The Problem Interview – Understanding your customer and their specific needs

by Sean Boyce

In our last article, we discussed how to conduct preliminary interviews to get a feel for real-world, important problems customers may have. With a sufficient number of these initial interviews, you will eventually be able to form the product idea that will appeal to the largest group of potential customers. Now it’s time to drill down to determine specifics.

The Problem Interview

Step one is to identify the different needs your product might be addressing and allow the customers to help you  prioritize them. During this process, you’re looking for pain points. What are their biggest problems or challenges in their work today?  Do things take too long? Are they too expensive? Any process can be improved and during this process, it’s your job to find their biggest pain point.  That pain point will be the biggest opportunity for your product idea and ultimately your product. You also want to ask what, if anything, they are using now to solve the problem (think Porter’s 5 forces – threat of substitutes).  During this process, organize your thoughts and questions in the form of a script but don’t read from it directly.  Think of it like an outline to make sure you hit the key points while still keeping the dialogue conversational.

Next comes the heart of the interview. During this part, you are trying to adequately capture the customer’s worldview. This is done by having them detail the problems they face, one by one, then asking them how they are solving these problems today so you can better understand where the opportunities are. You want to allow the interviewee to speak freely so you can learn the most you can without inserting your own suggestions or assumptions. Bonus tip: conduct as many of these interviews as you can either in person or through video conference because you’ll have the ability to read their body language as they’re responding.  Most communication is nonverbal.

Once you’re ready to wrap up, ask the interviewee if it’s alright for you to reach back out to share your product idea to solve their problems (solution interview).  This will set you up for the next round of interviews to test your product idea. Bonus tip: ask your interviewee if they know anyone else you can help. Chances are they know other people experiencing the same challenges. This is a great way to organically grow your list of potential customers and get tons of data points. After that, document your results and debrief.

Understanding the results

After interviewing at least 10 individuals, the key issues customers conveyed should start to form a pattern, which will help shape your product idea. You will know that you have finished the Problem Interview phase of your research when you are able to identify the buyer persona of an early adopter, have a well-defined must-have problem that can be resolved, and be able to list the available alternatives that currently are your product’s competition.

Sign up for my free email course on how to build a profitable AI-powered B2B SaaS for less than $750

If the results are confusing

If you are unable to ascertain the buyer persona and other critical information, more Problem Interviews must be conducted. You can use previous data to redesign your survey and follow up questions, as well as choose your interviewees more carefully based upon what you’ve learned up until now.  You should be able to narrow the list of problems, become familiar with existing alternatives, and be able to identify early adopters and how to reach them much more quickly. Most importantly, review your interview results regularly at least on a weekly basis.

Why is this methodology best?

At NxtStep, we strongly recommend this method of market research, as opposed to traditional focus groups or mass surveys. One-to-one contact with prospective customers in a face-to-face situation allows you to focus on the needs of an actual person. Using group research invariably includes the risk of getting the opinions of only a few individuals who might dominate the conversation, while others may be reluctant to express their thoughts in front of a group. Peer pressure is always at play in these situations, and your data is likely to be compromised because of it.

If you have a product idea that you’d like to bring to the world, NxtStep can help you turn that idea into a successful product business. Lean more by booking a a free product strategy call today or send us an email at

Related posts