Experiential Exercises

How to Be Sure Your Students Interview Customers

As a college professor, I always want to trust my students do what they say they do.  Unfortunately, I can’t.  In a 2017 survey by Kessler International, 86% of college students admitted to cheating in school and a whopping 97% of admitted cheaters have never been caught.

However, when I first started assigning primary market research to my entrepreneurship students, I trusted they went out and found potential customers to interview.  I gave them questions, tactics, tools, etc.  When we met in class to review their findings I found that when I dug a little deeper with questions, most of them admitted they hadn’t interviewed anyone.

In teaching entrepreneurship, market research is absolutely essential.  While secondary research, such as market size or growth, is helpful, primary research is where the true learning takes place.  Being able to ask potential customers about their problems, how painful the problem is and the way they currently solve their problems is a necessary step in exploring feasibility.

With this in mind and my trust approach not working, I decided that I would require survey response proof.  We would build surveys in class with Google Forms or SurveyMonkey and they would have about two weeks to generate as many responses as possible.  That didn’t work either.

There were three primary problems with this approach: 

  1. Some of the sneakier students would simply fill out the survey multiple times themselves. 
  2. Of those that put in the effort, the majority of the responses were from their friends (i.e. other college students) and most of the time their target market was NOT college students. 
  3. Students never had to be face-to-face with respondents and mainly shared it to their social media accounts or emails their classmates in the class. 

An approach I started using about three years ago was video interviews and voila! Students actually started interviewing customers.  Today, my students are required to make a 3-5 minute edited video (I prefer no more than 3 minutes because as we show them in class, attention wanes after that) and required to interview at least 5 individuals that represent their target market.  Students then upload them to my YouTube channel.

Students are only allowed to ask questions in the interviews and students must edit the videos for key content in order to earn full credit.  I’ve had students stand outside gyms in order to question young male bodybuilders or older women that were into yoga.  Students have also had to reach out to their personal networks to find individuals working in certain industries to interview.  

Here are a few student examples: 

K9 Metrics (dog owners) 
Makeup Brush Cleaner (young women)
Outlux (male campers)
Shaperz (women)

This allows us as a class to view and analyze the takeaways from the research.  For example, in the above video Makeup Brush Cleaner (young women), the team learned their target market was not college students as they originally thought, but professional makeup artists.  As you watch the video, you’ll notice the price point differences in the interviewees. 

Before they conduct their interviews we talk about the importance of inquiry vs. sales mode and focus on uncovering problems, rather than opinions.  All interviews are uploaded to my class YouTube channel and the majority of the videos are unlisted (only someone with a link can view), but a few the students decide to list as public.  You can see some more examples here.

I’d be happy to share PowerPoint slides that I use for the requirements of the video, but essentially, there are three rules: 

  • Questions only
  • 3-minutes edited for key content
  • No close friends (if one teammate’s close friend, another student conducts the interview)

I’ve used this technique now for about four years and students feel quite proud of their work and really enjoy sharing it with the class.  Our library also rents out equipment like GoPro’s and microphones to students for free, which makes it easy for them to create high-quality videos.  I’d love to hear more about other techniques you might be using or if you decide to use this one, how it goes!

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