Customer development is about listening, not pitching

From Five techniques that measurably improved our customer development by Peter Nixey:

We stopped pitching and started listening

When we first started customer development we made a massive mistake. Instead of listening to a customer’s problems we would instead pitch them our solution. What we should have been doing was asking people what their issues were and listening to how we might solve them. What we actually did was wax lyrical about the product and debate with them on whether it really could solve their problems (at the time it couldn’t).

Customer development is a very different process to sales though. Sales is about helping your customer to understand the product. Customer development is about helping the product to understand your customer. Don’t try and sell during the initial exploration.

(1) On getting the balance right between talking and listening in meetings generally, see Startup founders’ most common mistake in meetings — and how to avoid it.
(2) On listening, see also (i) How to be a better listener and (ii) How to listen without judging — a guide for managers.

5 thoughts on “Customer development is about listening, not pitching

  1. What you ask is critically important. You must ask questions that uncover current behaviour, current pain points. If you ask for pain points, you will get their perceived pain points, which may not actually be that important. Whereas if you deeply understand their behaviour, you may uncover the right root problem to solve for.

    Another critical challenge is to evaluate how much ‘weight’ they are ready to throw behind their opinions, the intensity of the problem so to speak. If they say something is a problem, how much time/effort/money are they willing to spend to resolve it? Are they willing to prepay for your product? Are they willing to refer more people with the problem (get you more prospects)? Are they willing to give you a letter of intent to purchase?

    This is indispensable to understand which ‘opinions’ people have strongly, and which are just not worth the words they speak… If someone is ready to put some skin in the game, to support their words: their opinions should be valued much more ..

    • Loved this comment, particularly the point about evaluating how much “weight” they put on something. I’ve found that often people will mention the things they can think of there and then, which might be triggered by an event or experience, but might not be that important to them.

  2. David, Customer development seems to be product development which is usually driven by a product manager. Making something that the customer wants is critical. However, there are one-offs like some of the apple products (imac, ipod, iphone, ipad) that are ahead of the market. Also ip phones were in development before the customers knew that they wanted them. There is a balance between traditional product development with focus groups and products from visionaries (e.g. Jobs, Musk, Bezos)

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