[5:59" Steve Blank on Acting on Customer Discovery]
Which one is easier? Going down market - scaling from large to medium to small - or building from the ground up?
I worked with brands in both situations - the mature brand that is reinventing itself to stay relevant to the new shifts in the marketplace; and the start up that is working to look more established to appeal as reliable in competing with known companies. Both won or failed based upon one single variable: customers.
Perhaps it wasn't a fair question, was it? Depending on the circumstances and the context none is easier. You could compete well in a grassroots situation as long as you're grounded in understanding where you make your money, what the margins need to be, how to differentiate your pipeline to grow. Or you could fare better than start ups if you figure out how to adapt to changing market conditions.
It isn't a question of brand story or even purpose. It's about getting and retaining customers for your products and services. In both cases what's required of you is the ability to stay close to your customers - in fact you'd want to constantly be in customer development - Steve Blank's epiphany. [hat tip Eric Ries]
You do want to have a customer development process along with your product development process, one where customer discovery and validation precede execution. Think about things like having measurable checkpoints tied to customer milestones, for example.
Customer conversation needs to be built in to have major reality checks. To me this is as true of start ups as it is of more established organizations. If you have evidence of the contrary do let me know. Learning and listening need to be embedded in customer discovery and validation stages.
Get out of the office (or garage) and talk to your customers. Find the few passionate ones who will be willing to help you test, refine, improve the product or service. To find your market, you'd want to check both the problem you think you're solving, and the product/service you created to solve it.
Regroup with what you learned.
When you're a large company that has been in business for a number of years, chances are you are on your way to scaling down to more types of customers to find growth - segmenting, going regional, going local, going down market. Focus groups and surveys may be one way to know what your customers are thinking. How do you find new ones to reach?
There's a reason why they call it audition - in both cases you're doing a lot of listening.
Rank and Use
In both cases make sure you stack rank your results. Many things are important for people to have and until you force them to choose which ones they'd seriously pay for, you won't find a good starting point. Chances are you'll find that others are trying to solve that very same problem.
Ask why often. There's a tested theory that says you should ask why five times to get to the real root cause of an issue.
What makes you (and your product/service) unique, different, worth spending money on? And one more question - is your product difficult to use? Does it make your customers feel stupid or inadequate? Don't count on "why not?"; make sure you understand the reasons why your customers should buy from you.
Today at Fast Company expert blog we talk about building customer conversation into each interaction. You already know it's important. The market doesn't care about you if you're not a fit. These thoughts are as applicable to start ups as they are to established organizations.