Q: What is the core mission for customer development at an early-stage start-up? What are the core skills for customer development necessary to execute on that mission?
The core mission is early customers, early revenue, early references. All of these reduce risk, demonstrate traction, and make subsequent sales efforts easier (and for bootstrappers, keep the lights on).
Core Skills for Customer Development
People who are good at early customer development have empathy both for the product development process and how a prospect will use the product to create value in their business. This normally requires:
- Lead generation–typically by taking part in niche communities or already active conversations,
- Complex negotiation with the objective of creating a relationship not just closing a transaction,
- Project management: the need to manage the product introduction and use inside the customer’s firm as a project with joint commitments and agreed to milestones,
- Triage: the ability to prioritize the opportunities on the table and the likely capability set that engineering can deliver in a particular time frame.
Each Referenceable Sale Is Evidence For Your Business Model Hypotheses
In B2B the sale is unambiguous proof of valid product and customer hypotheses that are the core pillars to any business model. The sales model I am advocating is predicated on creating value in the prospect’s business and getting a reference so that you actually establish a relationship.
Complex Discovery-Driven Sale
Customer development is the complex discovery-driven sale. When I explain this to entrepreneurs they often think I don’t understand sales because they pattern match to cold calling telemarketers or fast talking late night TV pitchmen or high pressure used car sales techniques. But B2B markets you sell by asking questions and paying careful attention to the answers–not only their content but their implications and what’s left unsaid.
When I suggest that customer development is the complex discovery-driven sale and you don’t think I understand customer development, you may not understand sales.
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