Donuts vs Fruit: asking for actions, not intentions, during customer development

Donuts    vs    fruit plate

A woman from a pastry startup walks into an office full of potential customers to conduct customer development interviews.  She asks everyone “You told me you often need snacks in the middle of the day.  What would be better, if I brought a plate of donuts or a plate of fruit?” Most people tell her they would prefer fruit because it is healthier.  On her way out she leaves a plate of each behind as a thank-you gift.  She comes back the next day and discovers there are no donuts left, but lots of rotting fruit! What did she learn?

A novice would think they learned that customers lie so there is no point in asking them.  A pro realizes the importance of how you ask the question.  It is very hard for people to know what they might/would do with any accuracy.  If instead you ask what people have done, or give them a situation to make a real choice, then you get much more usable information.

Note that you have two ways to apply this great lesson:

  1. Before you have a prototype you can ask people what they have done in similar situations in the past.
  2. Once you have a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), give people a choice between your option and the alternative.

Take away:

When conducting customer development interviews ask what people have done, not what they would/might do.

Hat Tip to the man who taught me this concept and the entertaining way to remember it: the great Eddie Binder.

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