The pitfalls of being a problem solver
Attention, engagement, other measurement myths

Defining a successful customer conversation

I've been exploring the ideas published by Rob Fitzpatrick in The Mom Test. Although he's speaking to startup founders, many of his ideas have strong application for all customer research and business development. 

When talking to customers about our business, we have to get information, even if that it's a "no," because NO is valuable feedback. Here's a range of things we ought to ask for:

  • Hard data about the customers business (i.e., sales are down/up 20%)
  • Goals the customer is working toward
  • Obstacles the customer is encountering
  • Other people we should talk to (actual connections, not theoretical)
  • Workarounds the customer is using
  • Actual amount of money the customer is losing to a problem
  • How is the customer currently handling challenges. 

Seedcamp: Tips from Rob Fitzpatrick on how not to Fail at Customer Interviews, 2015-Sep, by Michael Zirngibl

Every successful customer conversation or interview needs to have a commitment of sorts by the customer. ...

If your interview does NOT end with a ‘NO’, you as the startup founder most likely haven’t done a good enough job or wasted an opportunity asking for the right amount of commitment.

This is the startup founder version of the Sales ‘ABC’ (-> Always Be Closing), but frequently is forgotten, since a lot of founders have a tendency to feel that simply getting ‘confirmation’ from potential customers is sufficient validation for their own brilliance.

The feedback on your product you received from a person who is not willing to give you any meaningful commitment in return for your time, does not deserve any prioritization.


Rob recommended that each of the key signals listed below (along with strong associated emotions) should immediately prompt a set of smart and focused follow-on questions to further clarify the customer situation and hopefully lead to a realistic assessment if and how your product fits into the specific context.

Numbers – if the customer mentions a specific metric critical in their business

Goals – if the customer is able to articulate a key objective (especially ones that affect them personally)

Obstacle – if the customer mentions specific real world challenges that prevent them from being as smart, fast or efficient in their job as they could be

Person – if the customer mentions a specific person or role in their organization that is particularly impacted by an inefficient process

Workaround – if a customer mentions specific ‘hacks’ or other steps they take to get to a specific result or to circumvent an inefficient process

Actual Amounts of money – often the ‘kingmaker’ of all interview results – if a customer can identify a specific amount of money lost repeatedly because of inefficient processes (that could be addressed by your startup’s product).

Rob concluded his session by putting his finding and recommendations in the broader context of a S.P.I.N. selling (Situation, Problem, Implication, Need-payoff) strategy, one of the most commonly used sales methodologies used in the Western world and shared with us the most important question for every customer interview:

“What are you doing about [it] now?”

The more efforts, resources or money the customer puts into workarounds to address a specific problem, the better your chances that they will jump at and pay for your startup’s solution, when you’re finally ready to address their specific needs.