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by • August 14, 2010 • ListeningComments (3)158

Big Name Discovery Anti-Pattern

(This is the second in an ongoing series of customer development anti-patterns. The first post was on the novelty anti-pattern)

The big name discovery anti-pattern happens when you keep “improving” the quality of customers you speak with during discovery, resulting in customer understanding skewed toward a small number of premium customers.

When we started customer discovery at Habit, our first dozen meetings were with the companies we happened to have access to. This included one global creative agency, some big media brands like Sony & MTV, and a handful of smaller agencies. We filled out the rest of our time talking to startups and small businesses. If we were having lunch at a local restaurant, we’d talk to the manager.

Based on those discussions, we focused on two use cases — social advertising (for agencies & big brands) and realtime testimonials (for startups & small businesses). The types of people we were interviewing broadly matched our customer segmentation and our revenue predictions, which were fairly evenly split between long-tail and premium.

This was a terrific position for learning that we promptly threw away.

Each person you meet can (and generally will) open new doors and make new introductions. For us, this meant that within a few sets of meetings, we had access to a surplus of premium brands & world-class agencies. We stopped meeting with other startups almost immediately, and the small businesses soon followed. We stayed in touch with only one independent agency. By trying to talk to the “best” customers, we had whitewashed our feedback.

Your customer discovery meetings should match your customer segments

You can date our mistake at Habit by looking at the responses to the launched product. Brands & agencies loved it. Small businesses and startups really agreed with the problem statement but our key feature didn’t work for them. Oops. When we first started, we had talked to the long tail about their problem (similar to premium customers’), but stopped lining up meetings before learning their workflow differences fundamentally changed the product needs.

This problem would likely have hit us even in the best circumstances… Meeting with a brand you grew up with feels more like progress. But it was very much exacerbated by our weekly status reports to our board and investors. Their feedback was one of the few ways we had to measure our progress and they seemed happier when we were meeting with companies they’d heard of.

It’s obvious how to fix this problem once you realize it’s happening. You just run discovery separately on each customer segment while writing down your learning to prevent it from blurring and merging in your memory. Then you’ll be able to hear yourself say: “We know everything about our customers” and realize you really mean: “We know all about large creative agencies but nothing about small businesses.”

Lessons learned

  • Be specific and explicit with your customer segmentation
  • Run customer discovery on each segment
  • Learn from the customers who match your segments, even if “bigger” meetings are available

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3 Responses to Big Name Discovery Anti-Pattern

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