5 Tips for Doing Customer Development the Right Way

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5 Tips for Doing Customer Development the Right Way


Most companies don’t talk to their customers. If you really think about it, that’s shocking. Your business lives and dies based on how it serves its customers. How can you expect to succeed if you don’t really know who these people are or what they want?

Hands down, customer development is the single most important thing every marketer needs to do. And you don’t have to go through the product team or the customer support team to do it. There are practical ways every marketer can get involved. At all of our Ramp Ventures companies, it’s something everyone on the team does, at least once a week.

Here’s how to do it yourself:

Tip #1 – Talk to Your Customers

When we were planning to launch version 2.0 of Mailshake (formerly ContentMarketer.io), I spent nine months doing customer research to figure out what people loved about our product and what they hated.

I’d reach out to customers and ask if they’d hop on a call with me in exchange for free advice or a $25 gift card or something. Not everyone was interested – a lot of people were surprised I was doing it at all – but I got a ton of great feedback through the process. Now, we do this for every company we acquire and for every client we take on at Web Profits. The results are that powerful.

Oh, and if you don’t have customers, you’re not off the hook. If you’re early-stage, you can always talk to your competitors’ customers instead.

To start, go on a site like Capterra or GetApp, where people are rating your competitors. What you’ll notice is that most of these sites let people connect their LinkedIn or Twitter profiles to their comments. Use that info to reach out to 30-40 people (in my experience, you’ll get about a 20-30% success rate) and ask what they like or don’t like about your competitors’ product.

Their responses may not always be things you’re able to work into your product, but at least you’ll be starting with some understanding of what people want from solutions like yours.

Tip #2 – Track Your Competitors’ Pros and Cons

Google things like “[competitor’s name] review” or “[competitor’s name] testimonials.” Visit as many results as you can, and try to come up with a list of the Top 10 things people like about each of your competitors – as well as what they don’t.

This is going to be more qualitative than quantitative data, but it’ll be incredibly valuable whether you’re launching a new product or trying to fix an existing one. Track this over time, especially as technology changes in your industry.

Tip #3 – Test Before You Build

Hiten Shah does a great job of this, but basically, you should be totally confident in your product and the way you’ll present it before you ever go into development.

If I was starting fresh with a new product, I’d take the steps above to figure out how I want my solution to be different from my competitors’. Then, I’d have a designer wireframe my ideas out, and I’d test those concepts on sites like 5 Second Test or User Insights. If any issues turn up, it’ll be a lot easier for me to fix them in the design stage, rather than when I’m in development.

If I’d done this for the original ContentMarketer.io, it would have saved hundreds of people going through a flow that I ultimately wound up changing.

Tip #4 – Go to Conferences or Events Where Your Customers Are

Spend time around your customers. Listen to what they’re talking about. See what gets them excited. Not only will you walk away with a ton of different marketing ideas, you’ll get much more hands-on feedback when you approach them in such an informal setting than you would if you asked as part of a formal research process.

Tip #5 – Live a Day In the Life of Your Customer

Before we set out to build a cold email tool, we went and used cold email tools. We sent cold email messages. We figured out what worked and what didn’t – what we liked and didn’t like.

Now, on a weekly basis, I talk to our most successful customers and those who are having problems. I ask how they’re using the tool, and I always walk away from these conversations with new ideas. Not everything makes it into the product, but at least I know what our strengths and weaknesses are – and how I can make the tool even better for their needs.

Listening to customers helped JotForm reach 4.3 million users and even inspired their latest product, PDF Editor.

It might sound like a lot, but so far, about 600 new ideas have come from the process. How much better off would you be if you had that many opportunities to draw from? That’s the power of customer development in practice.

Are you investing in customer development? Share what it looks like at your organization by leaving me a comment below:

Image: Pixabay





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