Customer Development and Its Discontents

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Customer Development, skmurphy

One recurring question is “Why can’t we do more to test ‘Customer Development’ theories?”

Where Steve Blank identifies three kinds of markets–existing, resegmented, new–there are probably thousands, or at least fine gradations if his three. So your “lab equipment” is complex. I think in the same way that Heraclitus observed that “you cannot step into the same river twice” you cannot step into the same market twice.

I think the more important thing Steve has done is to caution against three common failure modes of engineering driven companies as they approach the challenge of marketing and selling their product:

  • Get out of the BatCave: don’t try and figure it out without talking to prospects and your current customers
  • test and measure: don’t rely just on your intuition, form falsifiable hypotheses
  • iterate frequently: update your plans based on results to date, don’t be guided by the “Little Engine That Could” and keep trying the same thing hoping for a different result.

In that sense it’s a useful antidote to

I always wonder what “Plan B” is if you decide the customer development model is not for your team. What are we comparing it against. Brant Cooper has identified “4 Anti-Lean Startup Archetypes” that might serve as candidates:

  • Hire a super salesmen who can overcome all prospect objections.
  • Develop a powerful enough product that will be so compelling you won’t need to go through customer discovery and customer validation.
  • Spend enough money on advertising and PR to drown out the competition.
  • Ignore any evidence to the contrary and persist in executing your vision.

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