Convelio Life

Life @Convelio - How to conduct market and user research — the “series A startup amidst a pandemic” version

Yifu Zhang

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Context

In my four short months working in Paris in product and strategy at Convelio, a digital freight forwarder for fine art, I’ve learned three important things:

Lesson #1: The best baguette in the world is from Boulangerie Emmanuel Martin

Lesson #2: Simplifying transport and logistics is actually quite complex, product and operation wise

Lesson #3: Strangers can be incredibly helpful (and no, I don’t mean Parisiens. I already knew they were nice, which is why I chose to live here!)

Paris

When my colleague, Rita, and I were first tasked with our “New Segment” project, where we were in charge of finding a new market for our company to enter and then building a product for it, we weren’t entirely sure where to start. All we knew was that a huge portion of our work was going to involve interviews with relevant experts and customers in each industry. Some of these interviews were designed to better understand the markets we were looking at to assess which one made sense to enter. The rest revolved around user research and user testing.

User research, as I had learned, is the understanding of your audience’s behavior, pain points, and motivations in order to create the most suitable product for your user, together with your user. The information from user research helps to build personas and craft user journeys so that we can truly empathize with the person we are building for and what the process he/she is going through for each use case. With that, we then have an idea of the greatest problems to solve, and can then ideate on solutions and features that would then be prototyped, tested, and iterated upon.

Product

We had no clue how to get all the industry and user research we needed to get done — we were in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, where budgets were tight and schedules were even tighter, both internally and externally. However, three months, a set of market and user research, and a round of user testing later, I think we finally found a rhythm to recruiting candidates… and it all ties back to strategic sourcing, building rapport, and letting Paris lesson #3 do its thing.

Strategic sourcing

Strategic sourcing

Imagine you’re trying to get experts in the medical device field who can speak to logistics. What do you do?

(1) Search “medical device logistics” on LinkedIn and send the same generic connection note to every individual that shows up. After all, it’s a numbers game, so the more messages you send, the higher chances you have of getting a response!

(2) Curate a list of medical device companies and specific roles at each that are of interest to you. Then, with that list, ask your network for connections and, in parallel, sift through relevant profiles on LinkedIn. Choose the top results from your network and LinkedIn to reach out to with a well-thought out message based on their experiences.

If it isn’t obvious, choice #2 is the best approach here. Being deliberate with who you reach out to and thoughtful about your messaging will help increase your chances of getting a response. After all, you wouldn’t yell at the janitor in a grocery store for a refund on an expired purchase. You would politely go to the customer service desk and explain the situation and that you would like to be reimbursed. The same applies here — people are more than happy to help if they find they are well-positioned to do so and are asked thoughtfully, especially if part of helping means being able to rant about pain points!

Building rapport

Collaboration

Great, after all your hard work sourcing candidates, you’re finally entering your first interview! Now what?

(1) Thank the interviewee for taking the time before bombarding them with your seemingly endless list of questions. After you’ve gotten all the information you were looking for, you find a way to amicably end the call.

(2) Thank the interviewee for taking the time and provide context on why they are speaking with you today. Conversationally ask questions and read the interviewee, making sure you aren’t overstepping any boundaries or creating an uncomfortable atmosphere. Finally, at the close of the interview (and if it seems appropriate), ask if they would be interested in keeping in touch.

Once again, #2 is the right choice here! We found that candidates tended to be much more helpful with our research when we were conversational and tried to truly connect with them. In fact, if the conversation turned out to be unfruitful, they often suggested connecting us with more relevant colleagues of their own accord, or dug around to relay to us information via a follow-up email. Building rapport also helped us throughout our project — we encountered many individuals who were interested in the work we were doing during our research phase and voluntarily raised their hands to participate in our user testing a few weeks down the line.

Conclusion- letting helpful strangers… help

Stranger

As a type A/ENTJ/Achiever-Challenger/Virgo (the list goes on), I understand how unnerving it feels to rely on others to take your work to the next step. In fact, I would much rather have full control of every component involved in a project, so that I can direct where it goes. However, when it comes to getting the right candidates for industry and user research or testing, this isn’t possible. What is reassuring, however, is that if you’ve set yourself up by sourcing suitable candidates strategically and building rapport with well-connected individuals, you’re already more than halfway there. Now, you just have to be patient as your interviewee base grows. After all, you’ve already done your best on your side, now trust in the best in people to do their part. Strangers are much more helpful than they may seem at first. And the best part? After all this, those strangers will no longer be strangers anymore. 😉

July 27, 2020

Yifu Zhang