The customer development process is essential for any company hoping to create a viable product that the public actually needs and wants. In software, developers must take steps to identify the needs of the public, create a product to satisfy those needs, develop a strategy to attract customers, and ensure that their organization can support customer needs. According to Steve Blank of Agile Alliance, a global non-profit dedicated to helping organizations apply the principles of the Agile manifesto to their organizations, the four-pronged process can be broken down into four categories: Customer Discovery, Customer Validation, Company Creation, and Company Building. These categories are part of what is called the “Lean Start-up” approach. Through this approach, startups can learn through feedback which solutions will best help build and maintain their customer base as well as how best to support them.
Customer development starts with customer discovery, which in turn starts with identifying the initial need that can be solved. Market forces are dictated by what the public does and doesn’t demand, so any startup hoping to succeed must address a public need that is unaddressed or a need that is being met by a solution that can be improved upon. Some startups already have a product idea in mind, and in this case, they must work backward to discover what needs their current software can fulfill. After that, startups must make assumptions about how their product may fare in the business environment, what the product dependencies are, what minimum requirements the product must meet, and what management changes are required.
Customer validation involves making assumptions about what a potential customer may need from a solution and building a customer development strategy around that. Doing a market assessment is a great way to get an idea of what the public is most concerned about and how best to fulfill their current need areas. This step will further help startups understand the unmet needs in the market or the needs that can be better served given existing solutions.
In this step, companies can begin developing their solutions and ensure that they meet the needs that are required by customers. Their job is to create a solution that will best fit the customers’ desires. Developers must question which needs are most obvious and which are not and then subsequently address them all with their solution. Sometimes the need that actually needs to be addressed is entirely different from the initial assumptions about the need. Once the solution is complete, it can be delivered to the public.
The relationship between customers and startups doesn’t stop with the release of their solution to the public—it should be an ongoing relationship. In order to support and satisfy future needs, startups must build an organization with the ability to address these needs. Customer feedback is important and solutions like surveys can help give startups an idea about how the public feels about their solution. They should have the ability to update software that no longer satisfies the intended needs of the customer and they should continually be reevaluating if their software is genuinely measuring up to expectations.
Maria is a writer at Enki Tech, a Downtown Santa Monica technology company that specializes in the development of high-quality, user friendly software, web platforms and mobile apps.