Tools For Customer Development

Customer development isn’t easy; it’s a lengthy process and requires a lot of data management. There are a lot of great web apps out there that can help you handle the customer development process for your new product.

Surveys and User Feedback

Outside of phone interviews and in-person meetings surveys are a great way to get customer feedback.

KISSinsightsKISSinsights lets you quickly add short pop-up questionnaires to your site, putting the questions at your users’ fingertips while they’re actually using the product. This is the ideal time for getting feedback.

SurveyMonkeySurveyMonkey is a fantastic, full-featured survey provider. You can use SurveyMonkey to create longer, more in-depth questionnaires.

Advertising Platforms

A good way to quickly test a hypothesis is to spend a little money on paid advertising. Paid ads generate traffic pretty quickly, and it typically doesn’t take much money to make your initial learnings.

AdWordsAdWords is the old-school PPC approach to advertising, but it still works pretty well for a short timeframe. You can select individual keywords to bid on, which gives you great granular control over the traffic that you receive. PROTIP: It’s usually pretty easy to find $100 credits for new Adwords accounts, so if you’re new to AdWords then that is definitely worth a search.

FacebookFacebook Ads may be a good source of initial traffic for your startup, depending on what type of app you have. You can’t target quite as well as with AdWords, but you can focus your ads based on users’ interests. I’ve typically found Facebook ads to be less effective than AdWords, but your experience certainly may differ.

Landing Page Apps

Creating landing pages to collect user information is a great way to gauge interest for your product before you actually have to build anything.

UnbounceUnbounce is a landing page generator that incorporates A/B testing. It also nicely integrates with MailChimp, Wufoo, and more. It’s simple interface allows you to create landing pages with no HTML or CSS coding.

PerformablePerformable has really evolved into more than a landing page tool, but I still chose to list it here. It’s still a good tool, but may be overkill for early customer development needs.

Email Marketing

You will need an email marketing solution for managing all of the contact information that you retrieve as well as for sending newsletters, product update notifications etc. to your customers. Even though I’ve had my issues with MailChimp I still believe they are by far the best in the industry. MailChimp does everything you need an email provider to do, and it does it well.

What other tools are indispensable for your customer development process? Comments welcome!

Quick Primer on Lean Startup

WIRED: Build a Web Web 2.0 startup

Note: This article originally appeared on our MediaLeaf company blog. I’ve adapted and updated it.

An entrepreneurial trend that has been gaining popularity and notoriety lately is lean startup. Lean startup (#leanstartup on Twitter) is the method of building a new business by focusing on customer development, reducing waste, and pivoting often. You can think about lean startup as the new business cousin of lean manufacturing.

I’m kind of late to the lean startup party, but I plan on using the ideology for the next MediaLeaf company. The basic tenants are simple, straightforward, and apply to any new business, not just online ventures. Here’s a very quick and high-level intro to lean startup as well as some links for further exploration.

Customer Development

Customer development is a method of using constant customer interaction to continuously refine your product and business model. Having a few potential customers early in the process that you can frequently check in with regarding your product is a way to gain invaluable insight into how much utility your product has and its ultimate potential. See my other articles on custdev.

Reducing Waste

In the software world waste can take several forms, including unnecessary features. Features that aren’t critical to your product or heavily used by customers are most likely wasteful; they have a cost in terms of development, support manpower, and time. These features can also draw interest and focus away from your core product. This ties in closely with focusing on a MVP (minimum viable product).

Pivoting vs Optimization

Pivoting is the process of refining your product’s feature set and function to increasingly improve user experiences or to better suit the customer’s needs. Pivoting is a completely different mentality than optimization. Optimization is taking what you have in place and improving it. A good example of optimization would be changing the color of a button on your signup form and A/B testing to see the improvement.

Pivoting is more about making functional changes, such as changing the focus of an entire business or feature. An example of pivoting might be a general contractor deciding that it would be more profitable to focus solely on building gazebos. Optimization would have that contractor trying to figure our ways to be a more profitable general contractor. This is an example of the “local maximum problem” or the “hill climbing problem”. Optimizing your current situation is all well and good, but you should also consider whether or not bigger opportunities exist.

Further Reading

The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank (Affiliate Link)

The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development: A cheat sheet to The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Patrick Vlaskovits (Affiliate Link)

Steve Blank’s Stanford Talks on Customer Development

Brant Cooper’s The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development

Eric Ries’s Blog

Dan Martell’s Blog