I received a question in response to last week’s post on Customer Discovery Surveys.

@TheDLu What’s your thought on split of digital vs verbal? There’s a LOT of value in in-person, but difficult to scale
— David Vandegrift (@DavidVandegrift) July 3, 2015

Fantastic question. My response:


@DavidVandegrift Great question! One I should tackle the next post, but in short, I’d say, “It depends”. #consultantAnswer. It’s about…

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) July 3, 2015

Digital surveys (SurveyMonkey, Google Apps, etc.) can be easily scaled and sent to a wide-range of audiences. Whereas, verbal surveys can be time intensive and expensive to scale – scheduling, logistics, etc.


As Don Pottinger, CTO of Kevy, points out, however: “[actual] conversations tend to go unexpected places and reap unexpected insights…something that is harder to do [with] digital.”

Assuming you get in front of the audience, thoughts on digital vs. verbal:

  • Depends on Phase of Customer Discovery. At the beginning, verbal is the quickest way to test and modify an initial hypothesis. As the pain-point and solutions become clearer, you may switch to digital for scale. Then, switching back to heavier verbal during solution build.
  • Consider who you are asking and your relationship. Do you know the audience or have the clout to motivate someone to take a digital survey? Or would verbal develop the relationship to get results? 
  • What’s the value of your offering? The higher the price of your offering, the more critical and appropriate it is for verbal communication. This is simply as sales cycles can be lengthy; thus, more involvement is required to foster trust and development.
Surveys are great direction tools, but not the end-all be-all. Mike Bivone (currently of Juice Analytics) recalls from his startups, “people often tell you one thing but behave completely differently.” At Body Boss, we built features given input from coaches that they would buy if said features were built. However, when we did build those features, coaches didn’t buy. Instead, we should have built lightweight versions and tested with prospects before full development.

Customer Surveys are another directional tool in your arsenal, but you never know till you make moves.


How do you mix verbal and digital customer discovery surveys? What are some tools and methods you’ve used to do customer discovery? How much do you trust survey results?

When I do customer discovery with surveys, I cover a wide range of topics. Oftentimes, I don’t have the luxury of going back to survey respondents. However, even with many objectives, I must be concise lest respondents abandon the survey.
Some objectives and flow of a survey:
  1. #1 objective: test hypotheses/ idea. Be focused on the idea and how ancillary questions are related. Don’t bake into the survey multiple ideas.
  2. Know the customer or find out who they are. If I don’t have background info of the respondents available, I ask about their backgrounds (occupation, responsibilities, etc.).
  3. Understand the customer –> plan the product roadmap.At the beginning, I don’t say anything about the idea. Instead, I broadly ask for the respondent’s processes and pain points. If the initial hypothesis is false, then the user may share the real problem (first pivot!). I progressively get more specific to the pain point.
  4. Any existing solutions today? That is, are respondents using a known competitor? Consider including an open-ended option in case it’s not listed. Test for likes/ dislikes.
  5. Introduce the idea and test for responses. Introduce the idea in a short description, then ask whether the respondent would use the product or service. Also, consider asking how much she would pay for a service as described to gauge price tolerance/ value opportunity.
  6. Understand the marketing logistics. How can I reach my audience? Are there key mediums they absorb information (blogs, magazines, etc.). The toughest part of startups is acquiring customers, so understanding ways to reach them effectively can be gold. I also ask about device usage to understand the technology stack (i.e. prioritization of builds).
  7. Thanks! Can we keep in touch? I always thank the respondent, and ask for contact info to keep in-the-know.
What are some questions that have been gold for your surveys? How would you build a strong customer discovery survey?