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 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.
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.
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.
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:
Possible questions that let you find out such things are the following for example:
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)
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.
Besides the good questions, you should also know the wrong ones. Those are the ones you should abslutely avoid.
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.
There are some pitfalls that have to be avoided:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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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