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If you came up with a new idea, you probably want to know, what other people think about it. Most likely you're going to ask somebody you trust, because you expect honest feedback from them – but this can be a dangerous approach. The principles of the mom test can help you conducting better and more honest conversations with your customers.

What is the Mom Test?

The Mom Test is a set of simple rules that help you elaborating good questions for validating ideas. Questions, that even your mom cannot help but answer honestly.

The main idea is the well known rule “Never ask your mother if your idea is good, because in the case of doubt, she will lie to you to not hurt your feelings.”

The Mom Test has the goal to conduct conversations that solicit honest and sincere feedback even from your mom – and if you can do such conversations with her, you can do them with everybody.

The Mom Test was originally conceived by the authore and entrepreneur Rob Fitzpatrick, who wrote down his ideas in the eponymus book.

The Main Problem

The problem with “conventional” customer conversations about new ideas is the following: In most cases you ask directly, what your customer think of the new product or even just the idea. But in this cases, the customer might be biased. Instead of giving you sincere, outspoken feedback, many customers in this situation may prefer to give you non-committal compliments. These might be nice to hear, but don’t help you with gaining useful feedback about your idea and its market potential at all. In some cases, your customers ask for specific features, even though their actual problem might be solved better with other ideas.

You should also consider that people rarely tend to predict their future behaviour correctly – lots of unfulfilled new year’s resolutions illustrate that. This also applies to future buying decisions, which you asking your customers about today. If this comes together with enthusiasm about your new idea, or your customer just wants to be nice, they often will give you an exaggerated prediction about their thoughts on your new product idea.

The Solution

In order to gather sound information from your customer conversations, you need to conduct these talks in a certain way and avoid certain mistakes. It’s all about your customer being as unbiased at possible. To achieve this, talk with them about what happened in the past – about their work, their workflows and the solutions they use. It should not be about general opinions and ideas for the future – this includes (buying) decisions.

Know, what moves your customers

Whitepaper Customer Centricity Cover

How To

To conduct your customer conversations with the principles of the mom test, you need to keep some things in mind.

The most important, that you speak about your customer and his living and working instead of talking about your product. There are quetions that are sensible and questions that have to be avoided.

These talks doesn’t even have to be planned. Most of the questions can be asked “in between”, for example when you meet your customers at events such as conferences. Sometimes your customer maybe won’t even notice that you want to validate an idea with this conversation.

Good Questions

During the conversation you should ask at least one question that has the potential to “destroy” your whole idea. Asking those questions isn’t easy, but it is necessary. In this way you can find out if your idea itself isn’t that good, or if potential customers just aren’t interested in a solution to a corresponding problem.

Write this question(s) down prior to the talk and force yourself to ask them, so you take your responsibility serious.

We’ve already learned: Customers tend to lie or overestimate in regards to new products or predictions of their own behaviour – e. g. buying decisions – in the future. For this reason, the conversation should be about your customer’s past as much of the time as possible.

The following aspects are interesting:

  • What did your customers do?
  • When did they do it for the last time?
  • Why did they do it? What problems were/are to solve?
  • What else did they try?
  • Why didn’t they try potential other options?
  • What frustrations do they feel possibly?
 

Possible questions that let you find out such things are the following for example:

  • Explain your workflow to me.
  • Did you have problems with XY in the last time?
  • Did you try to approach those problems?
  • If yes: What solutions did you try?
    • Did they work? What did you like about them?
    • If they didn’t work out: Why not?
  • If no: Why haven’t you looked any further for solutions?

Every time you talk to someone, you should be asking at least one question which has the potential to destroy your currently imagined business.

Mom-Test Cheat Sheet

Our simple cheat sheet provides the most important information about the mom test in a compact form – So you can apply these priciples too!

(without entering any data)

Cheat Sheet Mom Test English

What you can learn from non-usage

Even the non-usage of existing solutions can tell you something about the customer. Here you have to distinct between “Complainers” and “Customers”. This distinction ist very important and can be differentiated by the way customers responded to problems in the past. Did they just complain about it but didn’t take any action? Or were there efforts towards an own solution, even if that was just temporarily respectively improvised?

There is also a positive kind of non-usage. That’s the case when customers already looked for alternatives which didn’t fit their needs for some reasons. You can begin here and ask more about your customer’s efforts and why they failed. On the other side there are customers who just aren’t interested in approaching their problem – those aren’t good customers for your future project.

In order to identify this difference, fathom their decision making processes and ask, how they approached these kinds of issues in the past.

Wrong questions

Besides the good questions, you should also know the wrong ones. Those are the ones you should abslutely avoid.

  • Do you think this idea is good? – This is the worst question you can ask. As discussed in the paragraph “The Main Problem”, people aren’t good in predicting future decisions. Even if they like your idea today, that wouldn’t say much about the likelihood of them buying your product or using your service in the future. Also your customers don’t want to hurt you and might tend to give you complaisant feedback.
  • How much would you pay for XY? – People’s poor ability to predict future behaviour also applies to prices they are willing to pay. Today your customers might be really excited about your idea – but forget,  that the usage of your product comes with some obligations as well. In this state of excitement the customers could easily overestimate the price they are willing to pay in the future.
    Get your customer into a “buying mindset”by offering them for example a discount for the future product and a few free months of usage if they make an advance payment. The goal of offering this is not to actually sell something, but rather providing your customer a buying opportunity that feels as real as possible (including the buyer’s commitment). It’s not about a good conversion rate – it’s about feedback.  If your idea has a chance in the future, some of your customers will seize the opportunity already in advance.

 

Not just the questions themselves, but also the way you ask them, is important. The customer should never get the feeling of owing you a certain answer. That’s why you must avoid sentences like “We worked so hard for months on this” prior tp the question. Also expressions like “Our dream” for the idea aren’t a good idea if you want to get an honest opinion.

Other mistakes

There are some pitfalls that have to be avoided:

  • Empty Compliments – In this case, a compliment isn’t something good, because many of them are just empty phrases without deeper meaning. If you notice such a compliment, that has to be a warning signal to you. Lead the conversation away from you back to the customer. You can achieve this by saying things like “What you said earlier about XY was interesting. How exactly was that?”.
    The reason why compliments are dangerous is, that they can be easily mistaken for validation for your idea – what they aren’t.
  • Pitches or hints of your priduct idea – If the conversation changes away from the customer’s life towards your product, then it’s going to be about hoe smart and innovativ you and your idea are. Your customer then step into the shoes of someone who wants to encourage you – and you both leave the territory of objective data.
  • Jump to the sale (too early) – The conversation has to be about a basic understanding of the topic – not about selling.

Evaluation

There are two important rules to evaluate the collected information in a way that makes sense: “Take notes thoroughly” and “Use the other brains of your team”.

After gathering the information from the talk, you should pass on everything that is important to your teammates. That includes especially quotes and corresponding emotions of the customer. This procedure prevents fallacies that lead to a wrong evaluation of your information and wrong decions that are based on this.

The gathered information now provide you an unsparing insight of your customer’s life and work. With these insights you can now find out, if your idea is really that, what the customer wants and needs.

The Mom test is just the beginning

Customer Insights Suite Light dark version

Example "iPad"

With a practical example that is used by Fitzpatrick himself in a similar way, we want to show you, how a conversation can be conducted in accordance to the rules of the mom test.

Imagine you plan to launch an app for cooking recipes. You visit your mother, who owns an iPad for a while and also some cookbooks that are on their kitchen shelf.

First we will have a look on the way you should not conduct this conversation:

  • “I have an business idea, can I tell you about it?”

     

  • “You’ve got your iPad for a while now. Do you use it often? – At this point, an answer is kind of “forced”.

 

  • “Would you ever buy an app that is like a cookbook for your tablet?” – This question is purely hypothetical an lies in the future. Apart from this, you only provide one possible solution for your mother to choose from. A solution for a problem, that you only assumed.

 

  • “It would be just 10 Dollars, much cheaper than your cookbooks.” – Apps and books aren’t really comparable in terms of pricing.

 

If you conduct this conversation, your mother’s answer will most likely be positive and she will praise your idea, because she wants to encourage you rather than hurti your feelings. Because the possible consequences are in the future, it isn’t hard for her to approve your idea, even though she doesn’t need your proposed product.

Now let’s take a look on a similar conversation, that is held by the rules of the Mom Test:

  • “How is your new iPad?”

 

  • “What do you use it for?” – You learn, for what purposes the device is used – without making any assumptions that might distort your validation.

 

  • “What was the last thing you did with it?” – Ask for a concrete example.

 

  • “What app or service did you use for this task?”

 

  • “Where do you get ideas and recommendations for new apps?” – With this question you can go deeper might get some unexpected answers. You can find out, what influences your “customer’s” decisions.

 

  • “Where did you get all these cookbooks on the shelf?” – Here you can learn whether cookbooks are even the thing your mother needs. Maybe She isn’t really interested in new recipes and just got all the cookbooks as gifts. In this case your idea might don’t make sense – at least for the audience you had in mind.

 

This kind of conversation provides you insights that are much more valuable, because your mother doesn’t even get the chance to lie.

The following video has a slighlty deeper but also very entertaining look on this example:

Conclusion

At the end, we want to conclude the most important information for you to apply these principles for yourself – so you can conduct better talks with your customers in the future and validate your ideas better:

  • The talk has to be about your customer. Not about you or your idea. The motto is “Talking less, listening more”.
  • The right questions are crucial.
  • Ask for problems in the past and solutions (even ones that only have been tried without success). Don’t ask if your customer likes your idea and if they would buy it in the future.
  • Don’t fish (unconsciously) for compliments. If you notice one, navigate the conversation away from you back to the customer.
  • Don’t make the talk a pitch.

 

Use your team to evaluate the collected information and to conduct decisions from this information. With the power of your team you can prevent fallacies.

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About Me

As a Growth Marketing & Customer Experience expert, I experience the importance of a customer-centric product and marketing strategy on a daily basis.

In combination with agile optimization processes and a corporate culture that is open to experimentation, you will bring your growth fully on track.

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