Customer development in accordance to lean startup methodology can be very tricky. You have in front of you people you have never met before. You do not know whether they are going to lie to you or tell you the truth. You do not know, if they wish to help you or not. Sometimes they are clear and concise, while other times it takes hours to get to the point.

While I was trying to tackle the inconsistencies, the setbacks and the uncertainty, I was introduced to certain NLP (Neuro Linguistic Processing) techniques that proved to be invaluable.

I would like to present here the most basic sales technique, called Strategies, that could be applied to customer development interviews. According to NLP, every person has developed a specific strategy in making a decision. They have ways to motivate themselves, to take a decision, to convince themselves that they are about to do the right thing and, finally, to reassure themselves that they did the right thing.

If you are conducting your own customer development interviews, you need to find out the processes customers follow in order to buy and eventually use a product. As part of these interviews, I found out that the following NLP questions are invaluable.

Ho do you know when to do this?
What lets you know you are ready to do this?
What do you do as you are preparing to ….?
What steps do you go through?
What happens next?
Then what happens?
How do you know when you have succeeded?
How do you test whether or not you have succeeded?
What lets you know that you have not yet succeeded?

The above set of questions have been devised by Molden and Hutchinson in their book Brilliant NLP. In this book they generalise the application of strategies in all kinds of instances. As an interviewer you should try to adjust them to your specific circumstances, so the wording or the sequence may have to change.

They may be used in all aspects of the customer development phase but I found them most useful in the first one, when you are trying to elicit the strategies of EarlyVangelists.

I would be very interested in your results. So, I would be grateful, if you let me know of how things went during the interview. Even better, if you would like to write a blog post of your experiences here, I would be very happy to host it on this site.

Image source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Staunton_chess_set.jpg