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With Weldon Kennedy

Maximizing your Market Opportunity Through Customer Discovery

Before you develop a new technology solution for the climate crisis, you’ll need to make sure there’s actually a market for it. Speaking to a wide variety of prospective customers and stakeholders will help you understand your consumers’ preferences, purchasing behavior, and pain points. But who should you speak to, and how can you guide the conversation to produce the most useful insights?

For this week’s Insight, we sat down with Weldon Kennedy, co-founder and CMO of Channing Street Copper Company, to learn how founders can effectively and efficiently evaluate the market opportunity for their products.

Market discovery is never done

Customer discovery is an iterative process, not a one-and-done exercise. When you first have an idea, you’ll have initial conversations with people to find out if your product solves any problems they have, and assess the level of demand. Then, once you’ve made a prototype, you’ll find potential customers to test it, and do the same again after you’ve made improvements. Every time your product evolves you’ll need to repeat the process of asking for feedback, so interviewing the right people is crucial to make sure you’re on the right track.

Why you need a wide range of participants

The feedback you get from the customer discovery process is how you’ll build your product and reach mass adoption, so your range of interviewees needs to be as broad and diverse as the market you want to target. You can’t just speak to people who lead the same lifestyle and have the same problems as you - if you do, you might potentially over-rotate on certain pieces of feedback, and you won’t build a product that scales as intended.

This effort is particularly important in the context of climate tech, where you run the risk that your sample is overly weighted towards early adopters and people who make purchases based on environmental or other social good credentials. Despite how positive those conversations might be, a very small number of people actually shop like this. Make sure you’re probing all kinds of customer segments - you want to speak to people who have no interest in your product, those who could be persuaded to buy it, and people with little interest in its positive environmental impact.

Uncover your product’s non-climate related qualities

In building a climate-friendly brand, there’s a common tendency to put this social message front and center - understandably, since this likely constitutes one of your primary motivations as a founder. But while there are consumers out there for whom the climate is a top priority, they account for a very thin layer of the market. Once you saturate it, you’ll need to appeal to the next person - who generally has very different priorities.

If your customer isn’t motivated by climate action, what other qualities does it have that would drive them towards making a purchase? Does it make them more comfortable, make their life easier, or make them look good? These other aspects of your product will be the most important for spurring mass adoption. You need to uncover them in your consumer discovery, and figure out how you can communicate them in a way that allows you to reach a broad audience without degrading your social messaging.

Finding participants for customer discovery

You can hire a research firm to find you suitable people to interview, but it’ll come with a high price tag. A free - but time-consuming - option is to harness your network to find people who are two or three degrees of connection removed from you. Ask people you trust if they know anyone who fits the profile you’re looking for - maybe that’s parents with children under five, or long-term renters. This method isn’t perfect, because the people recommended to you probably won’t be a truly diverse group, but it’s still a quick and effective first step.

Social media can also be a useful tool for finding people - you can tap into relevant communities on Reddit or reach out to people on Twitter who’re posting about your area of work. More direct approaches like grabbing people at a cafe can also be fruitful, but be aware that you’re likely to find similar demographics of people at certain locations and times.

Keep an eye out for any gaps in your data - think about who you’re not hearing from, and set out to look for those people. When you get feedback, reflect on it in the context of the person providing it to get a bigger picture. Your early adopters might be outspoken, but you’ll probably need to discount their perspective in comparison to other, quieter participants who actually represent the vast majority of your market.

Useful questions during customer discovery conversations

  1. Listen.  Then listen more.

Early on in the conversation, before you’ve even discussed what you’re doing, you should ask open-ended questions about the space you’re entering and how your participant feels about it. For example, if you’re selling coffee, don’t start by asking about their favorite beverage - ask what their morning routine looks like. You’re not just trying to uncover the potential relationship someone might have with your product, but the entire context around where that product will fit into their life. Keep asking questions and listening until you really understand their behaviors and motivations.

By doing so, you’ll gain insight into how someone thinks about purchases in your space, which will help you understand your pain points and opportunities as a brand. Starting the conversation this way will also build rapport and create the right environment to ask more specific questions that are tailored to your product.

2. Listen for what isn’t said, and follow up

When you start getting into specifics, make sure you’re noting things that aren’t said. For example, if you ask someone about their process for drinking coffee in the morning, and they don’t mention the type of mug, this could be potentially interesting information. Make sure to pay close attention to omissions like this and follow up with questions so you can understand why it was omitted. Do they not care about mugs or do they care so much that they assumed it goes without saying that a certain type of mug would be used?

3. Ask: what would someone else say?

When you ask for opinions on your product or service, it’s likely that people will be polite and try to hold back their criticism. To give them permission to provide candid feedback, you can ask your participants to imagine what someone who’s not a fan of your product might say. This creates a distance between them and their feedback, allowing them to share their concerns about your product without feeling like they’re being mean - they’re just voicing the opinion of someone who is. People will be more truthful about any skepticism they hold, and you’ll hear some worthwhile feedback.

Weldon Kennedy is a Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Channing Street Copper Company, making the world’s first Energy Storage Equipped (ESE) appliances. He is a social campaigner and entrepreneur with extensive experience in the US, UK, and Kenya.

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