This is Part 2 of a two-part blog post on effectively preparing and running customer interviews, and using the data you gather. Check out Part 1 here.

After a round of customer discovery interviews, I often find myself inundated with data. It’s a bit intimidating. I’ve tried lots of different approaches to organizing that data, from writing up long and verbose reports, to just giving the rest of my team the raw data and asking them to make sense of it (take a wild guess how that went). What I found was that while I had accrued lots of data, I was always left begging for actionable insights.

So how do we interpret all of that data we worked so hard to collect?

Find patterns

When we are doing customer discovery interviews, we are collecting a lot of qualitative data. After doing several interviews, you will start to recognize patterns in the responses you are getting.

For instance, if your goal going into the interview is to understand how people communicate with their family members, you might find that 7 out of 10 people use WhatsApp to do so. That’s an important pattern! Alternatively, if you’re looking to enhance your photo editing skills, interviewing people who are knowledgeable about the topic could be helpful. For example, 4 out of 10 people you interviewed might mention a new piece of software you had never heard of, such as the AI pictures generated using Picsart’s Ai picture generator feature. This could be worth exploring further.

customer discovery

Qualitative data is cumbersome to deal with, so in order to find those patterns, you need to quantify your data.

The first step in quantifying qualitative data is tagging your notes with “themes.” In this context, themes are the subject that each note revolves around, or the underlying threads. These themes generally end up being either problems you hear or solutions you learn about, but can really be anything. For many data sets, you won’t realize the themes until you sit down after your customer interviews and dig into the notes.

Let’s go through an example: you are thinking of opening up a food delivery service in San Francisco, and are interviewing potential customers to learn about their dinner habits. One of your interviewees, Sally, says “I love to eat gourmet foods, but I prefer the company of a few close friends at my house for dinner than loud, boisterous restaurants.” A theme for this direct quote might be “doesn’t like to go out.” You can even spread this note into other themes, like “loves gourmet food.” After interviewing 15 more people like Sally, you realize that maybe instead of opening a food delivery service, you might want to explore a service that brings chefs into peoples’ homes and cooks a gourmet meal there instead of at a restaurant.

illustration - focus group v2

I like to use a really simple spreadsheet to visualize my qualitative data. The spreadsheet includes a color-coded key for the different notes I take (see Part 1 for an overview on what those notes are), and space to fill in notes for different themes. Feel free to download my Customer Conversation Insights Template. Eventually you can come up with your own template that best suits your needs.

Go with your gut

“Wait a second, I thought Lean is all about being data-driven so you don’t have to go with your gut?!?!”

While it’s true that you shouldn’t just go with your gut, the important thing to understand here is that by having customer conversations, you are training your gut to make informed decisions. You won’t capture everything in your notes, and you will always leave the conversation with a “feel” for how it went. That is an important signal to listen to after conducting the interviews.


illustration - Fork in the road decisions


I think the most challenging part of being an entrepreneur is balancing vision with data and vice versa. By simply immersing yourself in the process of talking to customers, you train yourself to listen to the world around you, and remain open to other perspectives. In turn, this can affect what your vision looks like before you even unpack your data. Let your biases be your strength, just so long as you recognize that they are indeed biases.

Another thing I should note is that it is critical that the CEO and founding team (i.e. the decision-makers) are the ones actually conducting these customer interviews, or at least taking notes during them. I’ve seen it many times: teams will do an excellent job of collecting data and gathering insight, and the decision-maker, who wasn’t present for those conversations for whatever reason, will shoot down the data because they are going off of their gut (the gut that wasn’t in the room during those conversations). If that happens to you, bring the decision-maker into the next conversation. If they still say no, at least you will know that they are making a more informed decision.

The Hi.P.P.O.

Another benefit of going with your gut is that it is action oriented. By removing barriers to making a decision, such as the need for more data, or wanting to get something perfectly right before moving on, we can get to experimenting faster.

Note: If you’re looking for some guidance on how to design lean experiments, download our Learn SMART Experiment Template.

It’s all about that action

Ultimately these customer discovery interviews need to lead us somewhere. Sure it feels nice just talking to people, but as entrepreneurs, we need to do more than that. We need to always make sure we are progressing towards something that will move our business forward. So when it comes to actioning your data, find patterns, go with your gut, do whatever it takes to build momentum. And remember, it all starts with talking to real people.


Lessons Learned:

  • Look for patterns in you customer interview results.
  • Go with the data, but listen to your instincts.
  • Always be moving your business forward.

Download Customer Conversation Insights Template

* This post has been recently updated to reflect developing thoughts on this topic.

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