Should I outsource customer development?

“I’m not experienced in research or interviewing customers – should I hire an expert instead? It would save me a lot of time…”

No. I strongly believe that teams should do customer interviewing in-house, and here’s why:

It’s easier to believe what you’re hearing from prospective customers when you’re hearing it directly. Because, let’s face it, you’re going to hear some responses that you really didn’t want to hear.

As humans, our brains really don’t like that uncomfortable feeling of being wrong. So we look for excuses: maybe that consultant just asked the wrong questions! maybe he misunderstood what the customer really meant! she probably talked to the wrong people! We look for justifications to not accept those uncomfortable truths. (That still happens when you do the interview yourself, but to a far lesser degree.)

But more importantly, a good interview requires a fair amount of improv.

People who are immersed in a company will innately have the knowledge that allows them to ask good follow-up questions. They know the market, their competitors, what’s possible with their technology – and that allows for the spontaneous “well, what about this?” questions that often uncover really useful insights.

That doesn’t mean that you need to figure out all the details on your own, though!

You can learn a lot by watching a trained researcher conduct a couple of interviews. An experienced researcher can help you revise your list of questions to avoid bias and better encourage storytelling. An experienced researcher knows how and where to find people to recruit. They’ll know how to build quick rapport with an interviewee. Sit in on an interview or two, listen, and take notes.

Then reverse roles: have the researcher observe while you conduct an interview. They’ll hear where you accidentally asked a biased question and can kick you under the table. They’ll notice that moment where the interviewee clammed up, and be able to guide you on how to improve next time.