Wrestling with the Blob: Turning Customer Feedback into Insight

“Get customer feedback” is a broad, sweeping generalization. Perhaps it’s better said as “gather as much specific feedback as you can from customers at the heart of your customer segment, without expecting any customer to have deep insight across all nine boxes of your business model canvas.” Different customers have different “views” or opinions about products and services. Think about specifiers/users/payers and how differently each would view the identical product. Or the difference between heavy and occasional users.

Your job as the feedback team leader is to oversee a three step process:

  1. Gather as much feedback as possible in as many ways as possible (with face-to-face always preferred), and doing so in fluid, unstructured conversations that “go” wherever the customer wants to take the conversation. This leads to the greatest customer engagement in the conversation, and thus the best quality feedback.
  2. Some customers or prospects will have lots to say about some boxes, yet little to say about others. Never “force” the issue. Let the customers talk about what they know best, or feel strongest about. Your job is to collect roughly the same amount of feedback (call it 25 or 30 or 50 “conversations”) about each of the nine boxes by the time your discovery is done. Then you assemble or compile the feedback, box by box, so you have roughly the same density of customer input on each one. Don’t push a customer to talk about things they don’t know about, or care about. And if someone discounts herself as a “real potential customer,” don’t forget to discard her feedback.
  3. Collect the feedback in the shortest “sound bites” possible for easiest assessment. If you’re collecting “most important feature” lists, for example, list each one separately. Then assemble all the answers to each question in its own pile, or stuck on its own section of the office wall. Look for significant clusters of similar or identical answers. But assessing the data requires some entrepreneurial interpretation, and the recognition that startups often deal with imperfect or incomplete data sets. So when 7 out of 25 core target customers say “forecasting” is their favorite feature, you’ve probably learned that more discovery is required, and not, that this feature’s the winner. Look for a majority, or near-majority, or–better yet–an overwhelming majority, to tell you that the price is right, the positioning is perfect, or that you’re building the features they most badly want, and in the proper order.

The bad news: don’t stop talking or start building until you have a “supermajority” or a clear indication of strong if not overwhelming customer endorsement of each element of the startup’s business model.

Bob Dorf speaks with, coaches and trains startups in lean customer development all over the world. He blogs at dorfonstartups.com and tweets @bobdorf.



I am not a lawyer and only really like one lawyer on the planet*, but I’m pretty sure Google is taking great liberties with my phone number. Something tells me this should be multiplied into the millions if not more.

The core of the Federal CAN-SPAM act says “you can’t telemarket anyone with whom you do not have a pre-existing business relationship.”  Do Google searchers have a “relationship” with Google Maps, for example. I sure don’t, but that hasn’t stopped them from robo-calling me 2-3 times a week recently to talk about opportunities and offers.  Then there’s some other division of Google that calls about “my business listings.”  Truth be told, I probably spend about $50 a month on adwords, so maybe I do have a “commercial relationship.”  Does Google assume that relationship spans every one of their business units in the massive Google ecosystem?  What would the FTC cops say…hopefully they’d say “no way.”

If Google told me that I had to answer and then hang up on 3 spam calls a week to use the browser or Google maps or Gmail, all of which I adore, I’d say yes and keep hanging up. What GALLS me is their PRESUMPTION that I have given this permission.

The real answer to this question is “I don’t know.”

What do you think…and what should we all do about it? Time for Bing?

*The brilliant(and sorta only) lawyer I adore is my wonderful son-in-law Ross. Fabulous father of my magnificent granddaughter, Maya Rose, and husband of my equally wonderful daughter Rachel. (Really important details, to me anyway!)

Bob Dorf speaks with, coaches and trains startups in lean customer development all over the world. He blogs at dorfonstartups.com and tweets @bobdorf.

It’s Not Too Late for New Years Resolutions as Long as You Resolve to Follow Them

Whether your startup is as young as a New Year’s baby, or approaching its first (or fifth, for that matter) birthday, there are few more important things a startup CEO can do on the first quasi-official workday of 2014 than set, or reset, the company culture around customer feedback.

Lots of startups do this with simple rules, such as:

  • Every member of the leadership team must talk voice-to-voice with a customer proactively every day (not  just handling gripes, but reaching out for unstructured “discovery” conversations)
  • Everyone in the company should get face-to-face with one (or two or five) customers or prospects a week
  • the first 15 (or 30 or 5) minutes of every key meeting should begin with “what I learned from customers”
  • A wall of the office should be devoted to jumbo post-its featuring the week’s best/worst customer comments

If this isn’t part of the culture, your customer development efforts are just about sunk.  And the first full week of the New Year is a great time to cast in concrete the role of customer conversations as a key ingredient in the company’s day-to-day operations.

Some of the best learning comes from “non customers,” including several groups where the learning’s most powerful:

  • People who visited your site once or several times but didn’t buy or engage
  • Customers who started out like balls of fire but have since abandoned
  • Customers who’ve never referred you to another customer
  • Those who have reduced their visit/purchase/engagement frequency

As long as you structure these calls in the most positive, dialog-oriented way possible, your learning can be immense. To do so, follow these simple rules:

  1. NO SELLING…promise the person you’re not calling to win them back, just calling to learn
  2. START WITH EMAIL…lay out the reasons why you are eager for a ten minute chat with the abandoner. Assure him/her that this is not a “win back” call, just a learning call. And…
  3. OFFER AN EXPLICIT BARGAIN, like “if you’ll take ten minutes on the phone with me, I’ll send you a (Starbucks/Amazon/company) gift card to thank you for your time.

There are few more powerful lessons than those we learn from our customers. But if you don’t ask, you don’t learn.  And, no, this is not a good task for the CEO to assign to others, unless she’s sitting right next to them, smiling and dialing along with the rest of the team!

Bob Dorf speaks with, coaches and trains startups in lean customer development all over the world. He blogs at dorfonstartups.com and tweets @bobdorf.

Your Picks: The Six Most Popular Bob Dorf Blog Posts of 2013

The only way to determine what I’ve said that’s important is to do customer discovery on the question, and ask YOU!

With thanks to my thousands of followers all over the world, here’s the “Bob Dorf six-pack” of startup opinions and customer development ideas most widely read by YOU:

  1. Why too many startups (er) suck (I don’t think this headline requires much explanation)
  2. The “Ugly Baby” Rule in Customer Discovery, or why you must never conduct discovery interviews with friends, family, or people who know you–the results will be severely biased.
  3.  Ask Yourselves the “Billion Dollar Question” (Keep your eye focused on the long-term goal.)
  4.  Are Business Plans Really Dead (minimal interpretation required. Answer: “sorta, especially early.”)
  5. Start Discovery with the “Give a Crap” Question…the most important, most overlooked issue in startup planning is whether there are hungry, eager, passionate customers waiting for your product.
  6. My Opinion (about your startup) Just Doesn’t Matter (my wife’s favorite, but important for founders!)

Bob Dorf speaks with, coaches and trains startups in lean customer development all over the world. He blogs at dorfonstartups.com and tweets @bobdorf.