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Customer Discovery Tools to 10x Your Research Output


The research dashboard from a customer discovery project.
via Lukas Blazek on Unsplash

Whether you're establishing your first company or planning your next product launch, the customer discovery process is an essential aspect of ongoing business success.

This discovery process will transform your market research into reliable insights about who the early adopters are within your broader audience of potential users. If you already have a revenue model in mind, your insights will uncover the key customer personas within your audience of prospective customers.

By pulling meaningful insights from your discovery interviews, you'll zero in on the most valuable needs, behaviors, and pain points within your emerging customer base. These insights will fuel your efforts to tailor solutions to the most profitable needs among your target customers.


Haven't heard of customer discovery before? Check out our recent article on the topic here.


For now, let's just go through a quick summary on the topic.


What is Customer Discovery?


The customer discovery process guides founders toward an understanding of their target audience's needs, preferences, and buying behaviors. It's the first step within your customer development model that will drive your company building efforts.


It involves conducting thorough research that churns customer feedback into valuable signal regarding pain points, product preferences, and buying patterns within your target market.


The engines for this research are customer discovery questions that allow you to pinpoint at least one customer persona within the target market you hope to serve.

A founder planning their customer discovery research process.
via Firmbee on Unsplash

Some entrepreneurs stop after one series of customer discovery interviews and others make a lifelong commitment to continuous customer discovery projects.


In either case, this lean startup approach to company building offers a scientific method for evaluating your core business assumptions along the path of finding market fit for your current product idea.

Why Is Customer Discovery Important?


Failure to conduct proper customer discovery activities can lead to wasted time and resources, as well as the development of products that don't many any market need. When you don't run a proper customer development process prior to launching your company, you miss out on gathering key feedback from your potential users or buyers.


Customer discovery puts you in contact with the various factors that actually influence your target audience's behavior. These factors can include both demographic and psychographic traits that reveal how you can tailor your product or service to meet the pressing needs of your potential customers.

A founder running a customer discovery interview with a target market member.
via Mimi Thian on Unsplash

Instead of going to market with customer assumptions, this form of market research will allow you to lead customer development without investing huge amount of resources towards a product concept, marketing campaign or sales effort that doesn't address a real market need.


That is a crucial ingredient for reaching product-market fit as it customer validation leads to idea validation. As we've mentioned in the past, idea validation is the lifeblood for startup success.


It allows founders to find traction without outside investors and it makes the pathway to raising venture capital much easier.


Proper customer discovery offers a scientific approach to understanding your target market that will move you radically closer to customer validation.


In support of this effort, it's important to have the right tools on hand.


This article will discuss some of the leading industry tools for customer discovery purposes and reveal what our experts at Venture Validator use when running full-service research projects for our clients.


Identifying the Best Tools to Support Your Customer Discovery Research


When it comes to customer discovery, existing software tools now allow solo founders and small teams to gather market insights in ways that were once only possible for leading research firms.


It's no longer the case that teams of 25-100 people are required to create effective research instruments, field qualified research subjects and run reliable analysis on emerging data.


In 2023, most of these tasks can be accomplished with just a few clicks.


A startup team using tools within their customer discovery project.
via Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

Before selecting the tools for your customer discovery research project, it's important to clearly define your goals and objectives. Are you looking to gain direct insights through interviews or survey a broader audience for detailed responses? Maybe you'd like to both survey and interview members of your target market.


In any case, once you decide on your preferred research approach, you'll have to identify tools that will help you analyze your research data. This analysis will allow you to differentiate a target customer from any prospective customer.

Clarifying your research needs will help you pick the best tools to support your efforts. Here are the core categories of tools that will help you follow customer discovery best practices while you run your research process.


The Core Categories of Customer Discovery Research Tools


When considering where to look for valuable tools within the the customer discovery process, it's important to understand the key elements of customer discovery research.


Once you know each stage of the customer discovery process, it's much easier to identify tools that will help you uncover customer needs along your path toward leading your emerging business to market fit.

Coming out of the customer discovery process, these tools will fuel your product development roadmap with reliable signals from qualified buyers within your target market.


Let's get into each set of tools that correspond to these core stages of customer discovery.


These element then inform a natural set of tools like:


Customer Discovery Interview Tools

This element of the research process assumes you will speak face-to-face at places like conferences or trade shows. These interviews can also be held virtually. Whether you're running live interviews or online interviews, these discussions should be transcribed.


By recording these discussions, you'll gather comprehensive data from a handful of well-qualified sources that can guide you as you plan your eventual business model.


Customer Discovery Survey Tools

Surveys can be used before or after customer discovery interviews to gather target market feedback at scale. This larger pool of feedback might not be as profound as the information collected within individual interviews, but it will provide a higher volume of qualified data.

This will allow you to go beyond industry trends in your pursuit for an initial business model, minimum viable product and/or core value proposition for your early stage company.


Want to know the approach we use to make sure that the data collection part of customer discovery goes as smoothly as possible? We did a deep dive on that topic here.


Customer Discovery Data Analysis & Interpretation Tools


The information you've collected from the key questions within your customer discovery research can only lead you to building the right product if you properly analyze and interpret the data.

By using helpful data analysis and interpretation tools, you'll be able to gather insights that provide reliable market signal about your opportunity rather than mere noise.


Cloud servers that host mountains of customer discovery data.
via Ian Battaglia on Unsplash

We've also shared a blog on the best practices for approaching the data analysis and interpretation portion of customer discovery. Check that blog out here.


With this overview of the various stages of the customer discovery process in mind, let's run through the tools that will help you run successful customer discovery research.


Interview-Related Tools for Gathering Customer Discovery Insights


When it comes to gathering direct insights from your target audience, interview tools play a crucial role. These tools will support your one-on-one interviews with members of your target market.


By using these tools, you'll be able to quickly capture key needs, pain points, and expectations from your prospective customers.


Key Tools for Customer Discovery Interviews


In the early days of lean startup, Steve Blank would bang the table about the importance of founders getting out of the building to talk to potential customers. While in-person interviews are still a good way of collecting feedback, there are major advantages of leading customer discovery interviews using online videoconferencing platforms.

A collection of virtual customer discovery interviews.
via Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Above all, these videoconferencing tools allow you to record your interview so that you can review the discussion in its entirety after the fact and also share it with others to make sure that your impressions of the conversation are accurate.


On top of that, it's also way more convenient to meet with prospective customers virtually as these meetings can now happen anywhere and at anytime. With this added control, you can reduce distractions and disruptions that may occur at in-person venues.


While there are many players in the videoconferencing space, two solutions are clear leaders: Google Meet and Zoom.


Google Meet


Google Meet offers absolutely free access to their videoconferencing tool and they give a crazy amount of flexibility for 1-on-1 meetings. When you only meet with one other person, your meeting can go on for 24 hours. For about $6/month, you'll have access to the entire Google Workspace and gain call recording privileges.


This $6/month cost also provides 30GB of space in the Google Cloud where you can store things like interview notes, spreadsheets, and presentations in addition to your call recordings.


On top of this, Google is also rolling out an AI-assistant called Google Duet AI that can take notes for you and provide summaries for your meetings. While this feature isn't fully available yet, you can currently request a free trial of it if you're a Google Workspace user. It's not clear yet whether Google will roll this AI assistant into their existing Workspace subscriptions, but there are rumors they will separately charge additional $30/month to use it.


A key downside with Google Meet is their strange screen sharing feature that makes it hard to see other participants when you want to display your desktop windows with them. This can be a huge liability if you need to review a product mockup, competitor ad campaign or any other visual with the interview subject on the other side of your call.


Zoom


This videoconferencing software was the darling of the lockdown era. It powered corporate meetings, college classes and family game nights around the world when meeting in person was no longer possible. Guess what? It can also power your customer discovery interviews with prospective customers.


While their free version is not as generous as Google Meet's, you'll still be able to run an unlimited amount of 40-minute meetings using their software. If you're running cold interviews, this time limit may actually be a useful forcing function that encourages you to be more structured and disciplined within your discovery interviews.


At the same time, the time crunch may also cause you to neglect important rapport-building at the start of your interviews when you're first getting the hang of the interview process. This can cause interview participants to be less open and responsive during their discussion with you as they don't feel enough warmth to be truly vulnerable about their relevant customer experiences.


For about $16/month, you'll be able to have longer meetings, record them and gain access to Zoom's new AI-assistant feature that has all the same meeting benefits offered by Google's Duet AI tool.


On top of that, Zoom's screen-sharing tool is excellent.


Venture Validator's Interview Tools: Zoom & Google Docs


Our team uses the Business subscription to Zoom because we have to share our screens so often, and we can't deal with Google's poor capabilities in that respect.


For early-stage customer interviews, you may not need to share your screen at all and therefore the free Google Meet features may be perfect for you. You can pair this free version with Otter AI's transcription tool, which also has a basic version that doesn't require any payment. You'll get up to 30 minutes of free transcription for any conversation you have and up to 300 free transcription minutes per month.


We also use the Google Workspace for the convenience of Google Docs and Sheets. These tools allow our team to easily share resources and insights across all of our members.


Survey Tools for Gathering Qualified Responses


Our team at Venture Validator prefers to use surveys for the first round of customer discovery research. We have this preference because surveys allow founders to gather customer insights at scale and also rigorously qualify research participants before they invest an hour of time into interviewing someone.


A survey tool for customer discovery projects.
via Odissei on Unsplash

Additionally, if you survey before running an interview, you'll have background context on someone's customer preferences and customer pain points before the one-on-one discussion takes place. This context is priceless.


While there are many survey tools on the market, we'll focus on a leading free option and then a leading paid option for this type of user research.


Google Forms


Another tool from Google pops up here. If you have gmail account, you'll get to use this tool (along with Docs, Sheets, Meet, etc.) for free. Your limitation here is the 15GB of free space that Google allocates to store all the data from your use of its products. This storage space can disappear quickly if you consider that your mail is also being stored on Google's cloud. For $6/month, you can double your cloud storage and gain access to premium features (like recording your calls).


For a free option, Google Forms is an incredibly serviceable tool for surveying your target market audience. It offers customizable themes, pre-built tools for asking the most common types of questions, and basic analytic tools.


While it might not be as aesthetically pleasing or as robust as other leading options, its price point makes it an incredibly appealing option for founders who are bootstrapping their business.


Typeform


While TypeForm only allows 10 free responses to be collected each month, its additional analytics and survey design options make it an incredibly appealing tool for founders running user research. In order to bump your limit to 100 responses per month, founders are required to pay $29.


Besides its more comprehensive analytics, Typeform's user interface makes it much easier for founders to set up logic within their surveys so that respondents only answer questions that align with their experiences or interests.


This helps drive down survey fatigue and abandonment as your clarify your understanding of customer preferences.


Venture Validator's Favorite Survey Tool: Typeform


Our team regularly collects thousands of survey responses each month, so the more robust features of Typeform are incredibly beneficial for us. Once we factored in their advanced survey design and reporting features, it was a no-brainer to buy their software.

Customer Discovery Data Analysis and Business Intelligence Tools


Once you have collected the necessary data, it's time to analyze and interpret it to gain valuable insights. You'll explore feedback on how the existing customer experience can inform the customer journey for your future products and services.

These insights will pave the way for an easier path toward product-market fit. As a by-product, the data might also point out which research subjects are most likely to become early adopters during your initial product launch.

There's no way to overstate how critical this set of customer discovery activities is for understanding your potential customer base and uncovering your key customer personas. Among those personas, you may even have enough signal to pinpoint your the most valuable target customer for your first go-to-market campaign.

An analyst combs through customer discovery interview data.
via Simon Abrams on Unsplash

As your core business assumptions are corrected by the data, you'll be able to confidently spin up at least one product concept that will allow you to run a real customer validation experiment within your broader customer development process.


That customer persona is the most valuable prospective customer you can find within any user research effort.


While this kind of key insight often requires a commitment to continuous customer discovery, these tools will allow you to more easily follow best practices during the data analysis and interpretation portion of your first research project.


As with the previous categories, we'll cover one leading free (/low cost) tool as well as a paid competitor. Unlike our previous categories, we'll also throw in some additional coverage for data interpretation tools.


Google Sheets (Data Analysis)


Continuing with the Google recommendations, their Sheets tool is incredibly convenient to share and update across a team. If you're already using the Google Workspace within your organization or personal life, it's a no-brainer to make Google Sheets the landing spot for all of your data migration from offline to online sources.

In the future, Google's Duet AI tool will also make it easier to export your Google Meet interviews into a Google Doc where you can start highlighting information to throw into a Google Sheet. For basic visualizations, Google Sheets offers many of the same tools that are found in Microsoft Excel.

However, Microsoft Excel has generally been recognized as the more intuitive and fluid tool for data organization, analysis and visualization purposes. Whether this is because it's a fundamentally better tool or if it's just a matter of people being more accustomed to using Excel is not clear.

Looker Studio (Business Intelligence)


Google purchased Looker for $2.6B back in 2020 and they have integrated the business intelligence tool as an extension of their data analysis package in Sheets. While it costs $5,000/month to license Looker within your own internal data environment, it's free to bring your data over to the Studio version of this tool and run analytics. Looker Studio is a bit easier to run integrations with 3rd-party sources than Power BI, but its visualization tools are a bit more rigid and underwhelming.


For a quick and dirty analysis, Looker Studio is a fine option. Due to the less secure nature of a 3rd-party cloud environment, you should consider other business intelligence options in cases where you have to process large amounts of sensitive data.


Microsoft Excel (Data Analysis)


Microsoft Excel is the most popular data analysis tool in the world. It came out in the mid-1980s and has been the leading spreadsheet application since the 90s. From its more simple formulas all the way through its VLOOKUP have been helping data analysts quickly clean, structure and explore data for decades.


In recent years, Google Suite has been gaining ground among younger audiences and startups. This is because the collaboration across Google products is actually more smooth despite Microsoft's efforts with OneDrive and SharePoint.

However, Microsoft Suite still holds a dominant position within Fortune 500 companies as over 80% of them prefer Microsoft products relative to Google.


Microsoft Power BI (Business Intelligence)


Prior to its $10B investment in OpenAI in Q1 of 2023, Power BI's product launch in 2015 was arguably Microsoft's most notable commercial event in the last decade.


It built upon Excel's dominance as a spreadsheet and offered data analysts an additional layer of data manipulation capabilities. In particular, its drag-and-drop dashboard modules made it much easier for team members at all levels of data expertise to adjust the way key information was visualized within their corporate departments.


8 years later, Microsoft Power BI is still more commonly used than Looker and it's also incredible affordable with its Pro package available at $10/month and its Premium package available for $20/month.

Honorable Mention: Tableau (Data Interpretation)


Tableau is actually more popular than Looker and not far behind Microsoft BI in terms of adoption, but its main strengths show up in advanced visualization capabilities that often assume its users are seasoned analysts.


For that reason, it's worthy of a mention, but it likely goes beyond what the average founder needs when running a lean customer discovery project.


Venture Validator's Favorite Data Analysis & Interpretation Tool: Google Sheets


At Venture Validator, we pre-screen up to 3,000 research subjects before we allow around 200 qualified candidates enter into our live customer discovery survey environment. As Typeform enables filtering within their own tool, we can extract the qualified subjects out of the overall population of candidates and then export those 200 people into a CSV.


As our final data set isn't very large, it's easiest for us to run team analyses on a target market population within Google Sheets. Google Sheets also provides us with the initial visualizations we need before we upgrade those visuals in a separate graphic design environment like Adobe Illustrator or Canva.


This keeps our cost down, drives our collaborative abilities up, and makes our workflow incredibly easy as we transition from fielding qualified target customers, gathering data on their existing customer needs and preparing reports that can inform future customer interviews for our clients.


Conclusion: Venture Validator's Existing Customer Discovery Tech Stack


In summary, here are the customer discovery tools that fuel each stage of the expert research we run for our clients.


Venture Validator's Interview Tools: Zoom & Google Docs

Venture Validator's Favorite Survey Tool: Typeform

Venture Validator's Favorite Data Analysis & Interpretation Tool: Google Sheets


These tools have powered us through over 100 research projects for clients whose startups have ranged from pre-seed all the way to Series A prior to requesting our services. The track record of success we've had leading these projects also fueled our acquisition by Fundable Startups in Q1 of 2022.


No matter your stage of development, choosing the right tools for your customer discovery project can greatly impact the success of your research efforts. It's important to evaluate different tools based on their features, ease of use, pricing, and support.

Remember, customer discovery research is an iterative process, and the tools you choose should be flexible enough to adapt to changing research needs. By investing in the right tools and leveraging their capabilities, you can gather valuable insights that will drive the success of your product or service.


If you'd like to see how our services can support you, feel free to book a call with us using this calendar link: Venture Validator Research Call Calendar

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