SAAS NORTH NOW is a bi-weekly newsletter where we deliver information on the top Canadian SaaS news, current resources, and exclusive interviews with thought leaders straight to your inbox.

The 6 Symptoms Of Product-Market Fit

Pablo Srugo, Partner, Mistral VC



How To Validate Your Startup Idea (Before Building An MVP)

Dallas Price, Venture Builder, Forum Ventures



A Business-First Framework For Designing High-Performance Startup Teams

Michelle Brooks, Chief People & Culture Officer, Security Compass



How To Make Every Business Purpose-Driven (And Make Tons Of Money, Too)

Keith Ippel, Co-CEO, Spring Impact Capital



3 Ways VCs And Angel Investors Can Make Their Portfolios More Inclusive

Danielle Graham, Co-founder, The Firehood



4 Tactics To Increase Your Close Rate In Any Market Condition

David Priemer, Founder & Chief Sales Scientist, Cerebral Selling



How To “Micro-Pivot” Your Startup Toward A More Profitable Path

Vince Kadar, CEO, Polymath



How To Write Your Own Job Description As A Founder In A Scaling Company

Helen Kontozopoulos, Co-founder & Chief Tech Evangelist, ODAIA Intelligence



3 Questions That Remove People-Pleasing From Your Customer Discovery

Sarah Stockdale, Founder & CEO, Growclass



Hello to Canada’s SaaS Community,

Every startup has to talk to customers. But people often lie for the sake of not hurting your feelings. While noble, it’s useless to startup founders—you need honest conversations. After her conference talk at SAAS NORTH, growth marketing expert and Growclass founder Sarah Stockdale shared the three questions she asks to bring honesty and remove people-pleasing from customer discovery conversations.

Key takeaways:

  • High-quality customer discovery means avoiding humanity’s natural tendency to people-please.
  • Founders need to look beyond “annoying” problems and dig toward “acute” problems faced by potential customers.
  • Customer discovery questions need to prioritize learning about what keeps a customer up at night and what they’ve bought to (try to) solve the problem in the past.

All great startups begin with a novel insight or idea about the world. However, the companies that last and scale do so because they deeply understand their customer—then deliver on that knowledge. For any company large or small, that means continued customer discovery. It’s something that Sarah Stockdale knows well, having built and scaled growth-marketing certification program Growclass to over 800 alumni and added multiple additional offerings borne solely out of customer conversations.

Speaking with SAAS NORTH after her conference talk, Sarah explained the key questions she uses for honest, comprehensive customer discovery.

Everything comes from customer discovery

Sarah started Growclass, like many founders, because she spotted a gap in the market: her consulting clients wanted more growth marketing talent.

But everything after that came through customer discovery. Sarah explained that the initial curriculum for Growclass came from conversations with her network—sometimes through something as informal as Twitter DMs.

After the initial Growclass cohort-based program became successful (it now boasts over 800 alumni), Sarah wondered what would come next—again, it came from continued customer discovery, both from existing Growclass alums and potential customers. In the end, Growclass (the business) has since launched multiple other offerings including micro-courses and individual workshops, Gather, a private community for growth marketers, and corporate training where she customizes the Growclass curriculum to a specific company’s needs.

“Everything we build is based on conversations that we have with our students,” said Sarah.

Finding problems people pay to make go away

Unfortunately, people will lie to you in customer discovery because they want to be positive. They tell you they love your idea and would totally buy, but then they don’t.

This is a damaging problem for any company. But in the world of startups, it can be devastating.

“A lot of the time when you get into these bad customer conversations that don't help your business, you are asking about your product and not about the experience of your customer,” Sarah said. “You have to get a little bit smarter about the way you talk to customers.”

To prioritize customer pains in a way that doesn’t inadvertently encourage lying, Sarah asks three prompting questions:

1. Professionally, what keeps you up at night?

This is about what’s going on in someone’s life (or specific area of life you want to learn more about) that might include details either within or beyond their control. In general, you want to fully understand anything that causes feelings like stress, worry, anxiety, or concern that is adjacent to the problem you’re solving.

2. How are you dealing with [x problem] now?

This question digs toward things that are typically within someone’s control, but they are having difficulty with. It also brings the conversation to the individual action level, meaning you can learn more about how someone acts and reacts given the constraints they are under.

3. What have you bought to try to fix [specific problem]?

Beyond asking about solutions, Sarah is clear that you have to ask about what someone has paid to try to solve.

“Good businesses are in the business of finding the problems that you will pay to make go away, not just the ones that you find annoying,” said Sarah.

Centering the customer and bringing the conversation toward money can also help you uncover competitive advantage. For example, someone might have purchased a technology or gone through a course that was awful for them and didn’t solve the problem—this kind of insight can lead to further conversations about why that other solution didn’t work, which can inform your own product development.

“We are trying to get away from people-pleaser ‘annoying problem’ territory to ‘This is a real acute problem in my workday or in my regular day.’” said Sarah.

Discovery is a continuous process

As she continues to grow her company, a big thing on her mind is building the community without lowering the quality of the customer experience—and, if anything, increasing that quality and impact.

Growing while building impact means that discovery becomes a continuous process.

For Sarah, that now primarily takes the form of the Growclass alumni Slack channel where she regularly asks what challenges people are facing, using that insight to see how she might improve Growclass or add a new offering. She also built an ambassador program where highly-engaged alumni not only refer others to Growclass for rewards, but also commit to providing even more in-depth feedback (or trialling new ideas or iterative product improvements).

On top of the more informal conversations, she continues the traditional process of gathering feedback from students after every Growclass cohort and from any champions involved in the process, for example a marketing leader who hires Growclass to lead a custom workshop for their team.

“I'm really interested in scaling our community thoughtfully and slowly so that it can maintain the kind of useful magic that communities can't do when they're thousands and thousands of members,” said Sarah.