Sep 24, 2012

Essential Customer Development skills - Softball, Anchor and Deflection questions

Customer Development might be a process, but conversation is a skill.   Particularly, getting the information you want depends on your skill in controlling the momentum of the conversation.

When you know the rough topics you want to cover, you can direct the conversation easily with a few good Softball, Anchor and Deflection questions handy.

Softball Questions

Softball questions help you get the momentum going. They set the direction and tone of the conversation, and their primary purpose is to get the person talking at ease - not to gather information.
"Tell me about the last time you…"

“How’s it going with…”

Anchor Questions

Anchor questions are useful to explore around a particular signal. When I hear a job-to-be-done, obstacle, gain, another person, another solution or any strong emotional signal, I'll ask around it.
"How often does that happen?"

“Who else is affected by this?”

“Can you walk me, step-by-step, though how you decided?”

“Has this ever gone off-track or been more challenging than normal?”

Deflection Questions

Deflection questions are useful when they want to change the subject from their world to your startup or product. I usually establishing credibility at the start by saying I'm working on a project in a particular area, but the product is in very early phases. This helps keep the conversation off your product and on their world.

But often, they’ll ask for advice or insight from my research so far. After all, if I’m building a product, I must be knowledgeable. My answer is usually that I’d be happy to dig in and help them, but I’t be helpful to know a bit more about their context first.

"Sure, I can tell you all about that. To help me make sure I'm giving the best advice, can we first talk about how you…. "

“Great! We should really make time to properly show you what we’re up to. To help make sure it’s relevant, what are some cases where you would have used our product in the past?”

Boning up your conversation skills

Even a little practice goes a long way. You'll start to find your own questions that come across naturally.  It takes a bit of practice to spot when the questions are useful, and how to use them to control pace.

I’d recommend the sources that helped me in this area:

Rob and I also teach a one day Foundation Day workshop at Founder Centric. It includes Customer Development skills, including planning, questioning and analysing conversations in relation to your business' learning goals.


What am I up to these days?

I’m a new parent, and prioritising my attention on our new rhythms as a family. I’m also having fun with slow creative pursuits: making a few apps, writing, etc.

Work-wise, I’m trekking along at a cozy pace, with a few non-exec, advisory roles for cryptography and microchip manufacturing programs.

In the past, I've designed peer-learning programs for Oxford, UCL, Techstars, Microsoft Ventures, The Royal Academy Of Engineering, and Kernel, careering from startups to humanitech and engineering. I also played a role in starting the Lean Startup methodology, and the European startup ecosystem. You can read about this here.

Contact me

Books & collected practices

  • Peer Learning Is - a broad look at peer learning around the world, and how to design peer learning to outperform traditional education
  • Mentor Impact - researched the practices used by the startup mentors that really make a difference
  • DAOistry - practices and mindsets that work in blockchain communities
  • Decision Hacks - early-stage startup decisions distilled
  • Source Institute - skunkworks I founded with open peer learning formats and ops guides, and our internal guide on decentralised teams