The First Question to Ask in Customer Development

by admin

customer developmentIf you’re an entrepreneur or aspiring entrepreneur, you know that customer development is crucial. You know even more that you have to validate your idea first before you start building. Who wants to build something that no one wants in the first place?
When it comes to customer development, a lot of entrepreneurs begin by asking friends in real life or on Facebook if they like their idea. They might even go further and create a survey and blast all of their friends to fill out the survey, which asks about pain points, the size of the pain points, what other solutions people have tried, and whether or not they like the proposed idea.
These are fine starts but I argue there is a first question entrepreneurs must ask. What is it?

Why won’t this idea work?

I believe if you want to get great customer feedback, you must first describe your idea in a sentence or two and then ask people why your idea won’t work. I think it’s a better way to get customer development for a couple of reasons.

More honest responses

If you ask your friends if they like your idea, they probably do not want to hurt your feelings. “Sure, it sounds like a good idea,” they might say. “OK,” you might say. “What’s so good about it?” Because they are your friends they might repeat some of the features you told them and, in an effort to at least be constructive and offer original thought, might offer up a challenge or two if you build your idea (“Pinterest is already huge so you have to think about a way to break through the clutter.”)
If you begin the conversation by asking them why the idea won’t work, customers will have to think about the problem your idea is purporting to solve and why your solution falls short. In doing so, they’ll probably give you a more honest response (“It’s a neat idea but the problem is not that big of a deal to me to warrant paying $9.95 per month”).


A strange psychological thing begins to happen when you ask someone why your idea won’t work. They will instinctively want to help you figure out the problem. Even though it’s a hypothetical problem you posited, humans have a natural desire to fix things. As a result, your customers will likely stop and think about your one-to-two sentence summary of your concept and will apply it to their problem. They’ll think about all the dots that must be connected to go from problem to your solution and they’ll rattle off all the issues that might keep from seeing the idea as worthwhile.
For example, if your idea is to build an online classroom for small businesses, and you asked your customers why the idea won’t work, they might tell you that they don’t trust the quality of the teachers or that they don’t think that small business owners have time to go online to take a class, etc.
For that moment when your customers are telling you why your idea won’t work, they are partnering with you on your idea. They are invested, albeit for a small amount of time, in your project. They want to help you succeed.

More ear, less mouth

By phrasing the question as why the idea won’t work, you are forced to listen to your customer. This is crucial. Which do you think is more helpful? You telling your customers why you think your idea is awesome or your customers telling you their barriers to using your product?


There are lots of ways to do effective customer development. To my knowledge, there is no one right way to do it. In my opinion though, you can be far more effective if you fought your optimism and instead of focusing on why your idea is awesome, and focused on all the things standing in the way between your idea and your customer, you might just have more insights.

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