An Easy to Apply Framework of "Talking to Customers"

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"The Mom Test" - How to Learn if Your Business is a Good Idea

"The Mom Test" offers valuable principles for early-stage startups and entrepreneurs to validate their ideas without falling into the trap of false positives.

By
Bastian Mx Moritz
Sep 2023
Update
Min

"The Mom Test" offers valuable principles for early-stage startups and entrepreneurs to validate their ideas without falling into the trap of false positives.


When entrepreneurs or businesses develop new products, services, or ideas, one of the most common pieces of advice they receive is to "talk to potential customers." However, the process of gathering feedback isn't straightforward.

"The Mom Test" is a book by Rob Fitzpatrick about how to talk to customers and learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you.

The title comes from the notion that people out of politeness or other motivations often provide misleading feedback—and even your mom will lie to you out of kindness when it comes to your business ideas. "The Mom Test" is a guide on how to effectively converse with potential customers to obtain honest and actionable insights, even from those who might be inclined to lie out of kindness (hence the title).

Assumptions of the Book:

  1. Entrepreneurs and businesses often struggle with obtaining genuine feedback.
  2. People generally want to be polite and avoid confrontation, leading them to provide overly optimistic or non-committal feedback.

Overview of "The Mom Test"

So how does the application of the Mom Test look like?

Nature of Conversations

Instead of asking directly about one's business idea, it is suggested to focus on the individual's life, problems, and needs. This indirect approach can tease out genuine pain points and needs without putting the person in a position to give feedback on a specific idea.

Example: Rather than asking, "Would you use an app that tracks your daily habits?", one might ask, "How do you currently track or manage your daily habits?"

Ask about their life instead of your idea: Instead of asking for opinions about your idea, ask about their lives, behaviors, and experiences.

Specificity

It's crucial to discuss specifics and concrete details rather than hypotheticals. People's past behaviors and decisions are more reliable indicators than speculative future actions.

Example: Instead of asking, "Would you buy this in the future?", it's better to ask, "Have you purchased something similar in the past? If so, why?"

Talk about specifics in the past instead of generics or opinions about the future: It's easy for someone to say they "would" do something or they "might" be interested, but it's much more revealing to ask about what they've actually done.

Underlying Motivations

The book emphasizes understanding the "why" behind people's statements. This uncovers the core reasons, motivations, and pain points.

Example: If someone mentions they stopped using a certain type of software, instead of stopping there, one might ask, "What made you stop using it?" to understand the deeper issues.

Ask questions that get to the why: Understand the motivations and reasons behind their actions and decisions.

Avoiding Compliments

Compliments often don't provide actionable insights. It's easy for someone to say, "That sounds like a great idea!" without any intention of engaging with the product or service. Therefore, it's vital to steer the conversation away from superficial praises and towards genuine feedback.

Avoid compliments and flattery: These can be misleading and might not reflect a genuine interest or need for your product.

Seeking Commitment

At the end of discussions, it's beneficial to identify some genuine indicator of interest. If someone is truly interested, they'll take some form of concrete action, whether that's making a pre-order, introducing you to someone else, or agreeing to another meeting.

Seek commitment or advancement: See if the individual is willing to take some form of concrete action, like signing up for a beta test, making a pre-order, or even just agreeing to another conversation.

Bottom Line

"The Mom Test" offers a systematic approach to customer interviews, aiming to extract genuine feedback and insights. By focusing on the potential customer's life, past behaviors, and motivations, and by seeking tangible commitments, entrepreneurs can gather more accurate data to validate or pivot their business ideas. The book's principles aim to ensure that entrepreneurs don't fall into the trap of false validation, helping them to create products and services that truly resonate with their target audience's needs and desires.

Limits of the Mom Test

However, as with all methodologies, it's essential to adapt and modify based on specific circumstances and to be aware of its limitations.

Bias and Misleading Feedback

The whole premise of "The Mom Test" is to avoid misleading feedback, but it's still possible to misinterpret or mislead even when following its principles. It requires practice and discernment to truly understand customer needs.

Limitation in Depth

While "The Mom Test" provides a good starting point for customer validation, deeper insights might require more structured research methods, surveys, or usability tests.

Customer Interviews vs. User Interviews

The terminology can be confusing. "Customer interviews" often refer to conversations with potential buyers or users of a product, while "user interviews" might be associated more with understanding usability, experience, and the day-to-day interactions with a product. In the context of "The Mom Test," the emphasis is on validating the need, desire, and potential purchase intent of a product or service, so "customer interview" might be apt. However, in many contexts, especially in UX design, the term "user interview" is used similarly.

Customer Research and Job-to-be-Done Interviews

The Jobs-to-be-Done framework provides a distinct approach to customer research, focusing on the underlying tasks, needs, and desires that drive purchasing decisions. JTBD interviews are a vital tool in this methodology, offering deep insights into why customers choose, switch, or abandon products. When businesses understand these jobs and design their offerings around them, they position themselves for greater success and resonance in the market.

The benefits of Job-to-be-Done Customer Research are similar but more comprehensive than the Mom Test regarding the research interest.

Job-to-be-Done Interviews can help you with

  • Identifying unmet needs or jobs, businesses can uncover opportunities for new products or services (Innovation).
  • Understanding the core jobs, businesses can prioritize features and improvements that matter most (Product Development).
  • JTBD insights can inform messaging, positioning, and sales strategies by highlighting how a product fulfills specific jobs (Marketing and Sales).
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