The Interview and the Timeline Diagram

  • What caused someone to purchase my product (or service)?
  • What caused someone to go down the road of finding my product in the first place?
  • What happened along the way?
  • Is there a common story from all of my buyers?

There’s a way to get to those answers, and it involves interviewing your buyers. Enough buyers so you can get enough stories so you can string together some trends.

Different jobs, or one main job

People will hire your product or service for different jobs.

For example, your project management software will be:

  • hired to create order where there’s chaos: “it got to a point where our communication was all over the place and we were uncoordinated despite the set of tools we were using”;
  • hired to help someone get a promotion at a company: “by installing this practice, I’ll increase efficiency so I can get a promotion and work at a place I’d like to work at once I get that promotion”;
  • hired to reduce delays and increase predictability: “past projects were delayed and we couldn’t tell when the end was coming, we need to change that for this project”.

Those are all good statements of jobs.

But how does that help me choose which features to work on? What if I want to change how I market it, which message should I concentrate on? For those, it’s helpful to be able to find your product’s main job (and it might not even be in the list).

There’s a way to get to the bottom of it, and it’s to interview some recent buyers.

The Interview

In addition to popularizing the Forces of Progress Diagram, the Re-Wired Group made popular an interview technique for finding out the job for which a product was hired.

It’s structured in a way to avoid getting the buyer to postulate reasons for buying or using the words you want to hear. Instead it asks the buyer to recall the context of the purchase, to recount the backstory leading up to the purchase.

By doing so, the interview technique aims to understand the forces at play in the mind of the buyer before making the purchase.

More than that, it helps to understand how those forces evolved over time. Through the interview, we want to bring back the buyer in the place and the time when certain key decisions were made, and what pushed the buyer to make those decisions (understanding the forces at play at those key moments).

The Timeline Diagram

There’s a story to the purchase, and we want to find out what pushed a person to advance at each stage. The Re-Wired Group came up with this story diagram to help make sure we get the full picture during an interview.

The Timeline Diagram illustrates the parts of the story leading up to the purchase: the first thought, the key events and finally, the purchase.

During the interview, we ask questions to help the buyer recall when they had the first thought about solving that problem, when they made certain decisions. To do that, it’s helpful to have them recall precise details like dates, the kind of weather it was like, colors, sequences of events. Those details help recall some more details, so we can get a to the information we’re after: the mix of emotional, rational, intuitive reasonings for their decisions.

To understand the real job they hired the product to do (a job they couldn’t formulate themselves if asked) we want to understand what pushed or pulled them to go further at each stage in the process. What were the forces like throughout the journey?

Throughout the story of the purchase, the forces of progress are dynamic and change over time.

Once you know what pushed and pulled on the person to make her decisions at key moments, you can understand how to best be helpful with your marketing (to help progress on her struggle) and know what aspects of your product really matter.

It helps to know more about the elements of the back story, so in an upcoming article, we’ll go deeper into the parts of the timeline diagram.

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