Six Questions Of Customer Discovery

Whether you’re having a hard time coming up with ad copy that people understand or just have no early adopters no matter how hard you explain, it’s a good time to look at what your potential customers really want.  Consider, Steve Blank’s “Four Steps to the Epiphany” for a moment.  In his book, he address “The Chasm” between early adopters and the mass market who are full of pragmatics, conservatives, and skeptics.  In other words, there’s a big leap between mass market appeal and that new indie feel – that tipping point that determines a startup’s success:

The Chasm

The key is to obviously go from people just interested in new technologies to those early evangelists – those visionaries who will vibe with your message, and finally to validate it to the rest of the world.  The world is a big scary place, but if we break it up into bite size chunks, we can focus on getting our product and message to the next level.  It becomes much more attainable.

In Steve’s model of Customer Discovery, he defines customer development (or the process of product market fit) as in this flow chart:

Customer Development - 4 Steps

Even Fizzle’s Roadmap of 9 steps is loosely based on this model of only 4 steps.  Customer discovery is where you discover the problems and needs of your customer and go into making a quick prototype solution (minimum viable product) – even a landing page that describes your concept with some mockups.  Customer validation is where you take that new solution and get it over to your potential customer for them to say, “Yes this is what I meant.” and if the message wasn’t clear, you get better clarity, reworking the solution until it fits their needs.

The trick is to be super broad so that you can really discovery the problems and needs without forcing the potential customer’s hands.  If the questions are too leading (or limiting), it will feel like you’re backing them into a corner, but if you let them speak freely, they will feel empowered, helpful, and confident.  Here are two great articles on what questions to ask:

From those articles and from heavily researching this topic, I’ve come up with my own set of questions.  Consider that you want to start broad, go narrow.  That means asking very open ended questions at first, then digging and getting a feel for how much impact a solution would have.  Consider that you also need to be learning very specific things, 6 things specifically:

  1. Most important activities
  2. Largest time spend
  3. Most repetitive tasks
  4. Very costly issues
  5. Extremely common frustrations
  6. Wishful, insightful suggestions

I seem to have skipped a step, and that’s how to find customers.  Lead generation is a well covered topic, and I’m sure you can find some task you almost enjoy to collect contact information.  Start with your friends and family, ask for a referral to one other person who would benefit.  For the rest, I recommend to just start searching.  I found my competitor proudly displaying their catalog of customers on their website, and it’s not a bad tactic to go brainstorming and searching for that kind of jackpot.  For more ideas, Cindy Alvarez has a really helpful article on approaching new customers for an interview.  After you’ve found your potential customers, the best way to contact them is to state why they are perfect and ask for some time to interview them.

Below is the format by which I’m using to get my customer interviews done.  You’ll notice that it starts linear with the introduction questions to warm me up, then I get into the first question.  After that, I make no promises on how long each question takes to answer.  You’ll be using “The Painful Areas” questions to get at some pain points if not already expressed, then the deeper questions as a trigger to get the information flowing.  Before going to the next starter question, you really need to validate how big or deep of a problem/need this is, so there are some examples there.


  1. Hello, ___. My Name is Devin Thayer. Is this a good time for your interview?
  2. I’m designing AdFortress to help small to medium sized publishers scale their business faster.
  3. To investigate and validate ideas, I’m reaching out to you – my ideal client.
  4. We’ll investigate 6 areas: importance, time spend, repitition, costly issues, frustrations, and suggestions.
  5. Are you ready?


  1. What is the most important activity of your business?
  2. What do you spend most of your time doing for your business?
  3. What tasks are most repetitive?
  4. What problems are costing you the most money?
  5. What is your most favorite & least favorite part of your business?
    1. Alt. Question — What operations are going most smooth, not smooth?
    2. Alt. Question — What tasks frustrate you the most? Make you want to punch your computer?
  6. Would you have an idea of what you’d actually want to have in place to help you?
    1. Alt. Question — If you could wave a magic wand and do anything related to that task, what would it be?
    2. Alt. Question — Is there any product/service that you’ve been looking for, that you’re having trouble finding?


  • Is there any pain associated with that activity?
  • Do you enjoy doing that thing? What don’t you enjoy?
  • What’s going smooth? Is there anything that’s not going smooth?
  • How do you feel when you have to do that task?


  • Okay, well what kind of pain?
  • What’s so painful about that?
  • Can you tell me more about how you feel with that?
  • Who’s usually responsible for those tasks?
  • Okay, during ___, what are all of the things going on? After ___, what are all of the things going on?
  • Is there anything MORE that you’d like to say? (keep going until they’re all emptied out)
  • What else?
  • Tell me more…


  • Have you ever tried to solve this problem in the past?
  • How much time does ___ take you?
  • How much money does this cost you?
  • How often does this issue arise? In a year?
  • Would you sign up for the product if we cut the ___ feature for the first version?

That’s it.  Remember this interview for customer discovery needs to be open ended.  That’s why most of these questions are questions to get more information, dig deep, dig around until you discover what, why, how bad, who, and where.  If you think another person might benefit from my customer discovery format, use the share buttons below!


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