So you’re an entrepreneur with a good idea.  How do you develop your idea into a thriving business?  First of all, you need to find out if anybody else thinks your idea is a good one.  Consequently, you’ll need to figure out if these people, your potential future customers, will actually give you money because of your idea. This process of interacting with a potential client to gain more information regarding the viability of your idea is known as a customer development interview.

Sometimes entrepreneurs may wonder how helpful performing customer interviews are. Yes, they are time-consuming and can take a lot of work to find the right people to interview, but the insight that can be gathered is so valuable and can really indicate the future success of your product or service.

 

Take for example Cordis Corporation, a Florida based manufacturer of medical devices, including angioplasty balloons. In 1993, the company had healthy sales of $223 million and their stock was valued at $20 per share. However, they had less than 1% of the angioplasty balloon market share and were eager to expand with a goal of being able to increase their market share by a minimum of 5%.

Cordis launched a comprehensive customer development interview project, with a focus on laboratory personnel, nurses, and doctors. Interestingly, their interviews didn’t just focus on their product but also asked probing questions about what these professionals wanted to accomplish while doing their jobs. The result was Cordis formulating a new strategy based on addressing the unmet needs of the market. The outcome? Within two years, their revenue had skyrocketed to $443 million – almost doubling.

Where to Start?

The easiest place to start will be the people you already know.  Using close friends and family for customer development interviews is tricky because they’re probably biased to support your ideas, no matter how terrible they may be. It is better to think outside the box and get a little creative when trying to find the right people for customer development interviews. Here are a few ideas to get started.

People Engaged With Other People’s Blogs And Websites

Before you came up with your idea, you were probably already reading blogs and websites related to your preferred subject.   Reaching out to those engaged with these blogs and websites, including the bloggers and site owners themselves, can lead you to an already existing customer base that’s primed to hear what you have to say. You could also reach out to the blog owner and express interest in submitting a guest blog.  In this scenario, you could present your idea (and a call for further discussion and interaction) directly to the blog’s reader base.

People Engaged With Your Blog Or Website

Posting your own blog and creating a website focusing on the subject that you want to turn into a business is a more direct way to attract potential customers.  Once you have people reading, interacting and engaged with your blog and/or website, it’s simple enough to reach out and ask them for more information, some of their time or both.  By getting your idea beyond the people you already know, blogging is an easy way to attract feedback and find people that you can use for customer development interviews.

Social Media

With all the different social media channels available today, it would be possible to write an entire article related to the specifics of finding people for customer development interviews within the various social media sites.  That said, each social media channel has distinct characteristics, norms, and mores when it comes to defining, joining and utilizing various communities.  It’s therefore imperative to understand each channel so as not to become ostracized when it comes to interaction.  That said, by getting involved with your communities of interest on Facebook,Twitter, Linkedin or whatever the channel of your choice, you will be given direct access to people who can help further your business idea along.  Get involved with as many social media channels as makes sense to you, learn how to access and work within the community guidelines and create the relationships necessary to help you reach your goals.

Online Forums And Message Boards – Get Creative

There are online message boards and forums for almost every conceivable interest in the world.  These community web pages are essentially the prototype of what eventually became social media, yet they still exist.  Without many of the fancy accouterments associated with modern social media, message boards and forums allow like-minded people to congregate and discuss their subject matter of choice.  By joining a message board related to your idea, the community will be at your fingertips for questioning, opinions and more ideas.

 

Get creative and also think of new or overlooked platforms. For example, Bunz Trading,  Meetup.com or Quora have a huge networks of users and are a great way to diversify your interview group.

Advertising, Postering And Old-Fashioned Flyering

Simple advertising is a way to contact your desired customer base if you don’t know exactly where or who they are.  Posting ads on search engines such as Google or social media channels such as Facebook can capture the attention of people you didn’t even know existed.  Similarly, physically putting up posters or handing out flyers in high traffic community areas can elicit a response from previously unknown potential customers.



Customer development interviews are an important part of the early stages of starting a business.  By questioning potential customers about their thoughts, preferences, and dislikes pertaining to your business idea, you gain important insight into the best path forward. The most important part to keep in mind is remembering that you are there to learn. Sometimes it can be hard to hear feedback that you may not have expected or might be critical, but view it as a golden opportunity. Who knows, maybe in two years your business will be in a similar situation to Cordis with an additional $220 million in revenue.