How did we find potential customers?

Well, in the brief “mini-MBA” that Reese News Lab has been, I’ve learned that there are no customers, or potential customers, without a product.

So, first my team had to decide on our product. The idea of a background check product emerged from our first brainstorming sessions. We didn’t want to go into the market of traditional background checks because there would be too much competition from well-established background check companies. So, we asked, how can we differentiate ourselves?

After looking at different background check products that are out there, two things stood out. First, we saw that very few background checks include a look at social media content. Second, we couldn’t find any checks that provide updates as a person’s criminal record changes. This had to be an issue for someone, right?

Are there companies out there that want to know if an employee got arrested after he or she was hired (and the initial background check was completed)? We set out to find industries in which this idea of a “living background check” would be valuable.

In order to find these industries, we went back to the basics. Why does someone buy a background check? We discussed the idea that people order a background check when they’re in a position of putting trust in an individual they don’t know well. Taking it a step further, who would want continuous ‘background check alerts’ on that individual?

My team brainstormed potential answers to this question. We established the following potential customer segments: (1) parents of children under the age of 18, who are interested in getting updated criminal and social media information on their kids, their kids’ friends, their kids’ friends’ parents, and their kids’ significant other(s), (2) parents who are hiring babysitters, (3) parents who are hiring nannies, and (4) baby boomers who are interested in hiring elder care for their parent.

My team members and I set out to talk to people from each potential customer segment and ask them if they saw value in the product. For potential customer segment #1, my teammate Danny walked around campus and talked to six parents of children under the age of 18. For potential customer segments #2 and #3, my teammate Li talked with her family members, but they did not have experience hiring babysitters or nannies, so this feedback likely was not as helpful as people who are actively hiring a babysitter or nanny right now.

This was a problem we ran into throughout the week. It was challenging to find people who were truly a member of the customer segment we were looking for. We could ask people to imagine if they were hiring a babysitter and if they would hypothetically want our product. But, in the back of our minds, we knew this feedback wasn’t very helpful. We need to talk to people who can actually put us in the shoes of our potential customer segments. We need to talk to people who can give us truthful feedback about our product. Matthew Davis, VP of Product Marketing at Reveal Mobile Audience Insights, visited the Lab today, and he articulated this well – get to the truth quickly.

Davis speaks to interns about marketing and voice of customer. Photo by Samantha Harrington.

Davis speaks to interns about marketing and voice of customer. Photo by Samantha Harrington.

For potential customer segment #4, I spoke with four of my family members who are between 55 and 65 years old. As you can see, for our first stage of identifying potential customer segments, we used convenience samples. They were considering hiring an elder care service for their elderly parent in the near future. All of them said they would buy our product, and they said (using the magic words) they would pay between $4/month and $20/month for a background check alert service. I was pumped. People said they would pay?! This was exciting. But, suddenly, a salty taste filled my mouth. After all, these were my family members. Social desirability could be at play – were they saying they would buy the product in order to please me, knowingly or not? They weren’t obligated to pay on the spot. This was all hypothetical.

This week, we had to take all potential customer feedback with a grain of salt. I’ve questioned whether we can trust anyone’s feedback. Could we trust someone’s positive response to our product if they weren’t committing to buying it?

Our next step is to find people who can give us that accurate feedback we need. Next week, our aim is to find people who truly belong to our potential customer segments, so we can learn about them, get their feedback, and move closer to the truth.

1 Comment

Hester · June 29, 2015 at 12:26 am

I really appreciate reading your post Reese News Lab | Digging for truth in the mine of potential customers.

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