Chapter 8. How Does Customer Development Work When You Already Have Customers?

In the medical industry, things revolve around sales cycles that extend into the 18-month zone. Doctors are unforgiving, unable to articulate what they want, and if you iterate with them, they are unforgiving.

Henry Wei, Senior Medical Director of Clinical Innovation at Aetna

The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.

Arie de Geus, former head of Shell Oil’s Strategic Planning Group

If you work at a large company with existing customers, I know what you’re thinking. There’s no way these techniques would work for me: I can’t go into customer meetings with guesses. If I talk about new ideas, they will assume the ideas are product directions. They’ll either want to buy the product tomorrow or get upset if they don’t like the new direction. I can’t take up an important customer’s time and ask a bunch of questions without having anything to show him.

It’s true: you probably can’t practice customer development in exactly the same way that an early-stage startup can. You’ll need to adapt the process a bit, just as GE, Microsoft, Aetna, Intuit, and the US government have.

For those readers who are working with a brand-new customer base or within a small startup, you may wish to skim this chapter and return later in your company’s lifecycle. The techniques described in this chapter are fairly conservative, and as such, will not allow you to learn and reduce ...

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