“How Big Is A Small?” – An Important Customer Development Lesson From Standup Comic John Pinette

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Standup comic and actor John Pinette passed away yesterday at the age of 50. I first encountered him at a comedy show at Merrimack College, but most of America probably remembers him best as the guy who gets mugged on the final episode of Seinfeld.

One of my favorite Pinette jokes goes like this:

I always get the lady in front of me at McDonald’s who asks, “How big is the small?” If you’ve asked that in your life, I want you to know that I love you. But I also want you to know that the smalls are small. Some are bigger. But for the most part, they’re small. Take a chance! If the small is too big, what happens? Nothing. You move on with your life. How big is the small? A little bigger than none.

How big is a small?

Seems like a pretty obvious, silly question, right? So obvious that you might feel frustrated at having to answer it. Maybe you even question the other person’s intelligence.

That’s funny in a standup routine but it’s a dangerous place to be in product management.

Sometimes, customers will ask questions that remind you of that lady in line at McDonald’s. Your temptation may be to feel frustrated because the answer is so obvious to you.

Take a deep breath.

Remember, you have two goals in these kinds of interactions:

1. You want the customer to leave the interaction feeling listened to, taken care of, and valued.

2. You’re trying to understand the problem space you’re working in! And what may be obvious to you (“our product doesn’t do that”) could yield a greater or different understanding of a true pain point, which could lead to a new feature that solves a profitable problem.

Explore the problem by asking questions of your own.

Be specific, but open-ended. For example:

  • “And then what happened…?”
  • “Why did you do that…?” (said, of course, in a non-accusatory way!)
  • “Can you tell me more about that…?”

Customer perception is reality.

Customer conversations aren’t about telling customers what they’re doing wrong; it’s all about learning what we are doing wrong so we can figure out with our teams how to make the product work better.

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Bonus Content

Watch some classic Pinette (“Lines drive me crazy”):

4 thoughts on ““How Big Is A Small?” – An Important Customer Development Lesson From Standup Comic John Pinette

  1. Just found your blog. Pinette was def an underrated comic force. Really like point #2. It’s all about the problem space, as you put it, not about us or what we think about the customer. I wish more people at my office understood that.

  2. Thanks for the feedback, Simon. Part of the problem when we focus on our solutions (instead of on the market problems) is we get to know the product so well that we lose sight of what’s really important.

  3. Agree. BTW where is that quote from? I know I have heard the McDonalds routine before but could not find it online.

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