How to interview your customers — notes from reading “The Mom Test”

Lately I’ve taken a keen interest in product management and, as it goes, have gone around asking for recommendations on books and resources to learn more about it. “The Mom Test” by Rob Fitzpatrick was recommended by multiple people, so I thought it’d be a good book to start with.

Funny name, huh? So what is the Mom Test?

The idea is that people are inclined to give encouragements and compliments on your ideas/projects, for social cohesion and to help you feel better about yourself — whether they mean it or not. This is sort of like a mom when she tries to highlight the good things and encourages her kid despite the (harsh) reality. Failed a test? “It’s okay darling, I have a strong feeling that this will be the last time you fail a test if you work hard from now on” Burnt cookies? “Nice try baby, this is still delicious!” You’ve got the idea.

Here is a neat short video that sums up how the Mom Test works:

The book is a delightful read, insightful and funny about how, like most things with human beings, what you see is not always what you get in customer feedbacks. Especially for a psychology junkie (and student of British communications) like me, it’s fascinating to see the comparisons of what people say out loud, what they actually think and what the listeners perceive they mean based on what they say.

Conveniently, the book includes a cheatsheet of the key points at the end (ha, don’t you just love them?).

Here are some of my key takeaways:

How to pass the Mom Test:

1. Talk about their life, instead of your idea

2. Ask about specifics in the PAST, instead of generics or opinions about the future

3. Talk less and listen more

What are the types of bad data/info for idea validation:

1. Compliments: “That’s cool, love it”, “Sounds terrific! Keep me in the loop”(compliment & stalling tactic)

2. Fluff: three types of fluff

a. Generics: “I usually/always/never…”

b. Hypotheticals: “I might/could…

c. Future: “I would/will…”. “I would definitely buy that

3. Ideas: features, requests, etc.

How to avoid the traps of bad data/info:

· Deflect compliments: “Sorry I got excited and started pitching. Do you mind if I ask…”, “That’s interesting, can you talk me through…”, “how are you dealing with it at the moment”

→ Watch out for symptoms: “thanks!”, “I’m glad you like it”, “everyone loved the idea”

· Anchor fluff: get specifics, ask for concrete examples in the PAST

→ Avoid asking fluff-inducing questions (“would you ever…”, “what do you usually…”, “do you think you…”, “might you…”, “could you see yourself…”)

· Dig beneath opinions, ideas, requests and emotions: understand the motivation/rationale behind them, what are the pain points and how big of a pain is it to be worth solving

What mistakes & symptoms to avoid:

1. Fishing for compliments & exposing your ego: not constructive in getting honest feedbacks

2. Being pitchy: rationale same as above, especially as this usually leads to fishing for compliments

3. Being too formal (e.g. “So, first off, thanks for agreeing to this interview…”, “on a scale of 1 to 5, how much would you say you…”, “let’s set up a meeting”): doesn’t put people in the right, relaxed mood to open up

4. Being a learning bottleneck (not sharing info & knowledge)

5. Collecting compliments instead of facts and commitments

What would you get from a good meeting:

· Facts: concrete, specific facts about what they do and why they do it

· Commitment: they’re giving up something they value (meaningful amounts of time, reputation risk, or money) to show they’re serious

· Advancement: they’re moving to the next step of your real-world funnel and getting closer to a sale

How to spot you’re just going through the motions:

· You’re talking more than them

· They’re complimenting you/your idea

· You told them about your idea and don’t have next steps

· You don’t have notes

· You haven’t looked through your notes with your team

· You got an unexpected answer and it didn’t change your idea

· You weren’t scared of any of the questions you asked

· You aren’t sure which big question you’re trying to answer

· You aren’t sure why you’re having the meeting

How to ask for and frame a meeting

· Vision: how you’re making the world better

· Framing: where you’re at and what you’re looking for

· Weakness: where you’re stuck and how you can be helped

· Pedestal: how they, in particular, can provide that help

· Ask: ask for help

· … AND the big prep question to keep in mind: what do we want to learn from them?

Dreaming about a better future (or what’s for lunch/dinner)