On today’s episode, we talked a lot about customers. Chris emphasized the importance of being located close to customers, spending time with them, understanding their needs better than any other company does. It is the customers that will be the primary funding source for every successful business. We don’t often think of customers as a source of capital, but they are the primary and sustaining source for companies that are built to last
I’ve spoken many times in the past about VOC or Voice of Customer. The simple acronym that represents the practice of visiting, listening to and observing the target customer. It is frequent and focused efforts to understand a customer that makes for some of the most valuable businesses. And we discussed building a culture of customer obsession in the interview with Steve Blank. We also covered how founders don’t have to be oracles yet can look like excellent predictors of the future by intimately knowing their customer.
When I was developing my last product, I had over 500 discussions and visits with customers. And in the first year, presenting our new concept, customers were confused. By year two, they were intrigued. And, come year three, they became obsessed. I even had customers that tried to convince me to leave the prototype with them. They wanted it so bad, they’d take a glorified breadboard over a production unit. But, that wouldn’t have been the case had we not conducted 500+ voice of customer discussions. The product requirements improved and the product capabilities were better aligned with customer needs.
And yet, despite the tremendous customer data, the engineering team frequently pushed-back on customer feedback and new requirements. They often refused to believe the consumer input and quantitative data that had been collected. And ultimately, this was my fault. While initially, I thought it was the product manager’s responsibility to know the customer and define the product… the real job was to create an atmosphere where the entire development team could know the customer and define the product. My job was to include them in the process. Have them visit the customers. Make them ambassadors of VOC. And it’s this intense customer awareness that creates the best product insights and creativity. You’d be surprised how many conversations stared with me saying to the scientists and engineers: “We need X.” and the their response, “We can’t do X.” Yet, after spending time with customers the development team would be saying to me, “we need X… and can figure out a way to do it.”
As mentioned in the takeaways, Scott Dorsey cited customer focus as a reason for surpassing their valley counterparts. His CTO would go out and visit a customer every day.
So, how customer-focused are your product people? Are the engineers a part of the process? One doesn’t need to know the future to be a visionary. The only need to know their customer.