The worst business myth ever, in my opinion, is the following:
“If you build it they will come.”
I blame Kevin Costner. (Just kidding, I love that movie.)
The problem that confronts entrepreneurs is that it is very easy to focus most of our time on the product we are trying to build and sell. The thinking is that we will build such a great product or service that customers will spread the word for us. Before you know it we will have enough customers that sustainable profitability will be just around the corner.
The truth is that we may be creating something that nobody wants, and this is an even greater risk for those building new innovative products. How could this happen? Because we never bothered to ask the customer. We didn’t do this for various reasons, and we may not even know who our specific customer is or how to reach them.
Before we start building our product, we need to answer some questions, and they all fall under Marketing. If we want to be successful then we must learn to love marketing, making it as important as any other task, because it will help us answer the following questions properly with specific answers:
- Who is our target customer/niche?
- What is our product and what is its key differentiator? (insert elevator speech here)
- Who is our competition?
- How will we create demand for our product and promote it?
- How much will we charge? How will we make money?
- How will we distribute our product?
By answering question #1 (it is at the top for a reason) before we start building our product, we are making important decisions that affect what that actual end product will be. Our answers to these questions may change over time (especially pricing), but it is important that we start thinking about them immediately and get some detailed answers down on paper. There are many questions we will want to answer in the future, but we should answer these first.
Question Your Assumptions
One way to make it obvious that we are working under an assumption is to take the Jeopardy approach and say the phrase in the form of a question:
“If you build it, will they come?”
You are assuming that what you are going to sell is what your customer wants, and you know how to reach them. Until you speak with real customers the answer to our question above is: I don’t know.
If you are building a new innovative product or service, your risk from market uncertainty goes up substantially. You may need to go beyond traditional marketing/product development and venture into the realm of Customer Development, or CustDev for short.
“Customer Development is a four-step framework to discover and validate that you have identified the market for your product, built the right product features that solve customers’ needs, tested the correct methods for acquiring and converting customers, and deployed the right resources to scale the business.”
If you remember one thing about CustDev, make it this: Question and test your assumptions. CustDev goes beyond traditional Product Development by substantially improving customer involvement as you bring a new product to market. This is not just focus groups: it is a process to figure out what your customers want, adjust accordingly (pivot), and build and scale a business to deliver your product to your customers.
Get to know (and love) Marketing and Customer Development
If you want to be successful as an entrepreneur, you need to get comfortable with marketing. Adding CustDev to your process could put you at a significant advantage in the marketplace versus your competition. You can spend years studying and honing these skills, but it’s important to take that first step. I have found the resources below very helpful and I hope you will too.
- The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development by Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits – A must have primer on CustDev
- Eric Sink on the Business of Software – Please ignore the Software part of the title, this book has an entire section of chapters on marketing that can be helpful for any industry.
- The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steven Gary Blank – The book on CustDev
- Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore – A classic
1. The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development by Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits p.17