Hi Mark -
Nope, no CRM. We thought about it. Just Excel and Google Forms was good enough.
We actually made a really long survey (that we filled out and used to drive the discussion). Customer development Steve Blank/Giff Constable style isn't usually that structured. We have really complicated use cases/problems, so we needed a system to make sure we're talking to everyone about everything.
Let me stop talking in vague generalities here. So the product we're working on is a digital organizer for your stuff (physical items). There are an infinite number of use cases.
Originally, when we talked to customers, we talked to a segment about their problems with that segment. So I talked to mothers about keeping track of their kids stuff. And I talked to designers about tracking their inspiration and creations. And scifi geeks about their comic book collections. These were all in person and out of the building. We found problems in those areas, but some were weak. And some were things we couldn't solve.
But with this system, where we reached out to customers (via beta list signup), we talked to targeted people who are already interested in our product, about everything. We made sure to ask everyone about creations, collections, kids, and other use cases (inventory etc).
And what was surprising is the crossover and overlapp. People are complicated. We found that one collector cared about estate planning, rather than another system for organizing his collection, and vice versa.
We allowed the conversations to go where they needed to go, but made sure to hit the key points about each problem, and of course, how we would end up acquiring them in the future (what blogs do they read, where do they get their information about apps etc). Questions were VERY open ended, and not about the app and each section would have a filter question. (Like do you accumulate anything or collect anything at all?)
We recorded the conversations, and then (and this is insane), I transcribed the best ones and highlighted stuff they said in common. What were the motivations and problems the talked about? All this took a lot of time, but it really helped me get into the customers head.
From there we came up with the major problems people talked about and then come up with our messaging and four main use cases.
In terms of referring to this in the future, I do go back to them when one of those very early customers email me, so I can remember the ages of their daughters etc. But most of the insight came from just active listening and transcribing.
Message me if you'd like more info. I can share a bit more too.