Know your customers!

Audience

While building a product, dealing with release pressures, it often happens that you lose sight of who your customer is. And while you may not realize, losing sight of your customer often causes the value of your product to diminish significantly and sometimes leading to catastrophic results.

While building a product, I use a series of simple steps so as not to lose sight of the customer:

  1. Customer Profiles: Never start a product without defining your customer profiles. A good user profile creates a mental image of your customer in the mind of whoever reads it and forces you to think about what is important and what is not.
  2. Customer Interviews: Unless it is a futuristic product, it is always helpful to speak to a bunch of prospective customers to find out if what you plan to build affects their lives at all. Do not go for inanimate multiple choice questions – that will not tell you anything. Speak to them for 30 minutes and you will learn a lot more.
  3. Mind Maps: Use a mind map to break up the product into smaller pieces and the smaller pieces further until there is sufficient clarity on the moving parts involved. A mind map format makes it easier for you to break the product apart from various perspectives ( customer, internal, stakeholder, partner, segments etc ) and define use cases without putting too many constraints upfront.
A good understanding of your customer not only helps you build a really valuable product but also helps you come up with a great marketing strategy as you prepare for a launch. Here is an example of how Microsoft, the once anti-social company, very cleverly leveraged bloggers from their target segment to market their new product launch. This is a great example of something you would completely overlook, unless you understand your customers really well.
 
Do you have any examples of cases where a deep understanding of your customers helped you?

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