Customer development, as described in The Lean Startup, is all about getting feedback from customers in order to make your best possible product. It is based on the fundamental concept that an entrepreneur should not hypothesize everything about his or her business, but rather should communicate with prospective customers to develop the best possible product or service. The subsequent steps of this process are customer discovery, customer validation, customer creation and company building.
This contrasts with the traditional “Product Development model” where a business starts with an idea, builds it, and then presents it to the public. This model assumes that the company’s product will be successful as is and does not need any changes or developments.
Personally, I do not really understand why customer development is such a new and revolutionary concept. It makes perfect sense. Feedback from potential consumers is essential in order to have a successful product, and it makes a lot more sense to make changes before launching it to the public. The lack of information in the traditional model definitely affects the company’s long-term success and survival.
When researching the idea of customer development I came across many recommendations and steps for how to conduct successful customer development interviews. I found lists of advice and step-by-step interview procedures. The reoccurring tips were to ask open-ended questions, focus on listening, avoid loaded questions, encourage personal stories and take a personal approach with a one-on-one interview. There is a great illustrated guide on WiseHunch.com that lays it all out: http://wisehunch.com/a-guide-to-customer-development-interviews/.
In my opinion, customer development is a smart and forward-thinking way to ensure the success of your business. I do not understand why it such a new concept that many find hard to put into practice. It is about respecting your customers and really trying to understand the problem that you are solving. This problem is at the center or your business, and an entrepreneur should seek any and all help they can get in developing a solution, which will ultimately make the new venture successful. The only and most obvious way to do this is by going straight to the consumer. Know your customer and you know your company.