When talking to customers is a waste of time

If you’re leading a product launch, at some point, you’ll want to talk to real customers. This is an important step and you should keep a pulse on what people want.

Here is where the problem comes in.

When you’re researching, it’s easy to schedule and execute a bunch of customer development interviews.

You pat yourself on the back and say, “I’m being iterative, putting myself out there, and testing my idea with customers!”

In reality, customer interviews are not always productive.

The trap of doing what you know

It’s 4:30pm and yet another day has passed without finishing anything on your “urgent and important” list. You definitely filled the day doing THINGS… Just not the things you were supposed to be doing.

It’s important to avoid doing tasks that feel fun because you’re confident about how to do them. Doing research and asking questions to customers falls into this category. Why?

It’s low stakes for a few reasons.

  1. The person doesn’t have to give you any commitment, just their opinion.

  2. You’re in listening mode, so you don’t have to convince them of anything.

  3. There’s no money exchanging hands, so everything is hypothetical.

It’s easy to spend too much time on interviews, when instead you should be taking action on the insights from those interviews.

Think about it this way: You’re not in the business of collecting insights like you’re collecting stamps or rocks. Your priority is to learn enough to help you execute a little smarter tomorrow.

Even one insight could keep you busy for months with execution.

Apply, translate, or discard

The minute you validate your insight, you should go out and do something with it. How will you apply or translate it into your product, marketing, or go-to-market strategy?

If insights aren’t applied or translated, it’s as if you never validated those ideas at all.

Building something new will always feel like a leap. You can’t logic, reason, or research your way into 100% certainty. The point of customer development interviews is to give you directional guidance–so you can go out and take action. Don’t forget the most important part of taking action.

Don’t gather data for fun

I’ve spent dozens of hours doing customer interviews that felt productive in the moment, but after the call, I realized I didn’t learn anything that I could act on. You can avoid this mistake.

Whenever you do customer development interviews or research of any kind, your only thought should be:

“How will these insights help drive sales? What am I going to say, write, or do differently now that I know this?”

You can stay present in the conversation by constantly saying to yourself, “Hmm, this is interesting. But is it just interesting, or can I do something with this information?”

The learn-do cycle

I like being prepared. I like doing my research. I don’t think anyone has ever said, “Wes, you should have prepared more for this.”

When you’re learning something new, your plan might look like this: learn, learn, learn, learn, learn, learn, learn, learn, learn, do.

Your process should look more like this: learn, do, learn, do, learn, do.

If you’re a researcher or analyst, it might be your job to collect insights all day. But if you’re a product leader, founder, marketer, or change agent, research is a means to an end. There's a point of diminishing returns with the ROI you get from your research.

Remember: If knowing a piece of information won’t change the way you act, there’s no point in knowing it at all.

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Wes Kao