mom pumpkins

by • October 7, 2011 • Best of, ListeningComments (1)114

The mom test for good customer feedback

Supposedly, you aren’t meant to ask your mom if your business is a good idea. The idea is that she thinks everything you do is great and her opinion is therefore a worthless data point.

That advice is “correct” in the same way bloodletting is the “correct” cure for the flu — during the 2 weeks when the leeches are going to work on you, you might get better! But really it’s a correlation-causation issue. Avoiding your mom might lead to better info, but just like the leeches aren’t the cure, your mom isn’t the problem.

The don’t-ask-mom advice assumes 2 things. First, that your mom will lie to you. She will. Second, that other people will tell you the truth. They won’t.

Most people don’t want to hurt your feelings and will say what’s likely to make you happy, including that your business sounds great. Your mom is probably the worst liar of the lot, but everyone will give you false positives[1] to varying degrees.

If you believe the “everyone lies” premise, we can safely argue that the problem isn’t who you are asking but what you are asking.

The mom test is simple. It states that good questions for getting feedback are ones that even your mom would be unable to lie to you about. Or put another way, if you worry that you can’t ask your mom because you won’t get good data, then you need to improve your line of inquiry.

Hey mom, would you pay $10 for this cookbook/tourism/yoga ipad app I want to make? Of course I would honey! That sounds amazing!

Hey mom, how’s the new ipad treating you? Have you bought any apps yet? Oh, no honey, there are a million things in that store and I have no idea which ones are good — I just had Martha give me a list of all the ones she uses, but it made me nervous to put my credit card info in online so I only downloaded the free ones. That sudoku app is really fun. It’s got cows in it. It’s called Moodoku. Have you played it?

The first line of questioning is personal. It mixes up their opinion of you and their opinion of your product. The second line of questioning is open-ended. You are asking about their workflow and their preferences, without contaminating the line of thought with your own ideas. Most importantly, your mom doesn’t even realise that she might be making you sad, so it won’t occur to her to lie.

So Mr. Stevens, the premium CRM license is $5000, which can finally get you guys off that nightmarish paper system — I think you’re going to be able to save a ton of time. Thanks Rob, that sounds great. You guys are really delivering a lot of value for that price. Let me talk to my team and get back to you.

So Mr. Stevens, you guys are able to stay on top of a huge number of deals and I was wondering — how do you manage it all? Well Rob, we’ve tried a bunch of digital systems, but the training was a pain and it always seemed like more trouble than it was worth. We really only have about 5 active deals per partner and the post-it wall works fine for that volume.[2]

The first blurb is pitchy. You have prematurely entered sales mode. If you are unusually lucky, Mr. Stevens’ response may convert into a sale. Most likely, he’s written you off because you didn’t understand his problems correctly and is trying to see how far he can extend his lunch hour by saying something nice and cutting this meeting short.

The second blurb focuses on their needs, their workflow. He might go on to tell you that their system totally fails when partners are traveling, which happens a lot. Or you might get the sense that he’s really not fussed about fixing their paper CRM. You can’t force your way to good news, but the point here is you are getting real learning, not false positives.

You know what the sign of a great customer development meeting is? As you’re preparing to depart, the person you were talking to suddenly connects the dots on everything they just told you and gets a little frantic as they say something like “Uh, hey! I hope I didn’t discourage you? I mean, it’s really not as bad as I made it out to be.” Bingo. You just dodged a guaranteed false positive (and a pointless meeting) by getting them to talk about their business/problems/workflow rather than your idea.

[1] False positives are when you gather some faulty data which you think validates your idea. They cause founders to spend far too long on doomed versions of their business. I think false positives are the 2nd most dangerous trap for early-stage founders. The #1 trap is imaginary positives (convincing yourself it’s a good idea without any external data whatsoever). At least the false ones get you talking to people, even if you’ve tainted the experiment and misinterpreted the results.

[2] Please forgive my awful dialogue. I am evidently not destined to become a screenwriter.

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One Response to The mom test for good customer feedback

  1. […] you ever heard of the Mom test? A great article on The Startup Toolkit says that you should never run an idea past your mother […]