“Get out of the building.” You’ve probably heard this phrase uttered among entrepreneurs and startup professionals, denoting the importance of customer development: reaching out to your target audience and communicating with them directly in order to create a more successful product. However, like many other business maxims, it’s easier said than done.
“Many of us are not accustomed to thinking about markets or customers in a disciplined way,” says Eric Ries, author or The Lean Startup. “We know some products succeed and others fail, but the reasons are complex and the unpredictable.” If we don’t understand our target audiences, we increase our chances of failure: users will end up abandoning the product, either because they don’t like it or because they don’t know how to use it. This fate can happen even to the most innovative ideas and technologies. Even worse, it might make you waste months and years developing a product that’s just ‘meh’, because you never validated your idea with the end users.
That’s where “customer development” comes in. What is customer development exactly? It’s a four-step framework designed by Steve Blank in his book The Four Steps to the Epiphany. This framework ensures that you do your research, sufficiently and efficiently, before you start to work hard on your product. Don’t worry – if you already have a product, you can start the customer development process with the second step and improve your MVP and your roadmap.
By completing the steps, you’ll know what your end users want, how your product solves a problem for them, how to keep improving the product, and how to market it. Sounds scary? Not if you have the right resources and tools.
These customer development tools will help you “get out of the building”… oftentimes without actually having to physically leave your chair. They’ll enable you to connect with your users, see their reactions to your product, hear their feedback, and understand their behavior and their needs. This list includes tools for engaging with users, conducting surveys and interviews, and understanding user behavior. Each tool is a market leader in its category.
Customer Development Tool #1: SurveyMonkey
Customer development can start even before you have a product, when all you have is an idea. Before you start to develop the idea, you’ll want to see if your target audience would even consider using it. One method is through surveys. SurveyMonkey is an online survey platform, where you can create and deploy surveys to your target audiences or current users. You can use this extensive tool to get feedback from your existing users or SurveyMonkey’s global consumer panel, understand user behavior, improve UX, engage with customers, and run concept development tests. SurveyMonkey has an extremely user-friendly platform that makes it easy for you to set up and customize, and for your target audience to answer your questions. The ease of filling out the surveys can increase both the number of replies you get and ultimately the quality of the data you collect. You can even increase the amount of replies you get by offering rewards to participants. SurveyMonkey also offers a mobile app SDK for collecting in-app feedback.
Customer Development Tool #2: UserTesting
In the next step of the customer development framework, you have your MVP (or a new version of it), and you can start gauging your audience’s response to it with user testing tools. The market leader in this field, UserTesting, has a panel of over a million testers that will provide you with invaluable feedback on your product. You can use the platform to understand intent and behavior, improve user experience, and increase user satisfaction and loyalty. It can be used throughout the development cycle, so you’ll never have to second-guess your product decisions. Best of all, it’s fast: you can start seeing results in just hours. UserTesting’s tool enables you to conduct live interviews or use a video format that increases the clarity and accuracy of the feedback. It can even automatically transcribe the interviews and make them searchable so that you can quickly review and organize the results.
Customer Development Tool #3: Appsee
To build a powerful product, you need your analytics tools to be as powerful as possible. For mobile apps, Appsee’s user session recordings and touch heatmaps provide a deep understanding of user behavior. These qualitative tools delve deeper than the numerical metrics of traditional analytics, such as MAU/DAU, session duration, daily launches, etc. They actually show you how users interact with the app through video recordings of users’ screens for any given session, plus heatmaps that display gestures and actions on each screen. This ability to see users in action removes some of the bias of the user research you conducted in the earlier stages of customer development, and shows you exactly what users are doing once they launch the app. Additional tools like navigation paths and conversion funnels help you understand which recordings you need to watch to improve your metrics and user experience.
Customer Development Tool #4: Mixpanel
Mixpanel is a comprehensive platform that can be used for various stages of the customer development process. Mixpanel’s product analytics platform for web, mobile web, and mobile apps uses machine learning to dive headfirst into your data and generate automated insights about your users. You start by tagging the events you want to track, and Mixpanel gives you actionable insights on user behavior, using trillions of data points. Mixpanel can even make predictions on future user behavior based on their past actions. In addition to its analytics tools, Mixpanel also includes the ability to reach out and re-engage users by sending them smart and automated messages on various platforms.
Customer Development Tool #5: Amplitude
To add an extra layer of analytics to your customer development toolbox, you can use quantitative behavior analytics tools such as behavioral cohorting. One of the leading analytics tools that includes a strong cohorting feature is Amplitude. Amplitude pinpoints, analyzes, and highlights behavioral cohorts, such as users who were using a certain device and also performed a certain action in the past 30 days. This helps you understand what users are doing, and what their preferences are. decide on the actions that will improve your retention and conversion rates. You can also observe the way users go through the different funnels in your app.
A few more words on customer development tools
How aware are you of your product’s end users and target audience? Amazon founder Jeff Bezos famously left a chair in meetings for the most important person in the room: the customer. If you’re building an app, or any product, one of the most crucial items on your roadmap is to get to know your users. It’s not a one-time process, either: you’ll do thorough research in the ideation phase, when you’re only thinking about your idea, and during each new update or version. These tools should help you gain a better understanding of your target audience or existing users, create a product that they’ll want to use, and ultimately increase their numbers.
You can get even more insights and tools for customer development in this free eBook: