Anti-Customer Development

Let me go out on a limb and assume if the title of this post got you here you know what Customer Development is. So, I’m proposing that with your Customer Development you also do an Anti-Customer Development. My definition of Anti-Customer Development is to interview people that would *not* buy your product, but they might look like they would.

Why? Everyone needs water!

Here is the problem of only conducting customer development with “perfect” prospects: You’ll not be able to see what make them different from the rest of the market, and that difference is probably where you should spend 80% of your time nailing the product.

Imagine you have a group of potential customers, let’s call it Group 1 that you are trying to build the best solution to a problem they have. If you only interview them and research their needs, they’ll lead you to believe you need features A, C & F. And you spread your resources building those features to a muted response of the market. What happened? First of all, it’s likely many of your competitors also did the same thing so you have a quite undifferentiated product. But more likely, your customers can get 90% of your product offer by using off-the-shelf solutions and the 10% extra that you do better is not really their biggest pain-point: your feature A was above & beyond the market comparable. But who cares?

It’s in the delta

Now, you go out and you interview Group 2, which are not your target customer. Maybe they are in a different vertical that you don’t want to go after, or for a size that you don’t think it’s worth selling to. You learn that what you need to build to serve Group 2 are features A, C & E.

You just notice that a lot of the products out there that serve customer’s needs, have exceptional A and C — that’s why you were lead to believe that you need to create an exceptional feature A — but that E and F were usually treated as secondary features since they were not needed by “everyone”.

What you have here is a situation that features A & C are table stakes. Every solution provider will have them, but feature F is how you’ll make your product differentiated and stand out in front of your key customer.

Sometimes F doesn’t even mean is the feature that’s the hardest to build, but it’s certainly the one that deserves special attention. If customers from Group 2 want to buy your product, sure, let them pay. But don’t get distracted building feature E for them. They’ll ask for it, and, unless you have maximized the opportunity with Group 1 or decided to pivot your business, you are losing focus.

(This post was also published on LinkedIn)

Marcelo Calbucci

Marcelo Calbucci

I'm a technologist, founder, geek, author, and a runner.