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Season 1, Episode 8:

Our User Value Research Process


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Episode Summary

Delivering value to your users begins with understanding why people are engaging with your product, and we're here to help you nail it.

In this episode, we share our secret sauce for running value-driven research projects by answering questions like which users to talk to, how to ask them for their time, and how to surface nuggets of insight throughout your interviews.

📚  References

🔤  Transcript

Samuel (00:14):
Hi, I'm Samuel from UserOnboard.

Yohann (00:16):
And I'm Yohann also from UserOnboard.

Samuel (00:19):
And today our episode is all about our user value research process. We have received multiple items of feedback of people mentioning to us that they are interested in trying to apply Value Paths practices and philosophies at their place of work and are bumping up against the point of trying to be able to identify what those desirable motivational user outcomes are and ideally find ones that are strongly correlated with good, healthy revenue metrics as well where you can see if there's a causality between people desiring a particular outcome and the people who desire it or ideally achieve it, seeing a better performance from a revenue standpoint from the users who reach that particular milestone or aspire to. So today we are talking about how we dig up all of those truffles-

Yohann (01:17):
Can I just say that I love that these are the questions we've received. User research is not the easiest process to run, but it is the most reliable. I love that people are curious about the difficult, but more reliable means of getting to beneficial outcomes.

Samuel (01:39):
Strong agree.

Yohann (01:41):
So that said, we are more than happy to share our secret sauce here and go over every single step that we would pay attention to between not knowing why people come to our product and then towards having a pretty strong signal backed by patterns in the data as to what the most lucrative reasons to go after are.

Samuel (02:15):
Completely agreed. It's not going to necessarily tell you right out of the box, which of these different desired outcomes are most closely aligned with revenue. That's a different step. Right now, we're just really focusing in on how do you run the qualitative interview side of it? How do you go through the process of making sure that you're talking to the right people asking them the right questions and ultimately getting the right feedback?

Yohann (02:40):
So we're imagining we've got a new client and they're like, "We like Value Paths. And you've said, the first step is user research. So come in and do some user research for us." This is exactly what we would do with this hypothetical company.

Samuel (02:57):
All right. So let's dive in with Hypothetical Co. and help them know their users' desired outcomes better.

The cornerstone assumption of user value research

Yohann (03:05):
Awesome. So step number one, would be getting everybody in a room and talking about the fundamental assumption of Value Paths, because that's really the most important thing to get on the same page about. And that assumption is that every, every, every time that someone engages with Hypothetical Co's app, they are doing it to improve something in their situations. They are doing it for a reason, and that reason is specific. Agreed, Samuel?

Samuel (03:42):
Agreed. And I think most essentially we're talking about the present situation or the beginning situation that drives them to the Hypothetical Co's offering. And then there's also the desired outcome situation that they're hoping that the offering can help them arrive at. So I don't know if I paid my electricity bill. I go to a particular app. Now, I know if I've paid my electricity bill. So things along those lines.

Samuel (04:10):
There's a before state and an after state. And we want to get a familiarity with the before state that they're currently in when they are going through process of becoming a user, becoming a customer so on and so forth. But what we really want to identify are patterns in the commonalities of the after states that people are desiring, where if I bring this product into my life, I hope to be better off in ways X, Y, and Z in my life, not just I'm looking for qualities and characteristics X, Y, Z in an app.

Samuel (04:45):
So that's really the distinction that we are trying to tease out here via our particular qualitative research method that we are in the midst of describing, I guess you could say. We are beginning to unfold.

Yohann (04:59):
Right, right. So in this meeting, we would get everyone to agree that these before and after states exist and that users are intimately familiar with their own before and after states. So we are kicking off this research project, not just saying, "Let's go talk to users and let's keep it open ended and see what nuggets of gold they service. Or let's ask them about the user experience and just see what happens." We're not saying any of that. We're saying we acknowledge that users are here for something. We acknowledge that they know about their before states, the ones that they're presently in. And we acknowledge that they know about their after states as well and that they have very specific ideas about what they want.

How to determine which customers to interview

Yohann (05:49):
That's what we are going to ask them about and uncover. So once everyone is in agreement and we can call this meeting successful, our next step would be to figure out which users we are speaking to, depending on where users are in the customer lifecycle. They are going to talk about their before and their after states quite differently. For example, imagine you're talking to someone who's been paying you for the last two months.

Yohann (06:23):
Hopefully, they've found some kind of value, which is the reason they've stuck around for this long. Their before states are going to be...not as immediate. And for that reason, a little hazy, maybe, or not as accessible as a customer who has just started paying you. And compare those two situations with a customer who has been with you, say, for a year. In that case, it's going to be different in a lot of ways as well.

Samuel (06:59):
Okay. Let me see if I'm following you correctly. So you're saying, if you talk to longer-term customers, then it's more likely that they will reflect on the bigger, broader strokes impact on their life and their timeline whereas if you talk to newer customers or newer users, you're going to get more immediate concrete, shorter term kind of feedback? Is that the general idea?

Yohann (07:27):
Yeah. So let me give you a concrete example here. Like Invoicr, the app that we love to use in our examples.

Samuel (07:35):
We'll swap that out for Hypothetical Co. We're pivoting to Invoicr.

Yohann (07:40):
Early Invoicr customers might just be... Their biggest priority might just be getting paid. And we've talked about this in the past, right? You sign up and one of the core things you're here for is to create an invoice and get paid. But if you talk to someone who's been using Invoicr for say months or one year, they've been consistently getting paid. So what kind of value is Invoicr unlocking for them now? It's different. It's broader. It's bigger.

Samuel (08:10):
I would argue, I mean, in a sense, if you want compounding revenue and you want to have people stick around for a long time, you should really think about what things look like that far out, and think about how you can design your offering in such a way that the value compounds over time and that the longer they stick around and the more that they invest in your support environment, the cooler things that they can do and the bigger and more interesting things they can do.

Yohann (08:45):
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Samuel (08:47):
I feel like I'm pulling us into the weeds a little bit here. But we are talking about our process. So I don't want to go too hard on a tangent if I'm-

Yohann (08:56):
Oh, not at all. I feel like this was very interesting ground that we covered and supports the point that we were trying to make, which is figuring out what set of customers you want to talk to. Where that set of customers is in the customer lifecycle changes the kind of information that you receive from them.

Samuel (09:19):
The one extra spin or maybe just another way of putting it to me is to be thinking about which parts of the user slash customer lifecycle are potentially the highest leverage to invest in? When we look at a survival curve of how many people start out at signup and then make it through the onboarding experience, and then at some point do something meaningful and then at some point convert to paid, and then at some point become a second month paying user, and third month, and fourth month, and retain and pay out their full LTV and so on and so forth. When we look at the drop off rates from one step to the next to the next, usually it's not like, "Whoa, there's a big drop off from month 20 to month 21."

Samuel (10:08):
Usually, the most significant ones are taking place early in the process. So you want to be thinking are we going to try to improve our sign up to paid conversion rate? Are we going to try to improve our one to month, two retention rate? So on and so forth. And when you're thinking about which part of the customer timeline you're trying to augment the most, that's going to ultimately determine who you talk to and you want to filter all of the potential customers or users that you could talk to down to only people who are representative of that part of the timeline. Is that fair, Yohann?

Yohann (10:44):
Yeah, totally fair. And I think that was very well put.

Samuel (10:47):
Well, thank you.

Yohann (10:48):
There could be situations where it makes sense to talk to customers further out into the timeline, but where we typically like to start is by talking to customers who have just made their first payment. And the reason for this is... Actually, there are quite a few reasons for this. One, there are simply more of them. There are more people by definition who will pay you for the first time than who will pay you for the 10th or even pay you for the third, as Samuel was just saying, when he was talking about survival curves. A second good reason to talk to customers who've just paid you is that they have taken that big step of paying you. And it's happened very recently.

Yohann (11:39):
So everything that they're hoping to get from your software is still fresh in their minds. And that's very fertile ground to jump in and say, "Hey, what are those reasons because we want to support them better." Those are the two reasons that come to the top of my mind. Any that I'm forgetting, Samuel?

Samuel (11:59):
I think the way that I would frame it for the listeners is that we see new customers as being kind of a Goldilocks sort of a thing where if you look at people earlier in the timeline, like right when they first create their account, then you are able to talk to more people. There's a higher volume of potential candidates to speak with, but it's lower quality signal from the people that you're hearing from because they haven't really proven out that their needs and considerations are actually, if met, are actually going to result in customer-hood.

Samuel (12:38):
They could just be a bad fit for the offering itself. They might never want to pay full price for what it's doing. There could be a million different reasons that somebody could sign up and ultimately it's not going to go that well.

Samuel (12:52):
So if you put the threshold at new customer, then that cuts out a lot of the yayhoos for one thing. However, as Yohann mentioned, if you wait to talk to customers who have been around for nine months, 10 months, it's not going to be as emotionally rich of a conversation about what those most critical early first couple months or even first couple weeks of being a user or being a customer were like and what those people were trying to accomplish and how they succeeded and became a long time customer.

Samuel (13:30):
So we can reverse-engineer that process to help more people wind up in the place that they wound up. I would also throw out there, just to be a little contrarian that our general preference, I guess what you could say our default preference is to talk to people who just became new customers.

Samuel (13:49):
But I do think that if you have enough volume of people who are signing up and becoming customers on a regular basis to be able to talk to people a little further into the timeline like month two, that might be a stronger indication because you will generally find that of all of the months in which you churn the most in the customer timeline, it's from month one to month two. Almost definitely.

Samuel (14:15):
So when we talk about cutting out the yayhoos, I would say month two is a pretty strong signal that they're going to be a long-term fit customer, and also that they're still fresh enough in their mind that they remember what they're doing. Of course, your mileage may vary depending on the nature of your offering and how many people you're getting and what you're trying to learn in your research efforts to begin with as we discussed at the top. But that's my 101 level take on it.

Yohann (14:42):
So once you know who you want to speak to, you have to put that list together so that you could reach out to those people, but we have a very specific way of doing this as well. It's tied into the way that we like to send out our emails.

How to ask good-fit customers for their time

Samuel (14:59):
So this brings us into the delightful territory of user research interview recruiting. I was joking. It's one of the worst parts of the user research process overall. We do have some thoughts of on this segment of the work itself as well. Our biggest recommendation here is to think about the bait that you're putting out for catching the kind of fish that you want to. So we've already talked about one big aspect of this, which is to filter people by where they are in the timeline and time your approach of them in a way that's going to align with the part of the timeline that you're looking to improve the most.

Samuel (15:46):
Another thing to consider is when you are reaching out to them to ask them to take time out of their day and their normal processes and be generous and give you their attention and their thoughts via research, even if you're compensating for it, which we can discuss later. But if you're asking people to do this, this is something that they need to choose to do because they feel like it's worthwhile on their life for some reason. And to leverage as little extrinsic motivation i.e. will put you in a raffle for an iPad or a $50 Amazon gift card or whatever.

Samuel (16:24):
The more that you can leverage and lean into the intrinsic motivations that people might have for providing you with feedback the better. So for us, that really starts with the very first UX touchpoint that people have in the recruitment process, which is in our case, in an email, outreach email, basically a cold email.

Samuel (16:49):
However, we like to approach it in a few ways that might not seem obvious to people right at the beginning, but have so a pretty strong rationale behind them. And one of those is to hand deliver or hand send these emails, or to at least create as much of an appearance thereof as possible. The opposite of what you want to be doing is sending out a branded like email blast to a bunch of different users that is very clearly not targeting them or taking any interest in their life whatsoever and has... If you're sending it out and it has an unsubscribe button, you're probably doing it wrong.

Samuel (17:31):
And the reason for that is because we want people to feel from the beginning, that if they actually open up with us and actually take the time out of their day to get on the phone and go through a meeting, which nobody really wants to do that they are going to at least have their voice heard by somebody who cares. We at least want to set that expectation.

Samuel (17:54):
Ideally, an expectation that through the process of them sharing their perspective, that the offering will improve and that they will stand to gain some sort of benefit from that. But even without that being the case, we want them to feel from the very beginning and throughout the entire process that we genuinely care about what they have to say, and that we are taking a personal interest in their own journey and trying to understand how our offering fits into their life. Is that fair, Yohann?

Yohann (18:25):
Yeah, totally fair. Especially considering all of the other emails they might be getting around this period. When they're surrounded by automated emails of this kind from the company, in any case, you want this email to not be bunched in with the others. You want this email to seem personal and warm and like there's a real person behind.

Samuel (18:49):
Yeah. "Oh, wait a minute. Somebody at this company that I just became a customer for, actually just wants to hear where I'm coming from." That's the impression that you want to get, and not "I am going to be a big cog in a machine of somebody producing some sort of survey or report that who even knows if it's going to see the light of day." That's the opposite of the impression that we want to make from the beginning.

Yohann (19:14):
Right. A lot of times when we are running research projects like these we'll send out this email and users on the other side will just be so happy to talk to a real human being that they'll treat it like a support conversation. And they'd be like, "Here's a bug. And by the way, I wanted to do this and I couldn't."

Yohann (19:36):
I take that as an encouraging sign. I take it as a sign that they know that there's a real person behind this. They know that they will be heard and they're using it to solve their most immediate problems before or anything else even happens.

Samuel (19:52):
And even if they are articulating it as a "bug report", you are still able to use that as really rich material to mine into in your interview. If somebody says, "Hey, by the way, there's a..." If workflow X is broken on my device, or I keep clicking the button and it doesn't go anywhere, "Ooh, okay. Why were you going through that workflow? What is it that you're trying to do? How do you see that fitting into your bigger picture plans and what is this little role of the smaller event that's taking place in your life and the bug that's holding it back? What is that a bottleneck for in the bigger events in your life?" So I would just see that as an opportunity to have a really nice firm foothold in grounded conversation there.

Yohann (20:42):
Lot more of that coming as we go through this. But tying it back to-

Samuel (20:50):
No spoilers.

Yohann (20:51):
No spoilers. But tying it back to what we were talking about, because we send out emails by hand, we also prefer to send out small batches of emails. So just like maybe 10 or 15 emails a day, because, and I love this metaphor, this allows us to take a scalpel approach with this work. And to explain that metaphor a little bit, if you're sending out one email to 500 people, you're not using a scalpel, you're using a hammer. That's a sledgehammer approach. But if you send out one email to 15 people, learn from how those 15 people respond to it, tweak your next email and then send it out to the next 15, you're not working with the sledgehammer, you're working with the scalpel. And you can be really intentional about the email choices that you're making. You can choose exactly what word you want to cut out. And you can be almost surgical with the choices.

Samuel (21:54):
And it is funny because in our experience, we will start out with an outreach email that we feel is like chef's kiss. "Oh, this is perfection. How could this possibly not have a 15% response rate and everybody telling us? They're probably going to tell us how much they like the email." And then it's just like laughably wrong in some aspect or another. It becomes like forehead slapping the obvious to us once we start seeing what the responses are.

Samuel (22:24):
So strongly agree. If you're really, really paying attention, even just the nuances of the tone of the response that people are taking and points that they might be confused about or any sources of miscommunication that are taking place, you would much rather test that out on 15 people and then be able to tweak it for the remaining 485 than send it out to all 500 people right up front and then have to live with that.

Samuel (22:51):
And to be clear, we're not just talking about goof ups like misspelling the company's name, or saying something that is outwardly like uncouth or whatever. What we're saying are that there are optimizations within optimizations, and if you're trying to squeeze all of the juice out of the participant pool that you're trying to recruit from, those are the kind of things that we have found to be surprisingly high leverage. I guess we can just put it that way.

Yohann (23:24):
So at this point, it's fair to be wondering, okay, small batches of emails that appear personal so that we can do scalpel work. What has all of this got to do with putting the list together, which is where we started? And the answer to that is because we're sending out emails in this particular way, you don't need to put a massive list of 500 people together. You can just work with smaller numbers, the number of people who paid us this week and reach out to them in batches and keep replenishing that list of people over the course of the outreach process.

Finding outcome patterns across multiple interviews

Samuel (23:59):
Yeah. I guess maybe one other thing we should mention here is that we do however not recommend dabbling in this, where if you just reach out to a small handful of people and wind up having five conversations or eight conversations with users or customers, it's better to have five or eight conversations than zero. But what we're really looking to do are identify the patterns that hold true across, if not everybody who we talk to, big clusters of people who we talk to. And that takes time for those patterns to emerge at all. And then to confirm that there's not just a statistical insignificance or some sort of sample bias in place.

Samuel (24:44):
And this part might sound the most gobsmackingly absurd to those listening along, but we like to try to get up to 50 qualitative interviews per research project where we start out wanting to talk to the first 10 or so people so that we can get a feel for the different patterns, talk to another 10 people to see if those patterns are really holding true and then continue talking to people in a more and more targeted way about those specific patterns that we can dive more deeply into.

Samuel (25:16):
So just to agree with Yohann there, the approach allows for flexibility to go in and do it a little bit at a time rather than having to overhaul your entire schedule to be able to cram in a ton of user research all at once. So you can approach it flexibly, but we also recommend not to just nibble at this in a casual way that really you want to be going in there and hitting it harder than you might even realize so that you can really test out those patterns before you start investing company dollars and resources toward supporting those patterns.

Yohann (25:54):
In our typical tradition of working backwards, we are working backwards in this case as well. So let's say you have identified a pattern, what number of users saying that they're interested in that outcome would make you feel good about investing in that outcome? 15? 20? So work backward from that number. Let's just say 20 is a number that would make you feel good. If 20 users say that they want this thing, you would feel good about investing in it. That means you have to get 60 participants in if you have three big outcomes that users desire.

Yohann (26:40):
It's very difficult at the beginning of the project to tell what these patterns will look like and how many numbers there will be behind each outcome. So 50 is a safe number in our opinion and that's why we recommend it.

Structuring the interview for maximum insight into your customers' goals

Samuel (26:55):
So with that in place, the focus then really becomes nailing the interview part of the research project. So assuming that the person shows up, you might want to also invest some time in sending them a reminder the day before and things like that. Again, those little things can really go a long way toward just maximizing the likelihood of people showing up when you have them scheduled to interview. But once they're in the interview, Yohann, you have become something of a master of getting people to open up about their life circumstances and their motivational reason to bring a particular offering into their life and incorporate it into their processes in some hopeful way of being able to benefit from it overall. So how do you like to kick off an interview when you do have somebody there live and in real time?

Yohann (27:50):
So there has to be a little bit of initial... You can't just start the interview by saying business, business, business. There's a little bit of initial rapport to build to set people at ease and to make them feel like they're being heard and to make them feel like they can be honest. And the way I like to do that is to talk about the context of the project. So talk about why we are doing this research. I would typically start by saying Invoicr wants to invest in users in your particular situation, which is why we trying to learn about it, setting the stage about what we want. And if what we want is just to hear what you have to say, that's a very encouraging signal to send to users.

Samuel (28:38):
Kind of disarming. They become a little less skeptical at that point.

Yohann (28:45):
Right, right, right. Because oftentimes the thing that the company wants is completely divorced from their needs and has to do with the business timeline — to bring in a term that we have used in the past – and not the user timeline.

Samuel (29:06):
Again, we don't want them to feel like they're cogs in somebody else's machine. We want them to feel like we are doing our every effort to meet them where they're at.

Yohann (29:15):
So really taking a few moments at the beginning of the interview to say that our goals are just to understand you and hear from you and support people in your situation better and providing legitimate reasons for doing that. So not just saying it, but to tell them why and how, and what our plans are. That really helps, and it sets them at ease and it sets the interview up for success.

Samuel (29:44):
All right. So you've got them all buttered up. Then how do you go in for the kill, Yohann?

Yohann (29:51):
So in this case, I think it would be useful to talk about a tool that we use. And that's kind of my guide in these interviews. And the tool that we use is called a Situation Explorer. Just to describe a Situation Explorer, Samuel, do you think we could actually link to a Situation Explorer on the landing page for this episode?

Samuel (30:19):

Yohann (30:22):
Awesome. So you can go to that URL and check it out, but let me just describe it for you in case you can't do that right now. The Situation Explorer is a sheet of paper that's divided into four columns.

Samuel (30:40):
If you're familiar with a business canvas, it's that sort of a grid kind of a thing. We should also mention that this is something that we've made for our own internal use. This is not something that you would just find out in the wild.

Yohann (30:54):
Each column in the business grid correlates to a particular time in the user's life. So the columns towards the right would focus on their target state or even further out in their timeline. What happens after they achieve their target situation and the columns-

Samuel (31:17):
What they hope to happen in the future.

Yohann (31:22):
Right. And the columns on the left are more towards the past. So what's happening right now. What happened before what's happening right now and what happened further out into the past?

Samuel (31:31):
Yeah. If you imagine a timeline in your mind and you imagine where they are right now as being a dot on the timeline, and whatever has happened to them before is preceding that doc to the left. What we're most interested in are the concrete ideas of the future states that they hope will be the case in their life that they want to actualize with the Invoicr offering incorporated into it. So we're looking at the timeline from the standpoint primarily of let's identify where you're at right now and where you want to be. Then we're going to try our best to gain as much context around that transition as possible and break down what that really looks like in reality for each individual person we're chatting.

Yohann (32:25):
Right. So what you've got is a paper of moments in time. You've got a paper of wins and you're trying to fill up each win with concrete details about what this person's life look like at that particular time.

Samuel (32:42):
Well, let's start with win that you start with. What's the first one that you begin an interview with.

Yohann (32:49):
So the first column I start filling out is the target situation. It's the reason that they are here engaging with this app to begin with. So if you're starting off the conversation saying, "We're here to help people in your particular situation." Then it's a really smooth segue to then ask, "Well, what does that help look like? And what are you hoping that that help will unlock for you?" This gets people thinking about what they want and why they're here.

Yohann (33:19):
They have typically spent a lot of time thinking about these things. It's an easy question to start with. It's also the most insight rich segment of the conversation for us.

Samuel (33:35):
Why is that?

Yohann (33:37):
Because this is where outcome candidates surface. Later on, when we have filled out 50 Situation Explorers, we will be looking at these target states and the more detailed they are and the more information rich they are, the better for us.

Samuel (33:54):
What I'm hearing is that when you talk about the target state, that is the aspect of the user's perspective that is most transparently the same thing that we are trying to get to the bottom of and everything else is context around where they're trying to get to ultimately.

Yohann (34:14):
Right. And that context is really important because usually the target states are very, very specific. Oh, kind of like what we were talking about in the last episode. You don't want to optimize for someone taking an Uber to a wedding and have that situation be the thing that you invest your design points in.

Samuel (34:34):
Why not weddings?

Yohann (34:36):
Because they're really specific. And you want to be somewhere on the spectrum between I'm getting Uber to get to point B and I'm getting an Uber to get to a wedding. Where you set your outcome dial should be somewhere in the middle of that spectrum at the sweet spot of gender lens specific.

Samuel (34:53):
How do people know how to find that sweet spot though?

Yohann (34:56):
This is how you find that sweet spot.

Samuel (34:59):

Yohann (34:59):
With all of these interviews that you're running, you put all of the target states together. What I'm trying to say is the target states can be really specific. And the context surrounding the target states will help you figure out why those target states are important. I'm finding it difficult to talk about this without an example. Let me give you an example here.

Yohann (35:20):
Without giving too much away, we were interviewing people about their careers and the target states were career related. So people would say, "I want this specific job with these specific characteristics." And that would fill up the target state column. But we also wanted to know why those particular jobs were important or relevant or how they fit to the business's context.

Yohann (35:45):
So filling out the other columns in the Situation Explorer helped us go from "this specific job" to "this kind of job," which was different from "a job," that the company we were working with knew that people were interested in. They knew that people were interested in "a job" and the Situation Explorer target state gave us "this particular job." The context around the target state help us tune the dial towards an outcome that was more applicable to a larger number of people. Did that make sense?

Samuel (36:20):
I think so. So if somebody's listening to this and they're thinking, "Oh, okay. Well, I'm supposed to get these people into an interview and then warm them up and then ask them about their target state." But if they are like, "What do you mean by target state? I don't know what to say and then apparently there's a sweet spot where you don't want to be too broad, or you don't want to be too specific." That could be a source of anxiety for somebody who's jumping onto these calls.

Samuel (36:45):
So what we're saying here is that you don't have to worry too much about that because the patterns will emerge over time. And that what we really want to do here is to dive into the specifics of what is most important into a given individual and what they really care about their future looking like with your offering integrated into it, and then zoom out and look at the responses from all of the different interviews that we've conducted and see what commonalities there might be.

Samuel (37:15):
So to use Yohann's taking an Uber to a wedding example, maybe we talk to a number of different people and sometimes it's people taking an Uber to a wedding. Sometimes it's people taking an Uber to a graduation event. Sometimes it's taking an Uber to a baby shower. What would be other formal kind of things that you would go to?

Yohann (37:43):
A cocktail party. I don't know. I'm thinking of some kind of ball from every movie I've ever watched.

Samuel (37:51):
Yeah. In all of these cases, there's the commonality of the fact that you're probably formally attired and that there are particular expectations that go along with attending a formal event of some sort. You are more concerned about if your clothes get a stain in the backseat, for example, so on and so forth. So instead of saying, "We're going to focus specifically on helping people get to the..." I keep wanting to say like a bris, which is not the most... I think people would be like, "Bris? That's the example he comes up with?"

Samuel (38:33):
So instead of specifically focusing on helping people travel eastward to a wedding that takes place between 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM because that's the one person who's having to speak with about it, we can zoom out and say, "Instead of just taking an Uber because you want to get somewhere," we can say, "Hey, there's a decent chunk of people who are taking an Uber because they want to attend a formal event."

Samuel (38:56):
And maybe it would be worth thinking through the process of attending a formal event. So we can see how the Uber taking process integrates into the bigger process that's driving them to take the Uber ride to begin with.

Yohann (39:09):
Right. And specifically in the interview, I'm starting with the target state, but I'm also looking for details around the target state. So I go from target state to what happens after you reach that target state. So the target state is-

Samuel (39:26):
Further into the future.

Yohann (39:27):
Yeah, further into the future. So once you have achieved the target state, what happens after that?

Samuel (39:34):
So when you take the target state that we're talking about, which is the anticipated future state, you like to then go further out into the future because in that case, it gives even more context around where this motivation is situated in their life. Is that fair to say?

Yohann (39:52):
Yes, that is totally fair to say.

Samuel (39:55):
Okay. We generally want to identify a cluster of characteristics along the general future timeline. So when we say target state, that might be the thing that the interviewee is most immediately conscious of, and most immediately sees opportunity with their knowledge of your offering, but it still is going to be fitting into an even broader life process of theirs in some form or other.

Samuel (40:22):
So the more information we can get about the further future, the more context that can give us around how to situate our assistance with the expected outcomes that the interviewees are mentioning. So I imagine the next step from there would be to get an understanding of where they're at right now, so that we can help them come up with a plan for taking what they currently have and turning it into what they actually want.

Yohann (40:50):
So to recap the flow of the interview so far, we kick things off with... "We are trying to learn more about users in your particular situation so that we can serve that situation better. So in that context tell us about what you're hoping the software will unlock for you." And once people give us some details about that, we go into the further out state of why that matters. And from there, we bring it back to the present and say, "Well, what does now look like."

Samuel (41:25):
Right. Where are you at right now especially in relation to the desired future state that we just ask them to articulate. So it gives them something specific to think about where it's not just like who are you as a person or what kind of car do you drive or whatever, unless if that's relevant, of course. But instead we're not trying to understand them as a psychographic or demographic, or as a representation of a market or anything along those lines.

Samuel (41:58):
We really just want to understand what's happening in their life. And so once we've articulated the desired outcome that they have and we've gotten some context surrounding that, then we like to bring it back to reality and say, "What do you have to work with to get there right now?" And we understand that Invoicr or whatever our offering is, is one part of that.

Samuel (42:19):
And one resource that you have available, but you also need to be leveraging... I mean, this is not literally how we say it, but in so many words, you need to be leveraging other resources, other skills and capabilities and forms of expertise, that there are going to be other people involved in your process that most likely or other people are providing some sort of pressure for you to make this change, or are encouraging you to make this change from a place of compassion or whatever that there are a lot of different skills, resources, and participants that are involved in this process that are immediately surrounding this person right now. And that is literally what they have to work with to be able to get to, it's all of that plus our offering equals, hopefully, their desired result.

Yohann (43:14):
Right. Agreed, agreed. In that regard, filling out the Situation Explorer with as much detail as possible. I like to punctuate the interview with why questions. "Oh why do you say that?" Or, "can you tell me why this matters," where you're pointing to a particular detail that they've just talked about. So why questions, and I also like to punctuate with "what do you mean by that" questions?

Yohann (43:43):
So, "Oh, what do you mean by that? Or what does this particular thing mean?" And this really helps people go into details that they might have missed the first time because they don't know that they're relevant to you as an interviewer. But having just talked about what I would punctuate the conversation with, I do want to say that the ideal practice is not to punctuate the conversation unless you have to at all, and just sit back and let them do the talking.

Yohann (44:18):
Don't interrupt, unless you absolutely have to. But if you do have to interrupt and you need more details these two questions are a really great way to do that.

Samuel (44:28):
Yeah. And just to give a shout out to that last point, I like to even just let awkward silence hang and not be the first person to interrupt or just to fill the awkward space left in the conversation. A lot of times people will feel kind of a sense of oncoming discomfort and we'll just keep talking and blurting things out just to fill the space. And a lot of times, those are the most interesting revelations and things that maybe they themselves didn't really enter into the conversation conscious of to begin with.

Yohann (45:09):
So far, your interviewees have been in a state of recall, where they're recalling their desires, they're recalling their present state and what they have to work with at the moment, and the circumstances surrounding both of these states. What's really useful at this point is to switch gears and talk about the path from present state to resulting state. That's what you are trying to do anyway, which is build a path from where they are to where they want to be.

Yohann (45:42):
It's really helpful to ask them how they see that path and what stages they envision themselves having to work through between where they are now and their target situation.

Samuel (45:55):
So in this case, instead of emphasizing the specifics of their situation or the specifics of their desired situation, what we like to focus on next is what is their perceived plan for turning their present situation into their desired situation. So we can better understand the process that they expect to put into place that we can then look for opportunities to have our offering play nice with and integrate well into the steps in their perceived timeline. Is that a fair way of putting it, Yohann?

Yohann (46:31):
Yeah, totally fair. Totally agree. One small thing to note though is that people have spent the least amount of time thinking about this process. They've spent the most amount of time thinking about what they want, but the least amount of time thinking about how to get there.

Samuel (46:51):
That's kind of a cynical take on humans, but that bears with your research experience. Huh?

Yohann (46:58):
Right. I'm not trying to make a philosophical point here. I'm not saying this is how humans are, but it stands to reason that if you don't know how to turn something into something... Have you heard the phrase, the messy middle?

Samuel (47:17):

Yohann (47:18):
I think the middle is messy because that's where you have the least amount of information to go off of.

Samuel (47:26):
So what we want to do from a Value Path's perspective is to demystify the messy middle and to clear it up and to have reliable processes that go step by step through the different transitions that need to be made for the desired outcome to be fulfilled. It's not their job to know all the intricacies of that, but at the same time, it is helpful to understand how they think it's going to happen, whether that's within our product or even just within the broader context of their life, what they intend to do and get a clarity around that because then that can help us speak to them more in line with their expectations and better fulfill and better support the things that they're expecting to do.

Samuel (48:11):
And if we find out that a lot of people are planning to do something kind of dumb, then that's an interesting data point as well and something that we might want to try to resolve through an educational approach rather than through an automated interface kind of approach.

Yohann (48:27):
So with the present state and the target state, and the future laid out, if you have time, it makes sense to dig into the past as well, because there are contextual clues there. But I want to underline the "if you have time" part, because it's more important for us to have information about the present state and the future state than it is to have information about the past. So there are rich contextual clues in the past, but they're not as important as what we want to focus on, which is where they are and where they want to be.

Samuel (49:03):
Firmly agreed.

Yohann (49:05):
Wrapping up the interview is particularly hard because at least for me, I always have the tendency to promise something, especially because people have taken the time to be generous. And this whole interview is set up on the foundation of us delivering something to them because we are taking the time to learn about these situations and invest in outcomes that they care about.

Yohann (49:31):
So I try to resist the impulse to make a concrete promise because there are no guarantees and we don't want to set the expectation that there are. But one thing I try to say and that mostly reassures people at this stage is that they are helping other users like them and that their voices and their situations are being represented in our company. And that's meaningful. That's meaningful to them.

Samuel (50:03):
I completely agree. And so that covers the general process of AN interview. But in our case, we've mentioned before that we do like to try to do 50. And in a very similar sense to how we described our approach with email, where you want to test out your messaging and test out the response to it with the first 15 people before you send it to the full 500 and so on and so forth, similar process applies here too, where as you are talking to more and more people, you don't want to be overindexing on the specifics of their given states, but you are becoming more and more clued into what the more general environmental kind of processes are.

Samuel (50:50):
And as your familiarity with that increases, you can use that to hone your interview style more and more and more, so you know exactly how to get right to the good stuff based off of your familiarity that you're picking up from one conversation to the next to the next. Not in just how to conduct interviews, but your familiarity with the user's problem space that they're operating within.

Yohann (51:14):
I do want to mention that it's important especially as your familiarity increases to not set interviewees up for a particular kind of response.

Samuel (51:27):
Very strongly agreed.

Yohann (51:30):
Yeah. So once you start subconsciously noticing a pattern, don't let that trick you into asking leading questions.

Samuel (51:38):
So if somebody has accumulated enough Situation Explorers or have conducted enough interviews to a point where they have an idea of patterns beginning to emerge early in the process, and then they can more specifically target those patterns and try to really hone in on exactly what it is that is the key motivational driver that your company might want to invest further in supporting. Then we take all of the specifics that we have captured in the research process. And we look at them all together to try to find the wedding slash graduation slash prom equals attending a formal event kind of generalities that are more specific than just a riding in a car, but are desired widely enough for there to actually be a "market" for that particular outcome.

Yohann (52:37):
Right, right. So the analysis process.

Samuel (52:41):
Exactly. I think that we may have already run a bit long in this episode as it stands, so we will hold off on covering the analysis part for a future episode. But I hope that this has been helpful from the standpoint of being better able to clue yourself into the pulse that's driving people to come to your offering and ultimately to hopefully find success with it and want to stick around and refer it to other people, and all of the good things that come with the kind of subscription unit economics that we love so much in the SaaS world.

Yohann (53:18):
To say it again, this is the most reliable way to figure out what beneficial outcomes you're working with. So we were so excited to put this episode together and hope that it was useful for you.

Samuel (53:33):
Absolutely. And it occurs to me now, probably should have occurred to me before, but it connects back to a principle that we talked about in a previous episode where when we are talking about value and delivering people to a place of value, we are doing so in such a way that presumes on a fundamental level that the person who's benefiting from the process is the one who ultimately determines whether they received value or not, instead of prescribing what kind of value we're going to deliver to people and deciding that the market needs blank, or that people should probably want X or Y and creating a process that helps X or Y come to B.

Samuel (54:16):
Instead we want to be descriptive instead of prescriptive and we want to identify what are the motivational causes that drive people to become users, to become customers, to engage with our offering over time, so on and so forth. What are the things that are actually taking place in reality and how can we find patterns among those? So as Yohann mentioned, this is our surest way of being able to put your finger on the pulse of what's driving people to become customers for your product, in our opinion, and ultimately takes you directly to the information that you need to be able to go into action and support those different patterns that you identify.

Yohann (54:58):
Thank you so much for tuning in as always and we would love to hear what you think. We would especially love to help you if you liked what you heard in this episode and want to run a research process like this. If you need help at all, please hit us up.

Samuel (55:14):
Yeah. And please keep the feedback coming in general. We're happy to make bespoke episodes based off of general thematic questions that we're coming across especially. So it gives us ideas on what to talk about and hopefully can be of applicable value to you as well. The email address as always is growth@useronboard.com and keep fighting the good fight.

Yohann (55:40):
Yep. See you soon.