During the holiday I was catching up on some reading and picked up an article Noah shared that laid out a market research approach from HBS professor Clay Christensen. The piece went down well with me, and in places mirrored the research our design team has been doing here at Percolate. As we look to push our research further in the coming year I was interested to reflect on what has been working so far.

Let’s begin with the premise of the article:

Looking at the market from the function of a product really originates from your competitors or your own employees deciding what you need, whereas the jobs-to-be-done point of view causes you to crawl into the skin of your customer and go with her as she goes about her day, always asking the question as she does something: Why did she do it that way?

So what Christensen is saying is that it’s beneficial to carry out market research that will give you an understanding of the jobs your customers need to get done day to day, rather than ask questions that deliver a functional specification e.g. Customer A needs product capabilities X,Y and Z.

The article goes on to share how a fast-food restaurant chain used the research approach to develop the ultimate morning fruit milkshake to fit the job of bored commuters. It’s worth a read when you get a moment.

My love for banana milkshakes aside, getting meaningful data about the job of your customers is tough. Looking back it was pretty daunting actually. Simply put, you’ve got to find ways to connect with your customers, create a format which allows interviewers to learn on the job, and thirdly, figure out how to coach people to pull out the most valuable stuff (shifting from the mindset of identifying functions to insights around jobs customers need to do).

With these challenges in mind, here are 5 learnings from our market research to get you started:

Routine, not special occasions

It’s easy to think about doing research in preparation for building milestone features. A year or so after formalizing our approach here at Percolate, we have seen huge value in pushing the team to do weekly customer interviews. Work with people across your company to help you identify the right interview subjects; we’ve found interviews work great with prospects as well as our existing customers. Look to line up at least one interview a week to inspire thinking and conversations around the challenges and opportunities your customers face.

Prepare to press record

Any sort of note taking during an interview is distracting for everyone. Make sure when you sit down with a customer (in person, on the phone, Skype etc.) all you need to do is press record to get going (dictaphone app, camera, whatever works for you). As the interviewer you need to focus on listening and responding. Here’s a couple of things we do to prepare; get the low-down on who you are speaking to, develop a script of questions to prompt you through key areas you want to cover, and find a space away from your desk to focus on the conversation in hand.

Start small, and don’t stop digging

The goal of your customer interview is not to work out how to iterate on a current product design problem. Take that pressure off from the start. Your goal is to see the world from your customer’s perspective. To do that you need to create a script of small, open questions that enables you to build up the picture block by block. Before going into their current job, simply start by getting to know them and their previous experiences. Setting the scene with this approach will get you in the mode of asking follow-up questions and digging into why and how your customers do the jobs and make the decisions they do.

Moving beyond playback

Creating heavy interview documentation creates too much work for your team when it comes to reviewing reports. Early on we developed a simple report format that helped people steer clear of over-sharing, and instead focused on sharing concise learnings around the interviewee’s profile and specific jobs they are doing. This approach helped designers separate unique insights from common facts. This lightweight format lends well to pulling out workflow patterns when comparing customer perspectives, and it also provides you with bite sized chunks ready to drop into project briefs.

Seeing a new world

Our product design team isn’t broken down by research, UX or visual positions. We have a product designer role. We ask all designers to solve problems from start (strategy, research, prototyping, scope) to finish (visual design, QA, user testing), and everything in between. We’ve seen market research play a key role in developing the internal UX department of designers at Percolate. These experiences have helped people see the world from our customer’s perspective and get excited by our vision to transform marketing with our technology platform. It’s grown designers from knowing ‘how’ to execute a solution to ‘why’ we are building the platform we are.

One of our big goals for the year ahead will be to ensure that the distribution of our findings works harder for the company. If our research is empowering us with empathy around our customer’s lives, then we’ve got to make sure that empathy is served on a never-ending conveyor belt so everyone across the company can easily pick learnings up all day long.

Our immediate step is to get stuck in and ask better, more thoughtful questions to understand the future jobs brand marketing teams will be tackling 18 months from now. These learnings will help us continue to design a technology platform which integrates into the lives of our customers, one that will help them become better at their jobs. That’s what we’re getting after. Come help us.

Photo: Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons