Customer Development Tips

An early and crucial point in your business’ life cycle is validation. In an age where new products are coming out every day and whole television shows are developed to pitching to investors; validation matters.

All entrepreneurs and startup founders think they’re sitting on a winner. However, it can often be hard to see the forest for the trees. Therefore, validating your business idea is an important component for any startup.

It remains necessary today, perhaps even more so, to ensure that your idea has merit. To do this, founders should speak early and often about their product, gather feedback, and develop customers who will be open, honest, and hopefully as excited about your business as you are.

Customer development is the process by which you validate your idea and your business, define your market, and develop the product that serve your customer’s needs. Customer interviews are common for startups, as are surveys, focus groups, and more.

This is a critical time in your business’ life. These early discussions will help define your approach. Hopefully, you’ll create a customer in the process. Here are a few things to consider as you set about developing your customers.

Stop Selling For a Minute
If you approach the customer with a sales pitch, they’re less likely to respond honestly. People are naturally inclined to avoid confrontation. If they think your idea is bad, they’re probably not going to tell you to your face.

The time for selling is later. You want an honest assessment of who your customer is, what their pain points are, and how best to address them. If you start off with “my idea is great, here’s why, and don’t you agree?” the customer will probably agree just to get out of there.

Let The Customer Speak
Instead of selling, try listening. In fact, a customer development interview is a lot like a therapy session. Don’t rush to fill space or to guide the customer. Rather, let them speak and develop their own answers and insight into the discussion. You don’t want to force them down a path they aren’t naturally inclined to take.

Ask Open Questions
Don’t be afraid to go “off book” with your discussion. It may lead you down a path you hadn’t considered before. If you stick to the “yes or no” approach you’ve already predetermined your customer’s answer.

If you ask: “do you like this idea?” most people will simply say yes and avoid insulting you. Rather, ask “what do you like about it?” or “how would you like to see this product developed,” etc.

Stress Honesty
Attempt to disarm your subject’s natural inclination towards being polite and proper. Let them know that there are no right or wrong answers and that you want their honest thoughts and opinions. Part of the customer development process is to validate your idea. However, you want customers to do that on their own rather than forcing them to that conclusion.

Ask For a Commitment
Once you’ve identified a potential customer, you don’t want to let them get away. Ask them for a commitment of some kind towards the end of your discussion. This can be a referral to other like-minded individuals, a promise to try or buy your product, or an agreement to follow-up later on as you develop and grow your product.

Customer development is a crucial component of any business’ beginning. Gathering important feedback and learning more about what your customers are looking for will help you develop and grow your business, often in ways you hadn’t anticipated.

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