Struggling to Create Offers That Convert? Let’s Have a Chat About Customer Development

April 20, 2017 , 9 Comments

Have you ever pitched an offer to your audience that just fell flat?

Maybe your first thought was that you set your price too high, so you lowered it.

That didn’t help lowered it again. Each time, you got nothing but crickets.

But if your pricing isn’t the problem, what is?

Perhaps it’s the content, language and value of your offer instead. Changing price is easy, but optimizing these 3 elements isn't. They need to be dialed in before your target market will even take notice.

In our first weekly installment of ActiveGrowth’s new newsletter, The Silver Bulletin, we’re going to show you one way to get inside the mind your target audience to find out what they actually need instead of what people say they want.

What method can you can use to do all this?

Something not very fancy at all...


One-on-one customer development calls.

The Competitive Advantage of Conversations

If you've never heard of customer development calls before, don't worry. It simply means using your mouth to ask people from your target audience questions.

Compared to text based communications like email, forum posts and blog comments, customer development calls offer a competitive advantage for three simple reasons:

  1. People never write like they speak
  2. People speak more naturally and less filtered when they’re in relaxed conversation
  3. Most of your competitors are probably too shy to actually get on the phone with their customers

If you can master the art of identifying, reaching out to and asking your target audience the right questions, you’ll be well on your way towards creating more compelling offers.

Speed of Speech vs. Speed of Writing

It’s probably no surprise that the average person’s speed of writing is much slower than their speed of speech. This has a significant impact on the tone, authenticity and type of words people use to express themselves when writing versus speaking.

On average, your brain thinks around 10x faster than you speak (~1,000 wpm vs ~125 wpm) and your mouth speaks about 3x faster than you type (125 wpm vs 41 wpm).

What we're trying to illustrate here is that, it’s easier to get people to express themselves freely and more naturally through speech than writing.

Conversations Naturally Create Rapport, Trust and Relaxation

Phone conversations also give people the chance to relax and build rapport with you.

If done well, this natural relaxation can create space for people to express themselves more authentically. This will get you closer to their root emotions, needs and desires while capturing the actual emotional language they think with for your marketing.

Don't Be Shy, Your Audience Won't Bite

Is speaking to strangers is nerve-racking for you? Well, it's probably worse for some of your competitors.

People tend to avoid awkward and uncomfortable situations so there's a chance that you can gain an edge over your competitors just by having Skype calls with some of your eager followers!

Reach Out To Your Audience

There’s 3 basic ways to ask strangers to get on the phone with you:

  1. Publish a blog post or email your list
  2. Use your own social networks
  3. Scout for target customers on online forums

Let’s break down how to execute on each one of those outreach strategies right now.

Create a Blog Post or Email Your List

A great way to quickly get on the phone with the right type of people is to publish a blog post or push an email out to your list to ask for help.

You can see a good example of this in Shane’s recent ActiveGrowth Rebranding post where he asked the ActiveGrowth community to participate in a short, 15-minute Skype call.

If you already have a decent sized audience, this strategy will probably be your goto customer outreach tool. If you get a massive response from your audience and need an efficient way to program your calls, check out our recent post on scheduling automation here.

Use Your Own Personal Networks

If you don’t have an active blog audience or email list yet, you can use your own social networks to find people to interview instead.

Post in relevant Facebook groups, message friends or have a chat with people you meet in real life.

Also, don’t forget to ask friends and family if they can introduce you to people in their social circles that fit your target audience avatar. This method requires some additional hustle, but you’ve got to do whatever it takes, right?

Awesome...That's the spirit Sparky!

Scout For Customers on Internet Forums

Another sly way to find the right type people to talk to is by finding them on relevant niche forums that relate to your business. This includes subgroups found on broader forum websites like reddit and Quora.

For example, if you have a niche online business selling Triathlon training eCourses, go scout for target customers on triathlete forums or the triathlon subreddits. Find relevant posts and see if there’s anyone asking for help, knowledge or expertise around the services you provide.

Reach out to them through the platform’s instant messaging tool to introduce yourself, what you do and ask if they’d be willing to have a short Skype call with you. There’s no guarantee they’ll say yes or even respond, but it’s always worth a shot.

Ask the Right Questions

Please understand that getting your target customers on the phone with you is NOT about asking what products or services they want from you.

What you’re actually doing is investigating what your target audience needs to solve a specific problem they’re having.

That’s a subtle, yet important distinction.

You must first ask the right questions to identify your target audience’s needs and then create compelling offers around the solutions you developed to fix them.

Lean Customer Development

In her must read book Lean Customer Development, Cindy Alvarez states that, when it comes to the questions you use in your customer development calls:

“Your biggest risk comes from one of two common errors: that you failed to solve a problem your customer has, or that you failed to make the solution attractive enough for your customer to choose it.”

To avoid such missteps, Cindy Alvarez developed a set of basic questions, open-ended follow-up questions and ideas as to what you should be listening for during customer development calls. We’ve compiled them for you in the cheat sheet below.

Your Guide To Having Productive Skype Calls

Customer Development Question Cheat Sheet

From Cindy Alvarez’s Book: Lean Customer Development

Scripted Questions:

  1. Tell me about how you do _________ today…
  2. Do you use any [tools/products/apps/tricks] to help get _________ done?
  3. If you could wave a magic wand and be able to do anything that you can’t do today, what would it be? Don’t worry about whether it’s possible, just anything.
  4. Last time you did _________, what were you doing right before you got started? Once you finished, what did you do afterward?
  5. Is there anything else about _________ that I should have asked or you’d like to add?

Open-Ended Follow-Up Questions to go Deeper:

  1. Can you tell me more about how that process goes?
  2. Who is involved in making that decision?
  3. Last time you did _________, how long did it take?
  4. Where did you most recently go to buy _________?
  5. May I ask, why did you come to that conclusion?

What You Should Be Listening For:

  1. How your customers are behaving today, which predicts how they’ll behave tomorrow.
  2. The constraints that affect the choices and actions that your customers take.
  3. What frustrates or motivates your customers.
  4. How your customers make decisions, spend money and determine value.​

We took this basic question framework from Lean Customer Development to customize our own phone script to help guide our recent calls (for the upcoming ActiveGrowth podcast).

Our 15-minute ActiveGrowth calls ended up sounding something like the following script template:

Customer Development Call Script

1. Start with an introduction and some small talk:

“Hi (their name), I’m (your name) from (your company name or website). How are you doing today?”

“Nice! Also, would it be okay if I recorded our conversation today so I can review what we end up discussing later?"

Mention any other plans you have for the recording as well.

"Could you just tell me where you’re based out of real quick?”

2. Set the tone for the conversation:

“So thanks again for sharing your time for this call. Here’s what I figured we’d do today. I’d love to hear about (the niche topic, activity or problem). Again, I’m not here to sell you anything, I’m just here to listen and learn about (objective of the customer development call).”

“So if it’s cool with you, I’ll just jump into a few of my questions and we can take it from there. Sound good?”

3. Open with some of the scripted questions:

“Okay, great. So can you start by telling me a little bit about how you do (the niche topic, activity or problem) today?”

“Do you use any (tools/products/apps/tricks) to help get (the niche topic, activity or problem) done?”

"Last time you did (the niche topic, activity or problem), what were you doing right before you got started? Once you finished, what did you do afterward?“

"If you could wave a magic wand and be able to do anything that you can’t do today, what would it be? Don’t worry about whether it’s possible or not, just tell me anything it would take to fix (the problem) for you.”

4. Once they start opening up, use the open-ended questions to dig deeper for feelings and emotional details to acknowledge and sidestep superficial answers.

* This will not only help identify customer needs, but also hone in on the exact language they use when describing them.

“Can you give me a specific example?”

“What does this mean to you?”

“What would this change?”

Any of the open-ended questions listed in the section above where appropriate.

5. Once you’re at your set time limit, check with them to see if they want to continue or finish up (don’t be surprised if they want to keep talking!):

“Just a quick time check: We’re just about at the 15-minute mark and I want to be mindful of your schedule – is there anything else about (what we discussed) that I should have asked or you’d like to add?”

6. Thank them for their time and end the call:

“OK, great. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me. It was extremely insightful. Will you keep us posted on how things go? Awesome. Thanks again, and have a great day!”

While you should take notes during your interviews, it’s even better to record each call – after getting each volunteer’s permission of course! – for review later.

Also, if you don’t have to focus so much on taking notes, you can listen more actively. This will yield more authentic answers and make your final offers much more enticing.

When you review the recordings, try to capture the exact language your interviewees used. Harvesting the right words from the right people is an effective way to consistently create compelling offers across your marketing.

Turning Insights Into Irresistible Offers

Now that you’ve had multiple customer development chats with people telling you all about their problems, you must now turn your insights into solutions and offers your audience can't resist.

As you can tell from reading this article, it takes a bit of elbow-grease to identify offers and marketing messages that convert. However, your bank account will tell you it was well worth the effort in the end.

Don’t just take the easy way out and assume simple fixes like price drops will be giving potential customers a better offer. It does nothing to address what they actually need.

For example, if you offer group coaching and are struggling to get more clients, it’s easy to assume your hourly rate is too high. But maybe what your leads are looking for is one-on-one instruction. Chatting with target customers will likely uncover this insight quickly.

Perhaps your business helps people with their social media marketing. I’m sure you hear your clients rattle off vanity metric ideas all the time like “I need more Instagram followers!” or “I need to get more Facebook fans!”

Of course, that’s what they say they want, but in reality, they need their first customer. Will more Facebook fans actually make the first sale for them?

Always ask yourself if you can create offers that speak emotionally to the real needs your target customers are experiencing.

A/B Test Your Insights To Identify the Most Compelling Offer

If you’re lucky enough to discover multiple offer insights from your customer development calls, the next step is to test them to see which one converts best!

We call this value proposition testing and you can learn how to do this using an opt-in form tool like Thrive Leads in the following case study.

Now It’s Your Turn

Regardless of your audience size, you now have all the tools you need to get the right people on the phone to help you create compelling offers for your target audience.

Customer development calls take some effort to implement, but once you hone this crucial entrepreneurship skill, your product and service offers will work more often with your audience.

Discovering what your audience needs can be as simple as messaging a handful of people to have a 15-minute Skype call with you, so don’t wait!

Give this method a try and let us know if you have any questions or personal experiences to share in the comments below!

About ​Matt Totten

Matt's a geologist turned online marketer and digital nomad. He's a Modern Manimal on a mission to cultivate a high-tech, hunter-gatherer lifestyle within our exceedingly domesticated world. When away from his tech, you can find him studying complex human movement through random play or practices like Aikido, AcroYoga and Barefoot Running.

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  • Many thanks. Great and informative article with useful links!

    It all makes excellent sense. My only concern is that you would have to make enough customer development calls to get feedback that was accurate.

    While you can do lots of calls yourself, obviously that’s very time consuming so maybe some calls could be outsourced?

    The other way is to call centres of influence so their answers are accounting for a large industry or consumer groups.

    Agreed, it makes absolute sense to get this done but maybe who you call in terms of influence should also be a consideration.

    • Hi Stephen,

      I strongly advise against outsourcing these calls. It’s time very well spent and getting the information second hand is not the same as getting it directly.

      I remember reading somewhere that just 8 direct interviews will yield the same depth and quality of information as you’d get from a typical market research panel and survey of 50 people. In my experience, this is true. You’ll find common issues and patterns very quickly and it’s not like you have to make 100 calls before you get any real insight.

      Personally, I still do customer development calls myself and I’ve done more of them than anyone else in my company. To be clear: I’m not the only one doing them. But the reason I have other team members do customer development calls isn’t because I don’t want to spend my time on them but because I want them to get exposure to the insights that these calls yield as well. :)

      • Hi Shane,

        Thanks for your reply and relaying your experience. That’s good to know that so few calls can develop a pattern quickly. As you say, there’s not substitute for doing it yourself so I’ll definitely be putting your advice into practice.

        When you can interview centres of influence over large groups it makes sense to do so but I appreciate that’s not always possible.

  • Many thanks Matt.
    With Tony Robbins I learned the phone is my friend.
    Your Open-Ended Follow-Up Questions tip will help me to be more perfectly.
    TY and best regards Ludolf

  • Oh my goodness, sometimes the simplest things are overlooked, eh Matt? I’ve been hearing crickets for a while and, silly me, didn’t think to do this! I’m comfortable on the phone, although haven’t been as comfortable “asking”…guess this is the next thing I get to learn!

    Thanks for an awesome article and the questions…much appreciated.

    Hugs&Blessings. MamaRed.

    P.S. I was one of those on the 15 minute call and it was fun. Thanks Hanne. It was neat getting to match a voice with the great articles.

    • Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to speak with us MamaRed!

      I know it can be quite intimidating to jump on the phone with customers at first, but if your products and services are valuable, customers are happy to give back with a 15 minute phone call.

      I can definitely say this was the case when we did the ActiveGrowth calls earlier this year. It sure helped to show me how natural customer development calls can be and that it’s just one of those psychological barriers we have to push ourselves through to see that there’s nothing to lose and lots to gain from doing such outreach.

  • RE: Reach Out To Your Audience
    There’s 3 basic ways to ask strangers to get on the phone with you:

    Publish a blog post or email your list
    Use your own social networks
    Scout for target customers on online forums

    There is a fourth way: cold calling suspects. I’ll be doing that next week and I’ll let you know how it works. (The former Cold Call Cowboy, I’m very sure I know the outcomes.)

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