Keep talking to customers: you know you should
It’s one of the toughest problems in enterprise software. It is really hard to find time to meet with customers and get quality feedback. You have no choice.
When you’re launching a new type of product, its quite likely customers don’t even know what your talking about. At this point you have the vision and are hoping to deliver something useful enough that they’ll get it too. In these initial stages, companies I’ve worked with talk to prospects initially to understand their needs and define the market. Once you have something to address these needs, companies typically spend a lot of time with the first few customers getting putting the solution in place and training the users, and testing and refining Release 1. This is good. Its after this point, in the initial growth phases, when time and resources are strained that this discipline seems to just slide away. Just because you knew their business better than they did at that point in time, doesn’t mean you’ll know it better from that point forward.
Every customer is different, and their business and their needs will keep changing. So you have to keep making the time to get the feedback. It’s also the only way you will hear about new problems that may provide opportunities for differentiation. While new web tools offer ways to facilitate interactive discussions without costly face time to improve and refine existing offerings, you will need to be on site, watching them work to spot the bigger opportunities.
At Edge Dynamics, we assumed we knew our customers after we had spent time on site with them through the first three implementations. Around that time the market changed structurally. We didn’t create a dialogue with our customers (once a year user group meetings are not a dialogue). As we stayed in the ivory tower designing and pumping out ever more complex features, customers became overwhelmed with the feature set and started looking for something simpler.
Key Takeaways: Make time for customer interaction. Keep your eyes open for structural changes, and opportunities for new products and differentiation.
Sign Posts: How do determine what customers need? How do you involve the customer in the product design process?