Whether your company’s innovations are 72 hours or 72 years old, relentless customer discovery remains a critical priority. Even if the product itself hasn’t changed in decades (think cinder blocks or lumber), lots going on beyond the product itself delivers dramatic P&L impact.
What’s to discover once the new product is shipping? As noticed on January 20, almost any big event can impact even the most loyal consumers. Exogenous factors by nature are far more challenging to control, compared to simply raising or lowering prices. While a new President promises big customer impact for some, gradual changes are harder to detect without a steady stream of customer discovery.
Most dangerous changes to watch for: In most marketplaces, everything is subject to change: from competitive pricing to delivery speed. So the competitive analysis conducted at launch is quickly outdated. These four critical yet often gradual changes have great potential business impact:
1. “Problem” discovery: Does the problem your product or service solves remain as vexing and important to your customers? Solving problems are the vital ingredient in most B2B success. Have prospects “moved on” to other challenges? Have other things somehow demoted the problem you solve in the customer or prospect’s “top 5” list of problems to solve?
2. Competitive: How have customer opinions of your competitors changed? What have the competitors changed beyond the obvious (pricing, features)? Seek customers’ views on competitors and study shifts in their positioning, benefit statements, and more.
3. Customer Satisfaction: Levels can vary widely as the customer base spreads beyond early adopters with the most urgent need for your product. Probe satisfaction levels in general, but also among the cohorts of customers (new in January, new in July, for example) to be sure your product is as important and appealing to the “second generation” of customers. And meanwhile, are your earliest customers still as happy and satisfied with whatever they bought back when?
4. Communications: Do your marketing messages resonate as strongly as they did when brand new? Are website visits as deep and action-oriented as they were months ago? When was the last time you A/B tested the UI on key web pages, since customer behaviors are often influenced by new tech innovations, competitors activity like the addition of video demos or configurators or who-knows-what? Is your site generating more or less inquiries v.s. leads v.s. orders than it did a few months ago, and where are the “breakdowns” in your web interactions?
For sure, this is only a partial list of customer behaviors that need regular focus. Make two lists: discovery issues requiring quarterly and others needing semi-annual follow up. Read on to plan the never-ending discovery process.
Three Steps to “Continuous Discovery:”
1. Make it Programmatic: Develop a discovery calendar for the year, by focus area, so that major areas like competitive analysis and website UX/UI are tested at least twice a year and other areas either seasonally or annually.
If Q4’s vital, as is the case for many B2C products, rigorous July/August discovery provides “recovery time” to fix whatever’s changed or broken. If pricing or channels are shifting, benchmark customer enthusiasm and uptake before and after.
2. Focus on Qualitative Results, not typical survey data, to get a far more accurate reading and “pulse” of the feedback. Open-ended questions or short video interviews deliver volumes of feedback and allow plenty of room for one-off “corner case” suggestions or ideas from customers and prospects alike.
Survey data seldom provides much insight beyond “we went from 3.6 to 3.7 on a scale of 5,” which is virtually unusable information.
3. Dedicated Tools and Team: If every customer discovery request demands a research RFP and a half-dozen planning meetings, discovery will never have the cadence and frequency to deliver timely insight. Assign several members of the product management team to share the workload.
Don’t suffer with an assortment of UX, survey and other tools, each with its own data sets, presentations, and biases. Deploy a suite of “all-in-one” discovery tools (for my favorite example, Alpha) and train the entire team in its use so they can help one another mine the customer and prospect universes and collectively assess the impact of, and “to do’s” stemming from the learning.
Bob Dorf is a leading expert on disruptive innovation and business modeling at major corporations and startups. He’s co-author with Steve Blank of “The Startup Owner’s Manual” and an Entrepreneur in Residence at Columbia Business School. Learn more at www.bobdorf.nyc.