(Probably) The Most Useful Question a Startup Can Ask Its Customers

It's a great question. I promise.

In Zombie movie World War Z (with Brad Pitt), there's a scene where the Zombies are trying to breach the city walls in Jerusalem. Zombies are scrambling over each other in a huge frenzied pile to try to get through but only a handful get through at first.

This reminded me that sometimes startups have an amazing offering but so often customers have big walls to climb to get to the feast.

A prospect makes their way all the way through your MVP and becomes a customer. They transact. Wow, result! The product works. That might mean they maybe signed up for a paid subscription, they could have bought some goods, they might have requested a quote, become a member of your network or paid for an in app purchase.

They made it. They made it through an obstacle course to pay you some money. Result!

These are your early adopters. They know they have a pain and they are looking for medicine to ease this pain. They are the easiest customers to convert. If you've read Geoffrey Moore you'll know that there is a "chasm" to cross so that your product sells not just to the early adopters but to the early majority as well.

The early majority is the territory of the hockey stick graph. You don't get a hockey stick graph from the early adopters.

You want to find out where these early majority customers are having problems with your product and try and fix them. The problem you have is that because they didn't become customers, you don't have their contact details to ask them.

You can however ask the people that did make it through, your first customers, the early adopters.

So here's the question. Ask your early adopters this.

What's the one thing that nearly stopped you from buying from us?

This is a great question. It tells you what were the main things that held them back.

Ideally ask this question over the telephone if you can. You'll get a better flavour of the issues they had.

The answers to this question will reveal obstacles. It could be your returns policy, it could be not being able to find your returns policy soon enough, or it could be even something more subtle, something emotional such as "I've never heard of these guys, do I trust them?"

Think of these obstacles like large walls in your product which the early adopters managed to climb over. Stacked up behind those walls are the bodies of early majority. They'd be your customers in a flash if you could lower or remove those walls.

Use analytics to observe what's happening in that page. Use session tracking video if you can. Target these obstacles in usability testing and identify things you think you can improve to break down the obstacles.

With these insights you can then systematically build hypotheses to test to see if your changes reduce the obstacles and improve the product.

Happy Halloween Zombie Fans!

(P.S. I am not advocating that startups think of their customers as the undead. Quite the opposite in fact - customers are the lifeblood of any startup. Just to be clear.)

Photo by Joel Friesen [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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