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Customer discovery during COVID19

customer discovery during COVID19

How do you do customer discovery during COVID19? How do you test your ideas in these uncertain times when everyone works from home and nobody wants to meet you in person?  In this blog a few tips and tricks, and a list with online resources on how to do customer discovery during COVID19. The essence has not changed, but the tactics have.


As Steve Blank said as a reminder in TechCrunch: “Talking to customers seems like a simple idea, but most founders find it’s one of the hardest things they have to do. Entrepreneurs innately believe they understand a customer’s problem and just need to spend their time building a solution. We now have a half-century of data to say that’s wrong. To build products people want and will really use, founders first need to validate the problem/need, then understand whether their solution solves that problem (i.e. finding product-market fit).

That is no different during COVID19. Customer discovery is probably even more important because what used to work and be true, may no longer be the case. And what you think has changed, may still be the same.


The world has not stopped. It has gone virtual and people operate from their homes. That means in some situations your customers will be more difficult to reach, in others, the task may have become easier.

For example, surgeons are notoriously hard to get hold off, especially if you are not a clinician yourself. However, now that they are only able to do the most essential surgeries, most of them have time at hand.

Impacted or not?

If you need to get feedback from people on the frontlines, because you are working on the solution for COVID19, be very careful and make sure that you acknowledge the hardships and their vulnerabilities of these frontline workers. They are already exposed to a lot – literally and figuratively. However, some may be happy to talk and engage in a conversation, as in their breaks many are staying away from family and are lonely. In that sense, there are always opportunities.

Under no circumstances, customer discovery is useful if you start asking clients for things they don’t know either. For example, for a conference organizer, it is impossible to tell what the future will bring at the moment.

In other industries, things may turn back to normal. Take for example merger and acquisition lawyers, their work will come back. If you want to know how COVID19 will impact their practices, for example in how they embrace technologies, they probably cannot tell you. Because they are living through it right now, they don’t know either. They can tell you how it was and how they made decisions about technology adoptions in the past, but that may not be very useful information, as things have changed.

And even when at work nothing has changed, things at home are probably very different.

That brings me to my final point. Please use your common sense and do your homework.

Come prepared

What has not changed is that you should come prepared. The goal is to ask for the unknowns that you cannot find behind your computer, like what is most important to a person, what they consider the most challenging part of a job etc. The goal of these interviews is not to help you understand the basic facts.

For example, if you have a better personal protection equipment solution. Don’t ask a clinician about FDA approval. They won’t know, unless they have developed something similar themselves. What more, the FDA has pages full of information and resources that you should consult first.

Instead, ask them what personal protection equipment they currently use. How do they use it? What do they like about it? What is troublesome? What do they wish they had? That is the kind of behavioral information you cannot find online and need to learn from customer interviews.

Finding people online

Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn are your friends in these times. It is easier to reach out to new people through these channels than by email.

However, reaching directly out to people you don’t know remains tricky. You will be seen as a spammer.

Therefore, it works better to engage in conversations with the online communities that already exist on these networks. Engage yourself in the conversation and let your potential customers know what you are trying to learn and why. That was the most effective way to engage before COVID19 and that has not changed.

If you need to reach out directly, use the connections you have. Find a commonality – a friend, colleague, a group, a university, a program – that is anything that you can use to show there is a connection. The more you have in common, the easier it will be to get a foot in the door.

And as long as you don’t try to sell and stick to your mission to learn more about their world, the door will stay open. Trust the process.

A list of useful resources for customer discovery during COVID19:

Steve Blank gave a few tips for CrunchBase:  Customer discovery in the time of covid19:

  • Customer Discovery and Validation can be easily done via video teleconferencing
  • Recognize that many potential interviewees are working from home
  • Break your MVP demos into small pieces, leaving time for people to respond
  • Adjust your questions to understand how customers’ situations have been changed by the pandemic
  • Some Customer Discovery can’t be done now

LinkedIn Pulse:  Startup survival – customer discovery

  • Customer discovery isn’t just about interviews
  • Your customers are still online
  • Your customers are sitting at home getting bored… really bored
  • COVID-19 is not an excuse
  • BUT use some basic common sense

Strategyzers: testing business ideas

Not COVID19 specific, but full with helpful testing tips is Strategyzers: testing business ideas. The picture below gives an overview of possible experiments and tests in time and evidence strength.

Adapting customer experience in the time of coronavirus

McKinsey has a useful overview of the things your clients may be considering: Adapting customer experience in the time of coronavirus:

  1. Focus on fundamentals: Care and connection
  • Care for your customers
  • Care for employees
  • Care for the community
  1. Meet your customers where they are today
  • Accelerate digital options
  • Bring your business to customers’ homes
  • Make physical operations touch-free.
  1. Reimagine customer experience for a post-COVID-19 world
  • Find savings without sacrificing experience
  • Reimagine your brick-and-mortar strategy
  1. Build capabilities for a fast-changing environment
  • Keep a real-time pulse on changing customer preferences
  • Listen to employees
  • Adopt agile innovation

SBDC Virginia: Innovation during COVID19

And from the SBDC – Virginia: the webinar I presented on Innovation during COVID19 that explains:

  1. The necessity and benefits of innovating during a crisis.
  2. Who to put to the task?
  3. How to define new opportunities?
  4. How to obtain buy-in?
  5. How to test with a limited budget?
  6. How to take it from there in these uncertain times?

If you know of other useful resources, please let me know in the comments below! That way I can add them to the list above.

Stay safe, healthy, and sane.




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