Buyer , User , Startups , Scaleups — 03.20.2024

Asking Your Customers the Right Questions at the Right Time

Katie Lukes, VP, Product Strategy & Research

Founders and product leaders are repeatedly directed to “talk to your customers.” The assumption is that those conversations are crucial to achieving product market fit and getting traction in market. And they are! 

But where the advice falls short is in helping founders figure out what to ask and when

Throughout our time working with founders and product leaders at various stages, we’ve seen the pitfalls like:

  • Showing the product too early in the conversation.
  • Asking potential users closed-ended questions on whether they would like their product or idea.
  • Not asking crucial questions around workflow or alternatives. 

Poorly planned and structured conversations can be detrimental to your product. Teams risk confirmation bias clouding their judgment, hiding serious risks and blinding them to what might stand in the way of product-market fit.  With misleading information about customer needs, product teams are left guessing what to build, how to message their product and how to go to market. 

After working with more than 300 products, we know what questions to ask customers to determine the information you need to know now to understand what you need to do next

Some high-level guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Craft your conversations around what you need to learn at your company or product stage.
  • Focus on your users’ problems instead of your solution.
  • Go in looking for reasons why your product won’t work. 

We’ve outlined a framework you can use to ask current or potential customers at the various stages of your product or specific features.

We’ve identified some of the hidden challenges we see most often. Addressing them head-on can lead to breakthrough moments for both the team and the product. 

Product Discovery

The goal: Learn about your users’ problems and workflows to inform early solution definition, messaging and target market definition.

Who you should talk to: Potential users

When: Before you’ve designed or built a solution.

Questions to ask

  • What does success mean in your role? 
  • How do you work through [problem space] today? What steps do you take? 
  • What challenges do you face? 
  • What alternatives have you considered? 
  • If you had the ideal [solution], how would your life or work be different?

Buyer Insights

The goal: Learn about the buyers in your market, what problems they have, what language they use and how they make software and/or services purchases.

Who you should talk to: Potential and existing buyers.

When: Early in the process as you’re developing your messaging and later when you’re refining the language and sales process.

Questions to ask

  • What does success mean in your role? 
  • Tell me about how your organization handles [problem space]?
  • What challenges do you face? 
  • What is the financial impact of those challenges? 
  • How do you solve those today? What solutions have you discussed internally?
  • What is the process for purchasing software for your organization? Who is involved?

Design Validation

The goal: Understand how prospective users perceive your solution and whether they understand or value your idea.

Who you should talk to: Potential users. 

When: Once you have designs for key concept screens, but before you have a developed or coded product.

Questions to ask

  • Looking at this screen, what do you see? 
  • What would you do on this screen? 
  • How would this fit into your current workflow? How would you use it and when?
  • If you used this, how would it change your work?
  • What might you change about this? 

Product Feedback

The goal: Discover how your users feel about your product.

Who you should talk to: Existing users.

When: Once you have users in your product for an extended time—long enough that they can give you considered, thoughtful feedback.

Questions to ask

  • How did you come to start using this product?
  • What was your expectation of what it would do?
  • What “aha” moments did you have using the product? What were you excited about?
  • How does this compare with what you were using or doing before? What do you miss?
  • What challenges do you have in using this product? 
  • What do you wish you could do in the product that you can’t today?

Conversations with existing and prospective users and buyers are gold mines—if you ask the right questions. It’s imperative to truly listen to what people experience, and then think through the best ways to help them. 

People are eager to share where they struggle within a product, and they’ll be happy to help you make your product an even better experience. Structure your conversations with intentionality and care so you’re ready to experiment with what you learn.

If you need support with your research, Innovatemap can help. Research requires time that you might not have. Let us help to schedule and facilitate valuable interviews while you focus on other important business functions. It’s beneficial to have a third party speaking with your buyers and users to elicit the most honest (and meaningful) feedback. 

Ready to find out what your customers really want within your product? Reach out to get started.