When making a product or service. The smart thing to do is learn from from potential customers about a problem or pain point they have and then try to figure out how to solve that problem.
But there’s this temptation a lot of people have to just get started. “C’mon, we know what our customers are like. We know what problems they have. Let’s just build it.”
I feel it myself, but this is a bad impulse. Human beings are complicated. There’s really no telling what they’ll do until they actually do it. I mean, you’ve met our species right?
If you want to have a successful business, I strongly encourage learning customer development, the process of discovering who your customers are.
And please, please, please don’t think it’s just a matter of asking people what kind of product they like and what features they’d like. Again, you have met our species yes?
Maybe you’ve dealt with customers before? Have you ever worked in retail? Do customers strike you as people who can clearly tell you the kind of product they’d buy and then, when you build it for them, actually buy the thing they described?
A good place to start is this video series on customer interviews:
In this series you’ll learn the basics of interviewing potential customers. Basics like don’t pitch a product, this should seem obvious but you want to learn about their pains and problems, not sell them something. Your’e trying to find out what it is they’ll buy.
Another basic is don’t ask customers about future behavior. In the future, all customers will go to the gym 7 days a week, and they’ll only eat a vegan diet. In the future they’ll never stay up late, they’ll always be nice to everyone around them, and they’ll definitely buy your product.
If you ask a potential customer about their current or past behavior, well, it turns out they do in fact stay up late, and they meant to go to the gym… and I see you get the point.
Again, watch that video series. It’s really good.
A client and I recently met at a coffee shop to discuss a project. After a talking for a while it became clear that we were talking in circles. There was some kind of disconnect between us and I couldn’t figure out what it was.
After thinking about it afterwards, I think I figured it out. I had spent so much time trying to nail down what kind of app they wanted to build that I didn’t stop to consider what kind of help they wanted from me.
We had talked about doing a complete rewrite of an app they had only partially finished. However, after a long talk I discovered they weren’t completely sold on the whole rewrite idea. I should have picked up on this and figured out that what they might have wanted was for me to just work on the existing app, flawed though it was, instead of rebuilding it.
When you’re talking to customers you need to tease out what their interests are. What are they looking to achieve? What are their problems? What pains are they experiencing?
It’s exactly the same process when building a product. It’s all well and good to have an idea of what a customer might want or need. That’s a good starting point but it’s only the first step.
The next step is to actually listen to your customers, observe how they interact with what you’ve built, and discover what it is they actually need. This is almost always different from what you think they need.