Customer Discovery - Beware the Polite Smile.

Whether you're a nascent startup, or a large enterprise, the investment required to launch a new product is immense.  Thankfully due to the success of the Lean Startup, the Business Model Canvas and their ilk, we realize there are ways to de-risk the process of going to market with a new product.

OK, so what's the biggest risk we want to mitigate? Building the wrong product of course! So how do you know that customers will want your product? I can hear lots of people shouting at the screen “Ask your customers, ask them!”.

You absolutely must, unequivocally go out into the world and talk with your prospective customers. But beware of one practical problem; humans don’t tell you what they want. They tell you want you want to hear!

For the first 18 months of billFLO, a company I founded, I asked potential customers the question “Would you use billFLO?”. In return I got lots of polite smiles accompanied by comments like “YES! We’ll try it”.

I’d get back to the team all full of smiles “We got another beta customer. We’re on a roll!”. We’ve got customer validation now I thought. Next step…lets scale this baby! A few weeks later those customers had disappeared, nowhere to be found.

Polite smiles are not enough to build a business on. Don’t fool yourself. Once they’ve used it you need to get the customer to say irrefutably positive statements about your product. Or, if they haven't tried it yet, they should be begging you for it. I’d go so far as to say don’t invest in a new product until people are beating down your door to get it.