The Mom Test: A Valuable Guide to Better Customer Conversations

Customer conversations make or break a business. Bad customer conversations will give you no information, or even worse, false leads and empty promises.

We can all agree it’s important to talk to customers. These conversations should give us market insight, product direction, and commitment from customers. But how many of us actually achieve these all-important goals?

It’s harder than you’d think to fulfill these objectives, which is why you need to read Rob Fitzpatrick’s fantastic guide to customer conversations, The Mom Test. The book begins with a simple but challenging principle: customers are lying to you about your business idea. This sounds sensationalist, but perhaps you’ve had this experience: a prospect tells you how much they like your product or service, but for some reason, that conversation never converts into a sale.

When this happens, the fault lies with us — not the customer. Customers aren’t intentionally deceiving us. Rather, they’ve been forced to give us bad information because we’ve backed them into a conversational corner. When all we do is sales-pitch to customers, telling them what their problem is and how great our business is at solving it, we don’t invite them to say anything but ‘I guess that sounds good.’ Rob likens this approach to asking your mom about your business idea — she has to agree that this all sounds very viable and interesting.

Building on this premise, The Mom Test is a practical guide to getting the most out of customer conversations. The focus is on asking ‘questions that even your mom can’t lie to you about,’ hence the book title. I encourage everyone in my company to use The Mom Test. In fact, we give each new starter a copy. Here are some tips we’ve picked up, which have helped us get the most out of customer conversations.

1Talk less; listen more.

This rule applies even when the conversation is about your product, like in a sales call or demo. If you dominate the conversation with your own ideas, you won’t get an insight into the market. An uninterrupted sales pitch gives the customer little scope to suggest what you could be doing differently. This creates an echo chamber: you spend all day hearing yourself speak about how great your product is without listening to the contextual information that customers could tell you about your market.

The sales team at my company measures the amount of time that they’re talking during a customer conversation. This ensures they leave time to listen more and ask broader questions about our customer’s experiences and motivations, which leads us to the second tip.

2Understand your customer’s life.

If you only speak about your product or service, you encourage a customer to lie to you. At best, you’ll be so convincing that the customer can’t help but sound excited, regardless of whether this conversation will lead to a conversion. At worst, they’ll give you any reassurance necessary to get you off the phone. In either scenario, you’re left with an illusion.

So how do you get to the truth? Instead of speaking about your product, focus on your customer’s life. Ask about their current situation: what are their processes, resources, and outcomes like? This will help you understand their values and motivations, which is a great insight into what they hope to achieve in the future — and whether your product could be part of that.

3Don’t speak in vague hypotheticals.

Having understood your customer’s current situation, you should keep the conversation from devolving into vague hypotheticals when you talk about the next steps. Vague answers will stem from questions like ‘What would your ideal solution be?’. Customers will be more likely to give non-committal responses to sales pitches that don’t drill down into the technicality and value added by your product.

If you get caught up in a conversation of endless future possibilities, you’ll move away from understanding what your customer wants or could commit to. Questions like ‘What’s your timeline for implementing a solution?’ will keep the conversation focused on concrete facts that will be helpful for both you and the customer to refer back to later.

4Critically evaluate what you learn.

Not every customer conversation will lead to a sale, give you the information you’re looking for, or help with the direction of your product. Be selective with what you do with customer feedback, and think carefully about whether you’ve collected good data. Even if you had a meaningful conversation, accept that you can’t implement every user request. Instead, search for the bigger picture — figure out what users are really trying to do, aggregate that data, and strategically develop your product.

Customer conversations make or break a business. Bad customer conversations will give you no information, or even worse, false leads and empty promises. Just acknowledging that customer conversations can sometimes be unhelpful will get you halfway to fulfilling The Mom Test. And getting customer conversations right helps you learn more about the market you’re trying to serve, build better relationships, and get commitments from your customers.

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Kevin Boyle is CEO and Co-Founder of Gearset, a leading DevOps solution for Salesforce. Gearset scales from teams first dipping their toes into DevOps right through to teams of hundreds of people making the most of parallel development and continuous delivery.