Know your customer – episode 05

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“A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all.” —Michael LeBoeuf

In this episode, Mitchie and Amaury will unpack the importance of defining and understanding your target audience, and how to achieve it in order to build and provide a product people will be ready to pay for.

Show notes

  • How to start knowing your customer
  • How to get started with persona canvas
  • How to start identifying what your customers are going to be
  • What a customer journey map is
  • What customer stories are
  • How to start building a relationship with your client
  • How to start the process of communicating
  • How to you define your customer needs
  • How to use techniques like the Value Proposition Canvas and the Business Model Canvas
  • How to segment your customers
  • What are other ways to communicate with them
  • The importance of measuring and some tools you can use



Mitchie Ruiz: Welcome to My CTO Friend the Podcast where founders come to learn how to manage a tech startup. This is Mitchie Ruiz, and I'm with Amaury Khelifi. Hi Amaury.

Amaury Khelifi: Hi Mitchie, and welcome, startupers, to today's podcast. In this episode, we are talking about knowing your customer. You're going to learn why it's important and how to do it in order to build a product people will be ready to pay for.

Mitchie: Now remember that for this series of the podcast, we are working our way down Amaury's book [Startup Without a CTO], going through the tips and real startup experiences he's gathered throughout the years. So if you're a founder without technical background, listen up, because you're in the right place. So without further ado, let's get started. Amaury, how do you start knowing your customer? How do you define what your customer is going to be?

Amaury: I'm going to come back to the previous topic, which is building your business vision and knowing what are your expertise. So starting from your own expertise, just connect and try to figure out who you can serve the best, who did you add the most value in the past, in your previous job or in your previous positions, and define who you can have the most impact on.

And that's where we, generally speaking, use the technique that is called the persona canvas, where we are going to define someone, one person with a specific age, living in a specific country, etcetera. Imagine a character, an imaginary character, that you are going to sell your solution [to] down the road.

Mitchie: So we’re just making up a character and we're making this character your ideal customer. Now what would we have multiple of those? Just one? How should we start?

Amaury: Usually we start with one, and then you can create two, three, four, five, one maximum, and you will be sure that what you are building fits most of them, not all of them. Depending on what type of startups you're building, [for] example, you build a marketplace, you will have some specific characters, an avatar—we also call them “avatar”—some avatars for the sellers and some avatars for the buyers.

Mitchie: Now how do we start defining these personas? How do we start identifying what these customers are going to be? So what characteristics do we give them?

Amaury: You can just create and imagine someone. So you just have to define as much detail as possible, and I have a very specific technique for that. When I work with a founder and I want them to define their persona, I ask them to close their eyes and imagine someone—let's assume that it's Brian, [for] example. They imagine Brian on Monday morning at 6:00am or 7:00am, the alarm clock rang.

What does Brian do? And they imagine themselves from Monday morning to Sunday evening, all throughout the week, analyzing at each time of their schedule when they can use the product. When [he hears about] the new concept they are about to build, imagine what the customer's life could be if their product [is] already out there. And that's the first point to build the avatar journey, and then later create the product that will fulfill that journey.

Mitchie: So just picturing the daily routine of that persona and trying to figure out where does your product fit in. That's interesting. Now you said something about the customer journey. What is that?

Amaury: The customer journey is defining all the steps from the day when they heard of the brand, where they heard of the concept, to the day where they are going to be a recurring client and paying on a monthly basis, [for] example. Or maybe to the day where they are not going to use anymore the product. and that might be fine. Some solutions can just be for using one time for life. I don't know, it depends. If your sell a travel in a specific country, maybe someone is going to travel to that country only once in their life.

Mitchie: So it depends on what you're selling, but the idea would be to make sure that you have the beginning towards the end of the relationship from the customer to your product, to your service, planned out and mapped out.

Amaury: That's the customer journey map. We also talk about customer stories. When we talk about customer stories, it's more specifically on the application side of things, where someone is going to register on the app, or maybe just to figure out what the app is all about and signing in, filling in their details, then doing their first research.

Then finding something, buying or not, or just getting to know what's available, and coming back the week after because maybe they've got an email from you, or maybe they've got a social media message, or Facebook ads. You will just need to imagine how your customer's life and interactions will be with your product, and building in planning it ahead of time.

Mitchie: So it's just like beginning to build a relationship with your client even if your client is not there. And how do you come about doing that? How do you start building a relationship?

Amaury: Behind a relationship, there is something very important, which are emotions and feelings. So I like to identify what feelings and emotions I want to bring to my clients, to my customers. I want them to be satisfied. I want them to be proud of using my solutions.

And then behind the customer map, all screens that you envision building and developing, I put a tag or an emotion tag on each step. And the goal for you and your designer will be to be able to provide specific emotions on each stage of your application.

So on the welcome screen, [for] example, maybe you are going to put a carousel to show what the features of your application could be. And it might not be very useful at the end, but it can just show and provide certain feelings or emotions to your clients.

And they will maybe feel safe by using your application or just thinking that that's an established startup. They already have thousands and thousands of clients, so I'm not the first one. And so that I will not waste my time because it's all about that. We don't want people to waste their time with a product that is not ready yet.

Mitchie: Right. And that carousel could also impress customers and show them how much you've become and how much you've done with that startup. Okay, interesting. Now let's talk about a little bit, how do you start with that process of communicating? So you're separating into those different emotions and you're, I'm guessing segmenting the process?

Amaury: We are segmenting who are we going to talk to, because each client are not in the same stages. Some clients just heard about your concept but aren't willing to pay for now. Maybe they are going to pay for your services in six months or one year, while others maybe a craving to use your tools because they were looking for a solution like that for a while and now they know that you exist. They just [inaudible 00:08:28] just to give you their money just to use it first. So you need to be able to segment for sure your client, and there are thousands of ways to do this. It can be by clicking on specific areas on your website which can display them some specific messages.

I just heard of a startup this morning which is called Right Message. Don't quote me if I'm right, and they are able to do just that. They analyze where you click, in which you open, et cetera, and then you can display specific messages, even on application on website and offer something totally different and fully customize to clients, and then they will more willing to pay for that because you are going to speak their language to speak to their specific stages.

It's like if you were building 10 or 20 niches sites, and instead of that having one website, providing a specific answer to each one of the prospects. And segmenting it's key. Niches, there is another quote which is “Riches are in the niches.” So more you segment your market, more you know your customer for sure, better you will be able to provide them values and answer the questions or at least speaking the way they would love to be spoke to.

Mitchie: Spoken to. I see. Just to make sure I understand this properly, because it is a complex subject and we are going through different techniques today, you not only have to imagine what this persona is going to go through and what your customer is going to go through. You need to identify what part of that imaginary relationship that person is on and separate the groups of customers based on the stages of the relationship.

Amaury: And the stages of their own journey.

Mitchie: Of their own journey with your product.

Amaury: With your product or without their own end goals. Some of them might be able to directly, are almost at the end goals and they almost did it, did whatever we they need to do, and others are far away from that. Maybe years from that. So you are going to teach a lot of things to beginners. While people that are more used to a specific concept will be more, tend to just want the essential. And the content, the format of the content or the format of the service might not be the same. Maybe a beginner, you will have to give them hours of tutorials just to understand how your concept works while a senior profile which already used some competitors or alternative solutions might just need five minutes to understand how your system works, and that's going to be fine.

Mitchie: It's very tricky because you do need to identify different needs in different groups of people, right? We all have different needs.

Amaury: Yeah, that's kind of different needs. The needs might be the same, but maybe the beginner aren't really aware on that needs. We can come back to the [inaudible 00:11:57] that we, a while ago, two weeks ago, which was “Want versus need.” What people want is not exactly what they really need and people might be, some senior might be aware of what they need, what others might just be on the stage of wanting something without having any idea on how to get there. That's where specific communication to really matter.

Mitchie: Yeah. That reminds me of that quote you use very often, was it Ford? I think.

Amaury: Yeah. If we were asking two people, it was 100 years ago, but if you were asking two people what they need to go faster, they would say “We want a faster horse” instead of a car. So the idea is for you to understand what people's difficulties are and generate something new, something innovative and providing them a solution to answer their problem. Even if that's something they never thought before. And we, all of us, never thought 20 years ago, we never thought that we should have had an iPhone or having a digital screen in our pocket, which was more powerful andfaster than the computer we had at that time, because we don't know what the solution will be. We know what we want to achieve and then the future or the innovators will bring us solutions.

Mitchie: I see. And how do you go through that process? So you need to provide solutions. As a start up founder, you need to provide solutions to certain needs. How do you define those needs?

Amaury: Well there are many techniques, well known techniques, and one of the best ones for that is called the Value Proposition Canvas where on one side you are going to define what alls people job to get done, their needs, their pain. And on the other side you are going to answer to how you can help them to get that job done, how to [inaudible 00:14:06] their and pains and and how to help them to get to the benefits they were looking for.

And it works with the business with a canvas as well, which is more oriented on how you build not only the product but the entire ecosystem around the product, including the business model, how generating money, how to communicate to people, how to build relationship with partners, providers, what are the resources you need, your budget, your cost and revenues, et cetera. That's the entire thing when it comes to build startup, and that's two techniques that are well known in the startups area or ecosystem and which are a requirement for any startup founders. If you never went through that process, check it out for sure. You will learn a lot, and you will thank us for it.

Mitchie: Yes, there are a lot of resources out there, including, if I may say. You do cover that a little bit in some of your videos, some of your courses, and if I'm not mistaken, a blog poster too. You mentioned these techniques. Now going back a little bit on the segmentations of the customers. How can you guide a startup founder through that process?

Amaury: Well, it can be something very easy or very complex, and like many things, I like to start things in the easiest way, though the easiest way to personify the client experience is through mailing list. Through mailing list, usually you have tools that can enable you to tag people, people that click on one link instead of another, and just by doing that you can ask a question.

Let's assume in your next [inaudible 00:16:00] made, you are going to ask people what are you interested in? It is defining my startup product. It is reaching out to more clients, it is, et cetera. Point one, two, three, four. Just by asking this type of of question and making the answers clickable, even if all the clicks goes to the same place. By making them clickable, you are able to type people. If people will be intend to click on what are the most important for them right now, and through that you will be able to provide some different content, different offers and knowing that issue have a specific offer or product or courses or I don't know, or even article that's just aimed to save these type of people. Then just do it, and it's not a matter of quantity, it's a matter of quality. If you can provide more quality content and quality resources to one person, they will remember you, and if you provide too much things, they are just going to and subscribe to what you do.

Mitchie: I see. So you are attending to the same need. You're scratching the same itch in your customers in a way, but you are, let's say appealing to their priorities for scratching that itch. Interesting. Now mailing list. What about other other forms of communication because the way you are tagging people is having feedback from them, right?

Amaury: Yeah, feedback is everything, and a mailing list is just one channel. It's like real offline communication. You just need to talk to people, and today through the internet you have many other way. You have the chats, you have social media. You can even have one on one call. You can have one on one call and taking notes and gathering all the information maybe in a CRM, customer relationship management system. That's some software when you can just write any type of information that you can have or gather about one customer. And that lead me to connect all the dots together because we mentioned mailing, we mentioned the startups, right message which use cookies to identify a brothers, et cetera. But you can connect as well tools like Intercom.

Amaury: Intercom will allow anyone to centralize all the communication they can have with one person, one client through one single tool. You can start a communication through the chat in the application, finish it on Facebook, and you will always be aware of where you stopped the communication with that client. And that's key to be able to communicate in different way because people today are on social media and many other channel as well as knowing them. We call that topic knowing your customer but you need to know where they are, what they do and analytics are key.

That can start with Google analytics or you have even tools that you can plug it, that you can plug in [inaudible 00:19:21] application like Segment that I was well. That's kind of more targeted and more identified analytics where you will not only know E for five customers, click on that link, but you will know that marker Peter et cetera, they click on that link and so that you can create tags et cetera. And knowing Peter better, knowing Marks better and not only knowing all your customers or your database, it's going to be very personified up to knowing one person specifically. And that's the way we industrialize communication. And that's the way startups can scale and providing more value by knowing who they serve.

Mitchie: It's interesting that you share this because one would think that when you're industrializing this type of process, you're doing it, let's say it's a bad word to say, but you're doing it a little bit more sloppy, right? You're putting people in the same bag, but you're saying exactly the opposite. You're actually making sure that everyone has their name. You're putting name into numbers, you're making sure it's a personalized process and that your customers actually do have a personality within that data.

Amaury: Yeah, absolutely. And there is one last point that I like to mention is in order to improve things, you need to measure things. And knowing where they went through, what were the process, the stories, the journey they went through. You can also use tools like Hotjar, or there is FullStory as well. And that's the tiny plugin that you can put in your application, your website or whatever or even your mobile application. I don't know, but there might be some for sure, and you able to see, where the mouse of the client is, and you are going to be able to see a video recording of how they browse your website.

Because when you're on the website often you use the mouse to just underline what you are reading. And and you can see how what people read. You can see where they click. We have heat maps. Heat maps is where people put their eyes on, and it works pretty well with computer. I think it's naturally, it doesn't really work with tablets because you don't have mouse. But anyway, it's very useful. Maybe not on the long term because it may be too much data, but on very early stage when you bring your first version of your product, just kind of spy on your customer. I can put it in that way to understand not only what Mark is doing and what Peter is doing, but understand if they get it. Because often when you create a new application, people come, they don't understand, they leave and nine time out of ten, you will not understand why, and these tools will help you figure it out.

Mitchie: Wonderful. That was a very interesting conversation. Very content heavy. Do you think there's anything we should talk about before we summarize?

Amaury: Well, I think we are good, knowing your customers, watching your analytics, being able to measure things and talk to them. Keep the communication again and again and again. I know some people that pick up their client database, and they called one people time to time. I think this person do five or ten call per month and just a randomized call, and they called their clients just to know how things goes. You might get a lot of insights by doing this and try to teach them how to better use your product, et cetera as well as understanding how you might have them better in the future.

Mitchie: Wonderful. Very interesting. If you're a busy CEO, one to ten calls a month, it could be a lot.

Amaury: It's an investment.

Mitchie: Yeah, it's an investment. Exactly. Wonderful. So let's just go through what we've talked so far. We are talking about knowing your customer as a startup and what you can do at the very beginning of your startup to make sure you have a good relationship with them. So you start by defining who you want to work with and creating a persona with certain characteristics and you imagine this person, imagine their daily routine and trying to identify how your product would fit into that daily routine and what you want your customer to feel while they're using your product. So it's all about evoking the right emotions and making sure that you have some sort of map, some sort of, let's say document where you have that completely clear throughout the stages of your customer journey.

Making sure that you work on the customer experience, the client relationship that's going to be pretty much planning in your head. Imagining what your customer will do with your product and how they will get to know your product, and why would they stop using your product all together and trying to build off of that, that client relationship. Making sure that you have communication with these people and making sure that you're able to identify what they actually need.

Mitchie: You're going to have people from different stages of their journey that will probably have a great idea of why they're using that application or that solution that you're providing, but you might have other beginners that have absolutely no idea what they're doing and they might need your help. So it's about identifying where in this process these people are and how you can help them with their needs, and identifying what their needs are and building your product based on that.

So for all of that, we talked about using your customer journey map and customer stories, making sure that you have segmented your customer groups, using the value proposition canvas and the business model canvas for your need and product definition and making sure that you have personalized interactions, even if it's small time doing it hand in hand or after you've industrialized it. Making sure that you have names to those numbers and that that communication shows on your data. Use the techniques and use the tools that you have available to you, like mailing lists, chat, social media to make sure that you communicate with your customers and keep track of all of it. You can't improve unless you measure it. So that is it for today. There's a lot of value talking about value proposition canvas, there's a lot of value in this episode and it is a little bit content heavy, but I hope we've made it nice and fun for you to hear.

Amaury: Yeah. And you know what? I think I would like to add one more tool, because even if it's heavy, I like to overachieve, overachieving and over providing value to clients. There is another tool which is called the empathy map. It's used in the business model canvas book, and the empathy map will help you to get into your client's mind and figure out what they see, what they hear, what they think, what they say, et cetera. It's a really good tool, especially for people that have some difficulties to develop their empathy, to build their product, that helps them a lot. That's definitely something very, very helpful.

Mitchie: Wonderful. One extra tool to add on there. Now it may be a little bit overwhelming, because we have talked about a lot here, but if you want to look at the links and notes for today's episode, that's obviously available like always on which is today's episode. Now you can also get to all the other episodes by adding /podcast after Amaury?

Amaury: By the way, remember I am writing my book these times and you can preorder a printed copy of that book on And if you pre order a copy now, you will get an early digital access to the this version, to the digital version two months before the official launch.

Mitchie: Wonderful.

Amaury: And just just need to get on Thank you, Mitchie, and what are we going to touch on next time?

Mitchie: Next time, we have here the book planning. We've already covered want versus need for start up founders, and we talked about building your business mission, right?

Amaury: Absolutely. And we are both lost in our notes to go back on the plan of the book. So next time the book. Okay. Wait a second…

Mitchie: Next time will be a surprise. We'll leave it as a surprise.

Amaury: Surprise. We keep it as a surprise. No, I think that they are craving to know what we are talking about. Okay. Oh, I have very, very good one. The next time it's CTO productivity hacks. How CTOs works. I'm just going to share a bit of my daily routine and all the techniques I'm using. That's a chapter I wanted to put in the book, because I often see people taking a seat next to me and being just wow by how fast I do things, and I feel like there are just some small techniques that we can share and can helps founders and it's do not require to be highly technical. It just required to understand how things works and knowing maybe couple of tools on… You will see. I have couple of things to share and I think that will be very, very helpful for everyone.

Mitchie: Very interesting. That's CEO productivity hacks. I mean come on.

Amaury: Yeah, that's going to become CEO activity hacks.

Mitchie: For CEOs, those CEOs listening.

Amaury: Okay, thank you everyone, for spending your time listening to this podcast. I hope you liked it and you and learned a lot. And we are looking forward to share much more content down the road with the book content as well as the following part, which will be more interview contain spaces.

Mitchie: Thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you Amaury for a wonderful conversation and a bunch of useful techniques. You guys listening, you have so much to do after this. Just go ahead and start. Start right away.

Amaury: Thank you Mitchie, and talk to you again soon.

Mitchie: Yes, thank you everyone.

Amaury: Bye, everyone.

Mitchie: Bye, bye.

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