Customer Discovery Hacks: You’ve Been Miyagi'ed

The following is the first in a series of posts about using customer discovery in your company. Over the past 9 months, I’ve had the opportunity to teach customer discovery nearly a dozen times to hundreds of students, I’ve had the opportunity to work with Steve Blank and Bob Dorf directly on building a customer discovery course/curriculum for Startup Weekend, and I’ve been using customer discovery in my current startup process. These are a few of the tricks, techniques and ‘hacks’ I’ve learned during that time.

Selling. It sounds scary. You probably think of the guys on the used car lot or the telemarketers that call during dinner. And worse than hating the guys that make their living doing it – you can’t imagine yourself making calls and selling to people.

Selling sounds scary. That’s a fact.

But what if I called it something different. Something softer and less scary. What if I said you were discovering things about your customers? Seems nice – almost benign, right? What if I told you not to sell, but to interview. Almost sounds like a fun game, huh?

Perfect. Customer discovery it is. Let’s go out and do 10 customer discovery interviews. Terrific – go out, do your interviews and let me know how they go.

Steve Blank has become your Director of Sales
I know its crazy. Steve Blank tricked you. He told you to go do customer discovery interviews – and specifically said not to sell. It’s about discovery, right?

And you know what he did? He convinced you to start selling. And you liked it. Steve Blank was basically like Mr Miyagi – he got you painting the fence, sanding the floor, wax on wax off and boom you sold.

That’s the secret – you learned how to sell by thinking you weren’t even selling. And the reality is if you can sell your service or product, then someone who is a professional sales, BD or marketer can probably do some real damage.

How to get better at customer discovery
Now you know the secret. The whole gigantic movement that has swept the startup and corporate world was essentially sales training 101. Don’t be mad, but realize that while the ‘customer discovery’ or lean movement has been around for only a half dozen years, sales has been around for an eternity.

To get better at customer discovery, learn more about sales. You are probably never going to be Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross (watch the movie for some epic sales scenes), but you can learn how to be more effective. Early in my career, I got sales training by some of the best at Morgan Stanley – and soon as I started practicing and teaching customer discovery, I realized how valuable that training was.

And so start to learn how to sell, because every interview during customer discovery is a sale. Each time you are getting your interview subject to buy that you can solve something they’d be willing to let you solve. And so, treat each interview as a sale – did they buy what you were selling or did you buy that they had a real reason not to buy?

My favorite scene in Boiler Room – a great movie that actually teaches some tactical lessons about selling – stars Ben Affleck in the role as senior sales trainer/partner.

What Ben’s character shares with us is the art of customer discovery – every conversation is a sale: did you sell them or did they sell you. And if they sold you, then that means something didn’t resonate: the value prop, the target customer was wrong or something else.

Sales = Customer Discovery
When you are wondering, just why does customer discovery work – realize it’s because you are selling, which equates to learning how to eventually get to yes. Every rejection is a sale. Every acceptance is a sale. All of those sales are learnings that’ll focus you on the next step.

And to be completely clear – your goal in customer discovery is not to push someone who isn’t interested to buy. Again, treat it similar in the process you use to effectively sell (listening, tracking, engaging, asking, etc.) But if you’re onto something (and the customer interviews identify that they want to buy), then the initial discovery process (whether in sales or customer discovery) can quickly turn into a sale.

There you have it. Your friend Steve Blank is Mr. Miyagi and you’ve been painting his fence. Say thanks, because he just taught you how to sell.

Now go out and sweep the leg


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