Marketing Tips of the Week: Customer Development and Getting Punched in the Face

Get your appetite ready for three courses of practical marketing tips:

Make a Poster of Your Facebook Friends

Or Twitter, or Tumblr. If you have a real world brick and mortar retail business, and a large number of fans on Facebook, how cool would it be to wallpaper part of your establishment with the faces of your customers? Social Media Studio makes it possible to make posters of your Facebook fans and more. Mega media outlet Mashable wallpapered their offices with over 500,000 of their followers.

Customer Development and Getting Punched in the Face


Yesterday Kevin and I “got out of the building” and conducted our first “customer development” interview with someone we know, who has a business in a market we are targeting as part of our growth strategy.

My short, simplistic explanation of Customer Development is “asking prospective customers what they really want and then giving it to them, initially in the simplest version of the product worth doing.”

Much of our education on the topic came from two ebooks which are derivatives of the seminal work by Customer Development inventor Steve BlankThe Four Steps to the Epiphany“:

The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development
A “cheat sheet” to The Four Steps to the Epiphany

By Brant Cooper & Patrick Vlaskovits
Foreword by Steven Gary Blank

Running Lean
A systematic process for iterating your web application from Plan A to a plan that works
By Ash Maurya

Cooper and Vlaskovits explain it this way:

Customer Development is a four-step framework to discover and validate that you have identified the market for your product, built the right product features that solve customers’ needs, tested the correct methods for acquiring and converting customers, and deployed the right resources to scale the business.

We are doing this because we’re trying to develop a product that is genuinely innovative in meeting our customers’ needs. Up to this point we’ve put a lot of thought into customer development, created our hypotheses to test, made a list of friendly contacts to interview first, and carefully composed our script for the meetings.

From our very first interview we learned that we may not even be asking the right questions. Moreover, prospective customers may not care at all about what we are already working hard to deliver. For example, in-depth reporting and analysis may put them to sleep and the metrics they care about may be much simpler to monitor.

Our hypothesis contained what we believed were the three major pain points our “minimum viable product” would attempt to alleviate. But this interviewee considered one of them irrelevant. Oof! I mean, great! Now we won’t waste time on that. If we get similar responses over the next several interviews we will “pivot,” to use a term from the “lean startup” movement, and point our next Minimum Viable Product in a different direction.

Like Mike Tyson said: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Our first interview was a haymaker that connected. But if we hadn’t put together a testable hypothesis in the first place, and got in the ring we wouldn’t have learned anything. Scarred but smarter.

The authors of The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development say that if you learn only one thing from their book it should be: “Question your assumptions.” We are definitely doing that, and I can’t wait to get more input from other prospective customers.

We’ll be posting more about customer development, our experiences with it, and related topics like “Blue Ocean Strategy” in the near future.

More pearls from Mike Tyson:

  • “If they lock me up, at least I’ll have a place to stay.”
  • “You’re smart too late and old too soon.”
  • “He was trying to scrutinize with my brain.”
  • “I have to dream and reach for the stars, and if I miss a star then I grab a handful of clouds.”

Tracy Sigler is the founder of AVL Marketing.