Customer Development - 5 Step Sprint in 30 Days


“The life of any startup can be divided into two parts — before product/market fit and after product/market fit.” — Marc Andreessen

Authors: James DiMambro, Business Development & Presentation Expert, JimmyVision and Mitch Posada, Founding Partner, Venture Studio Partners

In a search for product-market-fit phase, Customer Development may sound intriguing perhaps even not relevant or already covered by your current activities or in-house knowledge. However, we suggest considering it an ongoing quest to gain information that market research can’t articulate. When you break it down, your customers have specific needs, and it’s about discovering those needs to help them reach their desires.

If you are trying to release a new corporate product or trying to pick up the pace for your startup to gain funding or M&A, your first step needs to focus on Customer Development. Have the understanding that agility is critical during these phases and your efforts should be in sprint form. So let’s buckle up and get ready to accelerate a 30-day strategy to build customers!

1. Set the Stage:

Target 15 or more customer interviews within this timeline by setting a goal of gaining at least ten fruitful conversations. The objective is to discover who your customers are and what they want. Once you present this offering and supply your customers a "stage" to provide feedback, you will be surprised who will come forth to contribute. Push to have in-person conversations with them by utilizing your office or another affordable establishment venue that will be convenient to all involved. If nobody is biting at your offer to supply feedback in-person, then offer them some free food or a gift card in exchange for this valuable feedback you seek. Did I hear someone say, “FREE pizza?”

2. Customer Knowledge:

During the opportunity of achieving first-hand customer knowledge, be ready to listen to their feedback, inflections in their voices, and watch their body language to all your questions. Take full notes to validate your customer’s problem(s), solution(s), identify early adopters, and how they like to buy. Identify what your audience wants and what matters to them. Ask open-ended questions to get them talking about their thoughts and feelings about your product to obtain insight. During this step realize people buy based on emotions and not on analyzing so dig to find those feelings that will help you tweak your product and get your marketing initiatives moving forward.

3. Hit the Streets:

After gaining sufficient customer knowledge, you now need to prioritize how best to eliminate the risk for your product, business model, and go-to-market strategy. Then develop an efficient sales process that uses this plan that hit the streets as fast as possible to field-test what you think may be valid from the learnings of early customers. Build a small sales team to assist this part of the journey who believe in flexibility and lead them to what you are trying to accomplish. Set some goals that are geared around collecting more customer knowledge while tracking the information. Once you can achieve a positive reaction from early customers with feedback and actual sales (i.e., early adopters), it’s time to re-tool your product and sales efforts where necessary to meet those needs.

4. Marketing Momentum:

Now it’s time to develop an instinctive marketing plan that’s a gut check, which should only take 10 minutes to accomplish. Evaluate the tactics that will give you the best bang for your buck and where your audience is most likely to view them. Utilize this simple template to help and once complete, move this plan quickly into action once the early adopters have taken an interest by purchasing your product. Your marketing efforts will piggyback these sales and help spread the word of your point of difference. Also, consider testing two separate campaigns to see which one gains more interest from your audience. Most importantly, realize there is no magic pill when marketing and whatever tactic isn’t working, dump and quickly move forward with what does work. Also, it’s crucial during this step that you control your cash flow so you can protect your company during the quest.

5. Grounded by Agility:

At this point, you have met your accelerated time frame and should have a better handle on what your customer needs. Your hypothesis received a test, and now you can face direction to retool your concept or push forward into the marketplace. Either way, your new product or startup business has accomplished a fast track to the necessary knowledge and building customer development in a short amount of time. Agility should always be in front of every discussion moving forward because by now you have had some experiences that set this essential pattern to embrace change.

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