July 13

Customer Discovery — Getting Out of the Building

How does Customer Development model work? Customer Development is a four step framework for creating products that customers really want first outlined in Steve Blank’s book, Four Steps to the Epiphany. It has since become a crucial tool for startup and established companies launching new products. Anastasia at Cleverism gives an overview of the four steps — Customer Discovery, Customer Validation, Customer Creation and Company Building. The first two are a cycle of experimenting to find a problem worth solving (problem-solution fit) and a market in which to sell the product (product-market fit). Market by Numbers provides a handy graphic that summarizes the four steps. Even better, check out this 2 minute video that provides an excellent overview.

Getting out of the building isn’t enough. The rallying call for Customer Development proponents is to ‘get out of the building’, i.e., to actually meet and talk to potential customers. It’s too easy for a product team to build something few people want without getting out of their bubble and eliciting real feedback. Getting out of the building involves conducting many customer interviews which must be planned in the right way in order to get the right answers. John Zeratsky pushes you to, amongst other things, identify what you want to know, make sure you are talking to the right people and listen, not lead.

The Achilles heel of customer development. Conducting customer interviews can be difficult and feel unnatural for many of us. But like Ash Maurya, there are ways of overcoming your fears and becoming adept at them. He suggests focusing on learning (not pitching), preparing a script, starting with people you know and recording the conversation.

10 great questions Product Managers should ask customers. Thankfully there are many resources available that give examples of questions that should be asked. Jim Semick lists 10 open-ended questions including the most powerful one that should be asked repeatedly, ‘why?’.

What I learned talking to 500 customers in 4 weeks. To achieve this feat, Alex Turnbull simply emailed all of his customers and used Doodle to set up 10-15 minute calls with those who replied. The effort paid off as he was able to find faults in his onboarding process, meet unhappy customers, and better understand who exactly his customers were.

Paul McAvinchey

About the author

For over 20 years, Paul has been building and collaborating on digital products with fast-growing startups and global brands, including AOL and WMS Gaming. Currently, he's a co-founder of Product Collective, a worldwide community of product people. Members collaborate on in the exclusive Member Hub, meet at INDUSTRY: The Product Conference, listen to Rocketship.fm, learn at Product Interviews and get a weekly newsletters that includes best practices in product management. In recent years he led business development at DXY, a leading product design firm in the Midwest, and product innovation at MedCity Media, a publishing startup acquired by Breaking Media in 2015.


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