How to Write a Killer Value Proposition Part 2: How to be more Sherlock

In the first blog of this series we discussed what is and perhaps more importantly what isn’t a Value Proposition, whilst highlighting a few great examples. This is where we landed:

A Value Proposition is…

A clear and brief statement explaining why your customers should care about you at all and fundamentally why they should buy from you.

The focus of this blog is - How do we find out what your customers actually care about? This means we have to turn detective and have an actual conversation with customers. The thought of having this conversation; about the customer’s frustrations and challenges seems to strike fear into the heart of many people. I often get told by clients that we really don’t need to do this because we’re already very close to our customers and we know their issues. I always then ask to see the evidence, or data. Usually, when I dig a little deeper, I find it’s mostly guesses and assumptions.

In the words of Sherlock Holmes, “I never guess, it is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. ... Insensibly, one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

Let’s be more Sherlock! Let’s follow the evidence and find out the truth about what your customers really care about by scheduling discovery interviews.

Here are some common questions I get asked about discovery interviews:

1.How do I get customers to agree to an interview?

The important thing to remember here is you are not selling; you are asking your customers to talk about their frustrations and challenges so you can better understand them and then solve. A nicely crafted email usually does the job. In fact, it always worrying when your customers don’t want to talk to you!

2.How many interviews is enough?

This is tricky. I could say, when you stop learning new things then perhaps this is the time to stop; but that isn’t so helpful. I usually work on a rule of thumb of 10 interviews per segment. I’ll do a quick review after 5 to check my questions are working. If I’m not spotting repeating patterns, then I know I’ll need to do more than 10 interviews. Important to remember that this is discovery not statistically significant market research; we place value on learning from a small number of detailed conversations.

3.How long should an interview last?

I’ll aim for a 30 minute interview slot but secretly I’m hoping the customer will want to continue talking for longer. If customers think they are being listened to and that you care, they will usually be more than happy to talk for longer.

4.What questions should I ask?

I find it useful to develop a rough interview script I can use to guide the interviews to ensure consistency. But it’s fine if you uncover something interesting to go off script and explore.

Warm Up Questions:

This is your opportunity to set the scene and make sure your interviewee feels comfortable.

Consider questions around roles, responsibilities, department demographics, tenure, key statistics, describe your week etc.

Success Drivers:

Their success is your success - this is what you will help them achieve by solving their problems.

It’s good to collect verbatim quotes and customer language here, which we can play back in our final value proposition.

Problem Priorities:

What is the hardest part about achieving their success - real problems are the only ones that count, what do they care about?

Consider questions around top challenges and look for stories, ie tell me how that happened; get them to rank the challenges, we are looking for the real pain points.

Problem Drilldown:

Problem drilldown allows you to build empathy and to understand the pain from your customers perspective. This is the most important section, get curious, ask why a lot, we are looking for root causes.

Ask for stories about last time the problem happened; How did they solve it? How much did it cost? Did this work? It’s OK to ask about competitor solutions here, look for work arounds and self solves.


Some nice finishing questions:

Ask who else should I speak to? If I could do one thing for you what would it be? Any questions for me? Would you be willing to test the value proposition when I have designed it?

Explain next steps and say thank you.

5.Shall I just outsource this to an agency?

No – think of it as outsourcing your holiday time; you could but you just won’t get the full benefit. The insights you will learn and the relationships you will build will be far more valuable over the long term. That’s why I coach businesses in the art of discovery interviews rather than doing it for them. Even Sherlock very rarely let Dr Watson lead on interviews!

Can’t I just send out a survey?

Again, sorry but no – discovery interviews are exploratory by nature and often answers to questions require further probing. It’s difficult to design a good survey and who ever bothers to fill out those free text boxes anyway?

How do I write up and synthesise the results?

We will cover that in the next blog and discuss some of the pitfalls of using my favourite tool, the Value Proposition Canvas.

So remember; If you want to know what your customers care about, be more Sherlock because “the world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”

Some useful resources

The Mom Test – A framework for talking to customers based on the premise that everybody lies. Particularly useful when starting out with a new business idea.

Customer Development Labs – A useful site about applying the principles of Lean Start Up to Customer Development.

Value Proposition Canvas – the ultimate but much misunderstood Value Proposition Tool.

Photo by Clément Falize on Unsplash


Recent Posts

See All