d most likely end up with a completely different business than yours in the end. Lastly if the threat of theft is real, there are still ways to explore the needs of potential corporate customers without spilling your own beans.

Please do not let the fear of someone stealing your business idea prevent you from engaging with potential customers.

Observe

Customer needs - Baker MarketingObservation is essential to identify less obvious needs and understand all pertinent customer needs at a deeper level. Asking potential customers won’t yield the information you seek because people don’t or can’t always tell you the truth.

There are many categories of observation techniques.

 

Natural observation

Natural observation techniques allow you to observe your potential customers while they are naturally fulfilling the needs you want to address. Ideally, without them noticing you too much so their behaviours are not altered.

Such observation experiments will yield huge amounts of customer knowledge. Hence you need to ensure you set observation goals for your experiments. Your observation goals can pertain not only to your subjects’ actions but also their interactions, environments, and the tools they use.

You will most likely need to repeat such experiments many times to take in all the knowledge you will need. Alternatively, you can task multiple people to observe the same situation while giving them different observation goals.

Two of my favorite natural observation techniques are shadowing and A day in the life.[2]

Directed observation

These techniques are associated with a goal of understanding a specific thought process or behaviour in a given circumstance.

They require putting the customer in a specific situation or assigning him, or her, a task and then observing. This can be followed by a question period to help interpret what you observed. It can be done face to face, remotely with cameras or on the web (such as A/B testing).

Third person observation

This technique is used in addition to one of the previous ones where the observer is someone who has a vision of the world that is significantly different from you or anyone in your industry. This technique yields much richer interpretation/insights from the data you collect.

Empathise

Customer needs - Baker MarketingWhenever possible, put yourself in your customers’ shoes or, even better; take the time to get to know some of your favorite customers personally. This will enable a relationship of trust and maybe even friendship (personal bonus for you) to develop over time.

Get involved in activities or causes your customers are passionate about. This will give you an even deeper understanding of their values and what is important to them.

Sharing your customers’ values is a requirement to attract them into your community.  If you are unsure of what I am referring to here, see this previous post on community marketing.

The 360 view of customer needs

Customer needs - Baker MarketingApplying all of these techniques to understand your customers’ needs is required to get a 360 degree view of them. Using many different perspectives to master your customers’ needs will yield rich and actionable information. It will also facilitate innovation in your organisation.

 

Customer Feedback Flow

Customer needs - Baker MarketingStriving to understand customer needs is a continuous process. Set up processes and assign resources in your organisation to make it an integral part of your business activities.

These processes can be as simple as a quick questionnaire you send out on a regular basis, or an automatic feedback one, after a certain task is completed.  Analytics reports, comments on social medias summaries or a managed (live or online) community feedback or observation reports are all valid continuous feedback processes that can yield precious information on your customers’ needs.

Be aware that this feedback is highly valuable to your organisation, if you act on it. Hence, reward your customers adequately (often a simple thank you is enough) for sharing their thoughts and concerns.

Mastering the understanding of customer needs is no small task.  Your rewards for listening, observing and empathising with your customers, will be a tighter product/market fit, greater customer satisfaction and higher profitability.

[1] Needs are always dependant other factors. E.g. The need for a given medicine will be dependant on experiencing specific symptoms at a level that requires relief and not being allergic or prone to adverse effects to said medicine.

[2] The following book describes these techniques : This is Service Design Thinking – M. Stickdorn, J. Schneider et al. – John Wiley & Son

Lean Startup Tools – The Concierge Phase

Lean Startup Tools – The Concierge Phase

 

This is the last of an 8-post series on applying Lean Startup in the various phases of a start-up. In this post we’ll take a look at the tools that will accompany you in your efforts to maintain a lean startup practice in your company during the concierge phase.

Lean Startup Principles and fundamental tools

The tools suggested in this post are but the tip of the iceberg of the tools that exist to help you adhere to the principles of Lean Startup. They will vary according to the specifics of your business model.  A great place to find apps to help you with your productivity is the Slack apps directory. Using thes tools doesn’t mean you are following a Lean Startup approach. You can only do this by putting into practice, on a daily basis, the various principles that underly Lean Startup.

Top Lean Startup Principles:
(Click on the theory to see an example of a book on the topic)

Theory Principles
Lean Production Customer focus; Efficient use of resources; Just in time; small batches;
Customer Development Understand your customers’ needs then develop your product/service; Use continuous feedback from your markets to make decisions (feedback loop)
Design Thinking Have a 360 view of needs, problems, issues; Empathize with your customers before you start designing your product; test multiple prototypes before going to market; transparency of information and process
Agile development Develop in iteration; test your developments with users  before going to the next step; use agile planning tools

 

There are also fundamental tools that come with the Lean Startup approach. These tools are:

  • Management tools:
    • Business model canvas or the Lean Canvas for planning.
    •  Experiment board to guide you with your first experiments.
    • Kanban boards to ensure you are not creating bottlenecks in your production
  • Metrics: Use data to make decisions whenever possible.
  • Innovation accounting:
    • Keeping a log of your experiments
    • Innovation options to calculate the maximum value of your start-up and the associated level of risk.

Here are ideas of tools or types of tools to look for when applying the Lean Startup approach in the concierge phase (last phase) of your start-up.

 

Applying Lean Startup - Concierge Phase - Baker MarketingProduct development tools

If your product is an application or software

Continuous deployment (or delivery for certain markets) espouses most of the Lean Startup principles. It requires a slew of tools. Atlassian offers many of them with apps such as Bitbucket, JIRA  and Bamboo.

If you’re creating a physical product

You may want to look at integrating your suppliers into your corporate Slack, if not already done. In order to do so, you should get the secure ($) version of Slack.

You’ll also want to establish processes that will ensure your marketing/product design and production teams communicate regularly in order to ensure market needs and trends are communicated asap throughout your value chain. Common work tools for these teams and spaces (physical or virtual) where they can easily meet on a daily basis should be available.

 

Applying Lean Startup - Concierge Phase - Baker MarketingMarketing tools

You will want to look into integrating as many of your data sources as possible (Analytics, CRM, Ticketing system, social media feeds, and manual data) into a robust business intelligence platform. One of the better and more agile one out there at this time is TableauQlik and Microsoft BI are also good choices. IBM’s SAS and Watson are better, since they integrate AI elements, but highly likely out of your price range.

If you’re running an on-line business then you need to start looking into an agile and powerful real-time analytics solution. Google, aside from its free version, has a module approach that is neat since you can only get the packages you use.  The entire 360 suite of 7 add-ons is very costly. You’ll need to make sure you get an ROI before investing in it. There are other options such as Clicky that also offers real-time analysis. Clicky integrates with Slack.

Whatever BI or analytics platform you get, the most important part is to ensure you have the resources and processes in place to maximise their returns for your company. Hence it must be part of most everyone’s job description to feed the BI databases on a regular, if not daily, basis.  You’ll also need someone to ensure the data in your system is clean and the analyses are correctly interpreted.

Your experiment logs should be scraped for pertinent market information regularly. They should have their own Slack channel (or section in your intranet).

By the end of the concierge stage, you may be cranking out multiple new products in rapid fire in order to get a larger wallet share of existing customers or to satisfy the needs of new segments. Applications such as LaunchLeap that help you get quick feedback from a large number of users will help you accelerate your experiments.

 

Applying Lean Startup - Concierge Phase - Baker MarketingHR tools and guidelines

If you aren’t outsourcing your recruiting and training then you’ll want to look for tools to make these processes more efficient.

Get a screening tool (with broad mesh) up on your website to reduce the time spent looking at non pertinent resumes.  Make sure your corporate values and culture are also reflected on your website and all your social media content.

Use your FB and LinkedIn corporate pages to get referrals for potential top candidates.

Invest in training video s available 24/7. These online videos make the on boarding process more efficient and transparent.

Encourage inter-employee training and coaching.  Having video, sound and recording capabilities on their computers or laptop will enable employees to share their knowledge with their peers either in real-time or asynchronously.

Have as few employee guidelines as possible. When they are absolutely necessary, keep them as broad as possible. Nothing kills creativity and initiative as well as guidelines. Just remember not to substitute good management with guidelines and you should be fine.

 

Applying Lean Startup - Concierge Phase - Baker MarketingFinancial tools

Finance is not my area of expertise so I won’t venture into suggesting accounting apps or platforms. What you will want to look for in your accounting system to support your Lean Startup approach are the following capabilities:

Integrating market information into your sales projections (by segment)

Enabling you to show only the financial data you want to specific categories of employees.

Although you want to remain as transparent as possible with your financial results, your growing staff and eco-system will require you to limit the financial information you share with some of them. If your system doesn’t allow you the flexibility to easily share some of the information with specific employees/partners/suppliers then you may be tempted to only share summarized data on a monthly or quarterly basis.

 

Conclusion

As you have now come to realise throughout this series of posts there is no one way to apply the Lean Startup approach.  There are however wrong ways to go about it. If whatever you are doing goes against or disregards Lean Startup principles, then it’s obviously not Lean Startup. Throwing in buzzwords like MVP and pivots won’t change this.

We also saw a variety of tools used in the practice of Lean Startup. These don’t even represent the tip of the iceberg. They will also become obsolete very soon. Newer and better ones will become available. The important message is to keep looking for tools that will make you more efficient and help you achieve the minimum in MVP.  These tools will also enable you to run experiments in a timeframe that was impossible only a few years ago.

These tools are the reason an iterative, experiment-based approach like Lean Startup is now viable.

Lean Startup is the essence of entrepreneurship. It’s about doing.  It’s about taking only the risks you have to take in order to answer a market need with a product or a service. It’s about having some core competences but mostly about how fast you can learn what is pertinent and apply your learnings. Finally, it’s about discipline, rigor and lots of hard work.

Lean Startup is rarely sexy but then again neither is starting and growing a successful business.

My 2016 Best Reads on Marketing, Innovation and Lean Startup

My 2016 Best Reads on Marketing, Innovation and Lean Startup

It’s the end of the year already. It went by incredibly fast. This is the time to look back and identify what needs to be fixed. It’s also the time to be grateful for all that we were able to achieve.

One of the things I am always very grateful for is the knowledge I gain during the year. Important sources for the knowledge I pick up are the books and articles I read.

I have to admit that I didn’t have as much time to read this year as I got involved in many (maybe too many) projects. I did however manage to read some very good books on marketing, innovation and Lean Startup.

As I did last year, I am sharing with you some of the ones I especially liked.

Best Reads on Marketing

I didn’t keep up with all that is new in marketing this year. It’s nearly impossible to do so. I tuned in to a few webinars that helped me focus my readings.

I read mostly on mobile marketing (various aspects), influencer as well as community marketing. Community marketing is a strategy that isn’t as easy to implement as one might think. Here is a post I wrote on how to find a profitable community marketing partner.

HubSpot - Best reads 2016 -Baker MarketingAgain this year, I found that my most interesting marketing reads came from blog posts on mainly two sites; eMarketer and HubSpot

 

Growth Engines - Best reads 2016 -Baker MarketingSpeaking of HubSpot it is one of the case study in Sean Ellis’s book; Growth Engines: Case Studies of How today’s Most Successful Startups Unlock Extraordinary Growth.

Through ten case studies, including Yelp, Uber, LinkedIn and HubSpot, Ellis explains the different types of growth engines and the contexts in which they worked best for those companies.

Although I read Growth Engines to better understand a concept that is integral to Lean Startup, this book offers some very valuable marketing lessons. It also touches on growth hacking, a term coined by Ellis. It inspired me to write a post on what growth hacking is and isn’t.

UX Strategy - Best reads 2016 - Baker MarketingAnother book that I thoroughly enjoyed was UX Strategy by Jamie Levy. Having been a Product Manager at a time where UX was but one part of the job description, it was great to delve into the depths of UX strategy.

Whether you are starting a new venture to create the killer app, or trying to innovate in an existing small, medium or large business, this book is a must read before you start. It can help you define a winning value proposition. It also guides yourr competitive analysis and helps you see which features you need to focus on.

The book is an easy read and doesn’t require any prior knowledge on UX design or app development.

Best Reads on Innovation

I was invited to a university workshop on blockchain earlier this year. Given I knew nothing on the topic I figured that it would be a great opportunity to learn. Montreal, where Baker Marketing is located, is a hotbed for blockchain research and development. The workshop did teach me the basics of blockchain but left me wanting to know more (a lot more, this is exciting stuff and definitely a game changer) about how this new technology could be used.

Blockchain Revolution - Best reads 2016 - Baker MarketingOne of the researcher at the workshop suggested Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business and the World, by Don and Alex Tapscott. It was exactly what this non scientific reader needed. The Tapscotts explain the concept in very simple terms. They also explore a large number of applications for blockchain. They clearly show how significant a game changer this technology could be.

 

In Spring I also contributed to the organisation of the Montreal edition of the Intrapreneurship Conference.
During the conference one of the keynote speakers was Guillaume Hervé. Hervé is a veteran practitioner of intrapreneurship. He contributed to several corporate spinoffs in the aeronautics and health sectors. In case you are not familiar with the term, intrapreneurship is entrepreneurship adapted to large enterprise.

Winning at Intrapreneurship - Best reads 2016 - Baker MarketingIntrapreneurship is however not the same as entrepreneurship. These differences are the focus of Hervé’s book Winning at Intrapreneurship: 12 Labors to Overcome Corporate Culture and Achieve Startup Success.

Based on the 12 labors of Hercules, Winning at Intrapreneurship looks at the traps, pitfalls and myths of innovating in large businesses. Hervé saw them all in his career as an intrapreneur. He shares with us some tricks of the trade on how to avoid and debunk them. You can read more on this topic on the post I wrote titled Entrepreneurs as Corporate Innovators.

Best reads on Lean Startup

Leader's Guide - Best reads 2016 - Baker MarketingContinuing on the innovation in large business topic, Eric Ries published a second book this year. It’s titled the Leader’s Guide to Adopting Lean Startup at Scale.

First, Eric innovated in the way he published the book. He financed the book with a Kickstarter campaign. The backers were invited to join the Leader’s Guide community (managed by Mightybell). He used the community to test hypotheses about the content and cover of his book. Yep, he did it the Lean Startup way.

Unfortunately however, Eric only printed as many books as there were backers who pledged the sufficient amount. It isn’t available anywhere for purchase now that the Kickstarter campaign is over. You can however get a free digital copy if you know someone who invested in the campaign.

The Leader’s Guide is based on Eric’s experience (as well as that of some backers) on implementing Lean Startup in large corporations, like GE, and government organisations (like the White House).

I especially like the format of the book. Symbols are used in the margins throughout the chapters in order to quickly understand what the text pertains to. The coach’s Guide sections, for example, are about tips and subtleties in implementing the concepts.

It’s truly a guide that you will go to when implementing a Lean Startup approach to a large organisation.

Eric also announced that he will be publishing a third book next year. It’s tentative title is The Startup Way.

Scaling Lean - 2016 Best Reads - Baker MarketingWe were lucky to have another great Lean Startup practitioner write his second book this year.  Ash Maurya penned Scaling Lean: Mastering the Key Metrics for Startup Growth.

As a follow up to his first book, Running Lean, Ash is now looking at how to use metrics to scale your business once you have found the elusive product/market fit.

His rigorous approach to using key metrics to track your progress and focus your efforts has shown great results in many successful startups.

Grasshopper Herder - 2016 Best Reads - Baker MarketingFinally, I want to mention a website whose author consistently publishes great Lean Startup material. Tristan Kromer’s Grasshopper Herder is chalk full of Lean Startup ideas, tools and resources. Tristan was until recently one of the organisers of the San Francisco Lean Startup Circle.

If you are starting a new project and interested in putting Lean Startup into practice take a look at the series of posts on implementing Lean Startup. It is meant to guide you along your journey when you first start your project.

This concludes this year’s crop of my best reads on marketing, innovation and Lean Startup. Maybe some of them will become your favorites.

Thank you for taking the time to read Techno Marketing this year. I hope you take some time off during the holidays to rest and replenish, as we will.

Baker Marketing offers you its best wishes for the holidays. May 2017 be filled with health, serenity and lots of successful projects.
Happy Holidays from Baker Marketing

Using Lean Startup in the Pre-Sell Phase

Using Lean Startup in the Pre-Sell Phase

In this series of posts we have looked at how to use Lean Startup during the ideation and discovery phases. We also dove into the experimentation process and the tools to use in the discovery phase.

In this post, we’ll look at how to use Lean Startup in your pre-sell phase.

What is the pre-sell phase?

Lean Startup in pre-sell - Baker MarketingThe pre-sell phase begins when you have sufficiently tested your leap-of-faith assumptions of your business model to be confident that you have a shot at a viable business. This not because you believe so (as you did in the ideation phase) but because most (or all) of your business’s stakeholders (potential customers, suppliers, distributors, etc.) have told you so.

Typically, during the pre-sell phase you will be:

  • Finding a (or several) co-founder(s)
  • On-boarding your first employees
  • Developing your product/service
  • Starting to put into place some key partnerships

This is also the phase at which you will start getting real feedback from paying customers[1] (closer to the end of the pre-sell phase) and other stakeholders. It’s the reality test.

A test, unfortunately, many startup ideas fail.  It’s when you will either:

  •  Make significant pivots,
  • Change your mission entirely (go back to square one)
  • Throw in the towel, or
  • Confirm your business model

The end of this stage, when successful, is also often the time to go for seed funding.

Why continue experimenting?

Lean Startup in the pre-sell phase - Baker MarketingSo now that you have confirmed your business model, why should you continue experimenting?  It would be so much faster to just go full steam ahead and develop.

Your ideation and discovery phases were mostly planning.  As you know, plans usually don’t work out the way we think they will.

Also, during the time you take to put in place your business model, elements of your business’s eco-system as well as market realities will change. The higher the volatility of your business environment, the more important it is for you to test the elements of your business model while developing. Otherwise you may expand great efforts and resources to develop key partnerships, distribution networks, and develop your product/services for nothing.

This may not seem so bad from this end of the journey. Entrepreneurs who put every ounce of energy they had and every penny they owned (and some they don’t), for a few years, in a business that doesn’t lift off will tell you it’s as difficult as going through a death in the family. Some never fully recover.

 

Lean Startup experiments in the pre-sell stage

The mechanics of the experiments we saw in the discovery stage will be the same.

You will still start by asking yourself; Will the negative impact on my future business be significant if the assumption I am making (regarding whatever part of your startup you are currently working on)  isn’t real? If the answer is yes, you turn it into a hypothesis you can test. You design your experiment using tools to minimize your efforts, chose your metric and standard and execute your experiment.

By this time, you will be getting very good at experimenting. Hence most of your experiments will take you less than a couple of days to run and often only a few hours or minutes.

Also, because you will have gotten out of the building often during your discovery phase experiments, you won’t need to talk to your stakeholder face to face as much. Many of your experiments will be done on the web or over the phone. You can also hire people to do them for you.

There will be times however when you aren’t sure of your next steps. This is usually the flag that means you need to go be around your potential customers. Talking or observing them. They will invariably show you the way.

At this stage, you will not only be testing elements of your product/service you will also be testing your distribution channels. The web will be your first one if you’re using it.  Also, if you are thinking of launching in markets that are not physically close to you, now is the time to start testing with those markets.

Not only will you be familiarizing yourself with the tools to find those markets but also you will, hopefully, have developed the reflex to go to the Lean Startup community for assistance.

 

The tools of Lean Startup

Lean Startup in the pre-sell phase - Baker MarketingNow that you will most likely have a, or several, co-founder(s) and employee(s), often not in the same city or working space, efficient communication will be a real need.

Slack, Trello and Dropbox may already be part of your daily routine. You may now want higher performance project management tools (such as Asana, Jira or Wrike[2]) or to start taking notice of Slack management best practices.

If you’ve embraced the integrated multiplatform communication route of Slack, you may also want to look at some of its competitors such as Bitrix24 and HipChat.

If your product is IT application, you’ll want to use one of the thousands of productivity apps available, often for free, to help you develop and test it. Tools such as Balsamiq Mockups , Fluid UI or HotGloo for wireframing.  GitHub, Zappier or LucidChart for developing your application. Test Fairy, Hiptest or SauceLabs for automated testing. Once your app is functional you can also put it up on Product Hunt and see what kind of reaction you get from a crowd of mostly innovators and early adopters.

If you are developing a non IT product, you can look for tools such as Ask Your Target Market (AYTM), Facebook or Survey Monkey and combine them with any potential customer email lists or profiles you have already collected.

You will also need to use your creativity to design experiments such as webinars or gatherings to have potential users interact with your product. Tools such as Meetup, Eventbrite, GotoMeeting will be very useful.

When you want to start testing packaging and pricing, A/B testing will be your friend. A/B testing is also very useful to test the conversion rates of different elements of your web pages. Tools such as Unbounce, Optimizely and LauchRock will be necessary unless you hold a degree in statistics.

If you are launching a new restaurant or brick and mortar business sites such as Potloc can help you find the best location and get feedback from potential customers.

 

Upping your game on metrics

Lean Startup in the pre-sell phase - Baker MarketingExperimenting and collecting all this information is great. You’ll need however to store, crunch and make sense of all of this data.

You’ll also need to figure out what metrics will be the key ones for your business. If you haven’t read Lean Analytics (Croll & Yoskovitz) yet, you need to by now.

Analytics is one of the parts of Lean Startup that isn’t intuitive. There is knowledge involved here, quite a bit of it. The learning curve is steep. If you will be running an online business (fully online or parts of it) you definitely need some deep analytics knowledge in your company.

Zoho Reports, Segments and Tableau are all great options. Initially you may however simply use an Excel spreadsheet in conjunction with Google Analytics. By the end of this stage, you may find however that the home grown solution requires too much time to manage and you’ll see value in the previously mentioned apps.

As you can see applying the Lean Startup approach gets easier and easier as your startup grows.

The next and last post of this series will be on how to apply Lean Startup during the concierge phase of your startup.

[1] Although you may be selling at a discount or simply selling and reimbursing as your product is not yet ready.

[2] Doesn’t integrate with Slack

What the 2016 Presidential Election Can Teach us About Understanding Customer Needs

What the 2016 Presidential Election Can Teach us About Understanding Customer Needs

Would you have taken a bet that offered you 10 to 1 odds that anyone but Donald Trump would be elected President back in July 2016?  I’m guessing you would have.  I know I would have and probably bet a bundle. After all, it was obvious that most Americans thought Trump’s views were too extreme. The British parliament even debated on banning Trump from the UK.  Well we’d both be poorer now and scratching our heads as how this outcome came to be.

This scenario is similar to one where an entrepreneur believes that everyone will want to buy the product he/she is making. After all, the product solves an obvious and important problem that so many people have. You wouldn’t think twice about buying it, so why would anyone else.

Let’s see the factors that can lead us to be so bad at predicting our customers needs.

There are realities you don’t even know exist

Customer needs - Baker MarkeitngExperience, environment and nature,  are  responsible for shaping beliefs and thought processes.  They differ from one person to the next.

Although nature (human biology) may be similar from one person to the next, environments are not. This is harder to remember given most people we exchange with on a daily basis share similar environments to ours. Experience,  which is the sum of all the various situations we were in and how we reacted to them since birth, differs even more greatly from one person to the next.

Although we all know that others don’t think like we do or have the same reality, we sometimes forget to what extent they differ from ours.

This explains why designing an experiment, that captures other people’s realities, is so difficult. It also explains why it is so difficult to interpret other people’s answers accurately. The less we know about our respondents’ experiences and current reality, the more difficult it is to interpret their answers. Hence, we will tend to fill in the blanks with elements of our own reality. This will give us a distorted view.

The lesson learned here is:

  • try to understand your respondent’s environment as much as you can before asking them questions

It will ensure you ask the right questions with words that will mean the same to them as they mean to you. It will also enable you to interpret their answers correctly.

Things change, sometimes overnight

Customer needs - Baker MarkeitngUnforeseen events happen and change realities and the choice set we have. In the political sphere this could mean email scandals. In the product world it could mean new regulations, new competitors or technologies that pop up overnight.

These new realities can sometime remove existing problems. They can also give potential customers more choices as how to solve their problems. Finally, they can leave them so uncertain about their choices, that they will need a lot more time and energy to evaluate their options. This situation is well captured in the innovation adoption curve.

The lessons learned here are

  • You need to act fast on survey results as environments can change quickly
  • When the respondents’ choice sets are in flux, you may have some of them who can’t or won’t make choices

We are willing to put up with a lot to stay true to our identity

Customer needs - Baker MarkeitngCertain behaviours we have take root in our own self image. When US voters identify themselves as Republicans or Democrats they don’t only refer to how they cast their ballot. They often refer to a part of their sets of beliefs. However strongly they feel against a representative of the party, they won’t vote against their identity. They’ll just find a way to rationalise their decision. This is part of the concept of cognitive dissonance.

Some consumers may see the value proposition you offer them clearly but won’t purchase your product.  Because part of their identity ties in to doing the work the way they always have done it.

The lesson learned here is:

  • You may need more time and effort to convince your customers to adopt your product/service when it affects their identity

Why do polls/surveys get it wrong?

Customer needs - Baker MarkeitngWe won’t reveal (to strangers) actions, beliefs or views that we think will affect their image of us negatively. This is cognitive dissonance at work.

This is why it is so important to test your market on their actions rather than on what they say. Especially when you don’t know how important cognitive dissonance is for a particular choice.

The lesson learned here is:

  • Cognitive dissonance will skew your survey results significantly

Here is one last lesson to keep in mind. However wrong you may have been at predicting an outcome there is always something you can learn from the thought process that led you there. You can learn from it and improve your future predictions.

Lean Startup Tools – Discovery Phase

Lean Startup Tools – Discovery Phase

This post follows Lean Startup Experiment – Discovery Phase. It will help you find Lean Startup tools that will accelerate your experiments significantly. Many of these Lean Startup tools increase productivity and can also be used on a daily basis in your business.

None of these tools, aside from the Javelin board and the experiment log template were developped specifically to be used within the Lean Startup approach. They are simply productivity tools that enable fast and efficient Lean Startup experiments.

Lean Startup experiment - Baker MarketingLean Startup Tools

Lean Startup tools make continuous experimentation throughout your startup feasible. Many of those tools are free or cost very little. None of the tools presented in this post were developed specifically for Lean Startup.  They are simply productivity tools that are used by the Lean Startup community to increase their productivity.

The following are some of the tools I find most useful and often recommend when entrepreneurs are in the discovery phase. Keep in mind there are hundreds if not thousands more of these tools out there. A bit of googling and asking around will yield you many options to accomplish the same task.

 

Lean Startup tools - Baker MarketingLean Startup tools to organise

These applications are great as they often work as a checklist as well as organisers. The following Lean Startup tools are all free or have free parts to them. Click on the titles for links.

LeanStack

Ash Maurya has graciously made his Lean Canvas application, which is very well made, free for your first project. It will help you keep a record of the various iterations, enable you to share with other team members and print your canvas.

Business Model Fiddle

Free business model canvas application developed by Johan Steenkamp. It has some really great features such as various colours for your post-its, picture and sketching capabilities as well as communication features for your team.

Budgeto

This is a great tool to start figuring out your cost and revenue model. It will act as a check list of all the items you need to take into consideration in your revenue statement.  As you progress in your startup, Budgeto will also take care of most of your accounting needs.

 

Lean Startup tools - Baker MarketingLean Startup Tools to communicate/collaborate

Slack

If you don’t yet know about Slack, you must. It’s an instant messaging app, on stereoids, that allows you to connect just about any other popular productivity tool such as Dropbox, Google docs or Hangouts, Skype, Trello and hundreds more. It’s mobile friendly so it will enable you to keep in touch with your team wherever you are.

Trello

Trello is one of the many simple and intuitive project management tools out there. Trello is the only full application that still offers free access. It is very powerfull and still simple to use. Other project management platforms such as Asana and Basecamp are even more complete but don’t offer any free versions.

Dropbox

Definitely one of the best ways to share large files and documents. It’s as simple to use as can be and is entirely free unless you are a power user.

Lean Startup experiment - Baker MarketingLean Startup tools to run my first experiments

Javelin Experiment Board

Javalin first developed the Experiment Board for the Lean Startup Machine a couple of years ago. They are now developing it in an app and are still in the testing phase. Until the app is out, you can get a Google docs version of it and print it out.  Watch this great video tutorial, from Grace Ng, of how to use the Experiment board.

 This is Service Design Thinking

This book contains over a dozen techniques to help you conduct offline experiments. Each technique is well explained and illustrated with an example.  If you’re not familiar with data gathering techniques, it’s the best place to start.

SurveyMonkey

Powerful online survey creation and data analysis application. It’s free for basic forms and data crunching. It has more survey question options and data analysis capabilities than AYTM and GCS.  You must provide your own participants list.

Google Forms and Consumer Surveys

Google Forms enables you to create surveys that you can send to your own participants list. Google Consumer Surveys provides the participants and you only pay for completed questionnaires. Pricing starts at $0.10USD per completed survey.

AYTM -Ask your target market

Similar to Consumer Surveys AYTM offers highly targeted participants to answer  your surveys.

Pricing starts at about $1USD per participant. AYTM boasts over 25 million survey or experts panel participants.

Experiment log

As of writing this post, I haven’t seen any experiment log templates or application to facilitate the keeping of a journal of your experiments.

Hence, I created one for my own use that I will share with you. It’s a simple Excel spreadsheet that you can modify as you see fit. The important part is to keep your rows constant over time so you can have a base to compare.

Keeping an experiment log is a pain and requires some time and effort. Hence, if you don’t plan on going to VCs for funding, it’s not a must to keep one.

An added benefit of the log is that of a training tool when you onboard other members. Careful reading of this journal will help your new recruits know about your young corporate history and learn from you previous mistakes and wrong turns.

Note: I will add the experiment log template to this post very soon.

 Lean Startup tools - Baker MarketingTapping into the Lean Startup community

Some of the most important resources found in Lean Startup are its local and international communities.  It is by far the entrepreneurial community that is the most generous with its time and knowledge that I have encountered.

Locally, you have Lean Startup Circles members that meet periodically to learn, practice and exchange on Lean Startup experiments, tools and resources. Circles have experienced coaches that can help you with any part of your experiments.

You can locate the Lean Startup Circle nearest you by consulting the list on the Lean Startup wiki. Most of them, such as the Montreal LSC, have a Meetup page, Facebook page and/or website where you can register to become part of the community.

Once you are part of a Lean Startup Circle community you will gain access to the Lean Startup Slack channels by asking your local organisers. These channels encompass hundreds of members that form a help community.

If you are stuck somewhere in your experiment, are looking for a tool, experiment design ideas, want to know how to go about testing a foreign market, your local and virtual Lean Startup communities will be there to help.

Lean Startup tools - Baker MarketingThe next phase

Once you have acquired sufficient knowledge on your various stakeholders and have attained a certain level of validation with your business model, you will want to put it to the test.

The next phase will be about validating your business model where it counts; in the market. It is the true acid test. This phase is also sometimes referred to as the Valley of Death. It is when most start-ups end up dying in the Lean Startup approach.

This phase will also be when you start developing your product/service. The good news is if you can’t find any way to have your product/service fly in the market, you will not have spent months or years working on it.

The next post will guide you through this phase using Lean Startup. It will show you how Lean Startup can help transform, some (no, not all) ideas that would have died, into lucrative ventures. We will also present tools and tactics that can help you survive these difficult times.