Entrepreneurship4 November 20206 min

#WisdomWednesday: Why customer development matters & how to get started

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Getting your product development process off to the right start can save you lots of heartache (not to mention lots of money). When you take a customer development approach you learn your lessons earlier, adapt sooner and head towards success faster. That’s why this #WisdomWednesday we’re explaining what customer development is all about, and how to get started:

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What is customer development anyway?

With the level of tech we have these days, creating a product isn’t so much about what’s possible, but about whether anybody needs or wants it. Customer development is a way of building a business model by involving customers as early and as often as possible in the product development process. While you’re developing your product, you bring (potential) customers in at the earliest stages to see if it meets their needs. If it turns out not to be the case, you make adjustments, or even start again from scratch.

We see it all too often: startups who spend ages trying to perfect a product in development, then finally putting it on the market only to find out that it’s not relevant enough. That means pivoting, adapting, and losing a lot of time and money. Customer development cuts down that iteration process to a minimum. Involving the customer from the start gives your team a good reality check on the assumptions and approaches you’re working with. Rather than working in a bubble, you get to verify early whether you’re on the right path.

Steve Blank is the godfather of customer development as we know it. His four-part framework is based on a scientific approach for validating assumptions about your product and business:

· Customer discovery: Understand your customers’ needs and how you can satisfy them.

· Customer validation: Verify that your product satisfies your customer’s needs.

· Company creation: Determine whether your product will satisfy all the customers’ needs

· Company building: Grow your organisation in order to support demand for your product.

We’ll dive further into this framework in our next #WisdomWednesday blog. To start with, we’ll give you some tips for getting started with customer development!

#1 Avoid biased responses: don’t start with the pitch

The central tenet of customer development is getting customer input from the very start. When you start by pitching your idea instead of going through a customer development process, you may end up with a biased thought process leading you in the wrong direction. Not only does customer development help validate your ideas, it helps you come up with ideas that are valuable to customers in the first place.

Starting your product development process by pitching an idea can also lead to biased responses. To put it bluntly (we are saying this with love!) people don’t tend to come right out and tell you that your idea sucks. That means you could get some encouraging reactions even if your idea isn’t really viable. To get real insights and know that you’re solving a real problem, start with the customer. Then you know you’re on solid ground when you start pitching and selling.

The other reason why you sometimes get biased responses is that you’re asking the wrong question. Yes or no questions already have a frame around them, so the answers may not give you useful insights. If you really want to find out what people need, conduct customer development interviews with open-ended questions.

Finally, try to assume as little as possible about who your customers are or what they want. Become a blank page and be open to filling it with whatever you learn. Instead of preformulation what problems you imagine they have, ask them general questions and see what comes up. This is important because people have a tendency to agree with you more if you frame the problem for them. For example, instead of asking people if they have trouble sleeping because of stress, ask them about their daily lives and how they sleep and see what they bring up themselves. If it jives with what you thought, you know you’re on the right track!

#2 Remember the difference between users & customers

Yes there IS a difference. Customers pay for your product or service: those are the people you need to find. It’s one thing to dole out praise, it’s another one to shell out your precious pennies. The proof of whether people really want something that you are building is in their wallet, or at least in concrete actions: giving their contact information, referrals, follow-up, or an actual sale.

Let’s put it this way: saying your product is cool means nothing. “Where can I buy that?” means maybe. And “here’s 50 euros” means yes.

Sometimes it’s that simple.

#3 Get ready to prove yourself wrong

It’s human nature: people love to be right. They don’t love failing or being rejected. Entrepreneurs have ingenious visions and ideas that they are passionate about bringing to life. The thing is, if you want to build a business, other people have to be into it too. Some of the brightest ideas may not be destined to make money. You can find out the hard way, or you can get ready to prove yourself wrong.

So get ready to open your ears and alter your views. If you don’t, you run the risk of only hearing what you want to hear, also known as confirmation bias. This is a psychological weak spot for people where they are merely confirming their idea of reality, and it tends to cause a lot of problems. Instead of setting out to prove that you’re on the right path, your goal should be learning and growing. Speaking of learning: if you’re not taking notes, you’re not doing customer development right. Learning from customers about how to build the best possible product or service means listening, not talking.

What did you learn by asking customers for their feedback from the start? We’d love to hear your story!