Friday, January 30, 2015

Connect With Visionary Customers Face To Face, Hand To Hand

By Christian Dahlen & Oana Olteanu

There are two type of customer roles involved on the way to product/market fit: Executive sponsors - the buyers and decision makers -  meet at least twice a year. These executive sponsors provide validation of the use case and are future references to gain credibility in the market. A word of caution: As opposed to the users, they have much less patience for multiple product iterations.

The users act as sounding boards and listen to a product proposal such that the product team can explore and rehearse the proposition more fully to align the economic incentives of all the group members. This user sounding board function should not be confused with a council for market development or with industry advisory boards - those come at different stages of the development process.

The product team has one-on-one interactions with the users. It is fairly straightforward to define the minimum set of requirements, and hence iteration cycles can be rapid, using one hour feedback sessions every 2-4 weeks. Each iteration begins with the customer selecting which stories the team will implement during the iteration, and ends with the team producing something for the customer to react to. In these rapid iteration cycles, the team moves from storyboards to a prototype of the proposed user experience with minimal functionality in the least amount of time. With today’s tools, the prototype is quick and inexpensive to build. As long as the user experience is plausible, the backend processing and data can be simulated. A word of warning: Users tend to provide positive feedback during all stages, until they actually have to use the product.

These one-on-one relationships help establish clear accountability on both sides. Initial on-site workshops with select customers are helpful in building rapport, but remote video conferencing interactions are perfectly suited for the monthly follow-up. The value from these interactive user interviews is far higher than from any type of survey or from indirect feedback.

These visionary customers are part of the team and deserve to be rewarded, feted and nurtured: Invite them to company customer events, award them with certificates for their part in the effort, and leverage them in promoting the new product.

Many thanks to Allen Bannon and Ryan Nichols for providing input and feedback.

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