How To Gather Honest and Valuable Customer Feedback

Picture this scenario: your startup launches and you get covered in TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and Business Insider. A tidal wave of traffic floods your website……and nothing happens. Several people sign up for a free trial of your product but not a single one converts into a paying customer. You and your team are devastated. Your investors are disappointed. You’ve gone straight from launch to the Trough of Sorrow without even a quick detour through the Wearing Off of Novelty.

Trough of Sorrow

This story should illustrate an important point about customer development and feedback. If you don’t talk to your customers about your product before launching, you’ll never know if you’re on the right track. In fact, if your startup doesn’t gather useful customer feedback pre-launch, it’ll probably be dead on arrival. Likewise, if you don’t speak with customers post-launch, you won’t iterate your product and grow.

Here’s the thing though—it’s not enough to speak with your customers and hear their thoughts. You need to hear their honest thoughts about your product and its potential value.

Most early customers will only want to give your startup positive feedback and pat you on the back for all of your effort. After all, your startup is your baby, and no one ever tells another person they have an ugly baby.

But, you don’t want a pat on the back or unearned compliments—you want to be punched in the face with honest and actionable feedback. When early customers offer you exclusively positive feedback, you run into the danger of getting false positives.

What are false positives in the land of customer feedback and development? They’re glowing comments and encouragement about your product’s value from people who have no intention of ever buying it. Receive too many false positives when doing customer development and you’ll create the wrong product targeted at people who don’t need it with positioning that will never compel them to buy it.

You now know you need to speak with your customers pre-launch and post-launch. Yet, you’re likely wondering “Which customers should I meet with?” and “What should I ask them?” Let’s answer both of those questions right now.

What customers should you meet with to gather feedback?

When getting feedback from your customers, you want to meet with three groups of people. They are:

  1. The person who benefits from your product.

  2. The person who approves your product.

  3. The person who pays for your product.

In some small organizations, the same person will approve, pay for, and benefit from your product. However, in many enterprise organizations, these personas will typically be at least three different people.

Let’s look at selling to a hospital as an example. If your product helps physicians document patient interactions faster, then doctors will be the people who benefit from it. That said, in any hospital, the CFO and their team will be the group who actually decides to pay for your product based on its ROI. Yet, to get your product implemented and connected to the hospital’s EHR, its IT team will have to approve it.

In this situation, a “simple enterprise sale” requires you to get buy-in from three separate but important groups: the finance team, the IT team, and the clinical team. So, you need to speak with members of each of these groups before building your product and after launching it to make sure you’re moving in the right direction.

What should you ask customers to elicit valuable and honest feedback?

There isn’t a standard set of questions you should ask when trying to gauge customers’ reactions to your product. Instead, whenever you’re asking a potential customer for feedback, the first thing you should tell them is:

You can’t hurt my feelings. If you wouldn’t use the product, if you don’t like it, if you don’t think it’s worth the money, you’re doing me a favor—punch me in the face with that information. - Steve Barsh, Dreamit Ventures Managing Partner

The first thing you should say to customers.

If you tell customers upfront that their raw and honest feedback can’t hurt your feelings, you won’t get false positives. Rather, over time, you’ll start to gather enough intelligence to spot trends about their pain points and your product’s value props.

What will happen if you don’t tell customers they can’t hurt your feelings? The odds are that you’ll waste an unbelievable amount of time and money.

Case in point: A few weeks ago we met with a B2B startup that had been working on their idea for two years. The company’s product is focused on solving a particular problem for large corporations. We sat there for 30 or 40 minutes, talked about their main assumptions, discussed them speaking with customers, and determined there’s nothing there. Because these founders didn’t receive forthright, valuable feedback from their customers, they built a product no one wanted.

Don’t be like these founders—talk to your customers and tell them they can’t hurt your feelings. These straightforward and sometimes difficult conversations will give you everything you need to build a relevant product and craft a compelling growth strategy.

Jack Kaufman