If you’re a small or medium-sized business owner, you’ve probably encountered many startups that are not focused on building the core competencies they need to be successful. Rather they focus on creating revenue and driving cost efficiencies that result in lower gross margins and higher operating expenses. Often the startups founders don’t seem to understand the fundamental difference between startups and being an established company with a product or service that is recognized by consumers.

As a business owner, there is only so much you can do to differentiate yourself from your competition, but here are 3 essential elements for startups that will help you focus on listening properly and probe deeper into the competencies you want to identify.

Have a deep understanding of customers

The first fundamental is having a deep understanding of the customers you will be serving. This requires investing time with existing and potential customers to gain insight into their buying behaviours and patterns. When conducting your initial phone screen, start out by asking your customers simple questions such as how long they have been working with your company, where they are located and what they think of your customer support. However, as you get to know your customers better, you’ll need to probe deeper to learn about their motivations, their growth habits and their past experience with your company.

In addition to getting deeper insights into their preferences and buying experiences, this is an excellent time to start asking probing questions.

As you get deeper into your interactions with customers, you’ll start to hear subtle cues and behaviours that indicate their level of satisfaction with your business and how likely they are to purchase your products or services in the future.

Startups - Dig deeper

Pay attention to the tone and structure of the conversation

After you get deeper into your interviews, it’s also important to pay close attention to the tone and structure of the conversation. Many entrepreneurs mistakenly assume that casual conversations are not productive. This assumption is wrong because a casual conversation with a potential customer can yield valuable information that you can use later on in your product development, service and marketing campaigns. A salesperson’s tone of voice, body language and even physical placement can tell you a lot about a person’s interest and ability to buy. Pay close attention to the questions you ask as well as how your interviewer responds to them. You can tell a great deal about a person’s confidence level, sincerity and knowledge about your products and services just by the way they are speaking.

Use Emotional questioning

Emotional questioning, on the other hand, is often a mistake. Often, entrepreneurs ask such straightforward questions as “Do you have a problem? “, “ How much do you enjoy customer service?” But, these types of questions are not geared to finding the emotional truth or the core truth about a prospect. Instead, these questions are simply designed to elicit a yes-or-no response from the person they are asking. Better to use methods such as the “Jobs-to-be-done” framework to really get to understand the customer. The customer forces canvas can help in this regard.


In the end, you need to think about whether you are asking a question or you are chatting. Ask questions and be honest about your answers. However, if you feel like you are asking more questions than is necessary, chances are you are chatting. The goal of the interview is to understand your customers better and help you develop your business.

If you would like to understand more about developing and growing products as a startup or within an organization, you can obtain more information here.

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