Why you need to do user development before customer development

When working on customer development, many B2B startups quickly realize that their user is different from their customer. This usually happens because the price of the product is more than what the user can pay for on their credit card, or if the user wants to use the product for “work” and needs to have it approved by their manager (the economic buyer or the customer).

When I ask the question “Who is your customer”? to a startup, the answers range from a) Size of the company (Enterprise, SMB or Mid-Sized) to organizations within the company (Marketing teams, Engineering teams or Sales teams) to titles within an organization (Event planner, Release manager, etc).

When you are initially doing customer development, the user pain and problem matters more than the customer value proposition. If you do not solve a problem for a person (s), you dont have a product at all, even if your value proposition is useful to a larger organization.

The best way to do the initial user development is to practice ethnography. Spending as much time with users is key. Watching and learning from users is more important than interviewing them is what most entrepreneurs learn quickly.

The next step in your user development process is to document your “day in the life of your user”. This is the process of understanding what you user goes through on a “typical day”. I would highly recommend “chunking” the day into 15 min increments from 8 to 6, instead of 1 hour or 30 minute increments. You should get 40 segments in the users day. Put these segments in your first column. Then have 3 columns together – one for what the user “does” during those 15 min, a second column for categorizing the work into buckets that are relevant for your startup versus not relevant and third for priority of that task to the user.

Typically you will need to watch and observe about 15-20 users before you detect patterns. What most entrepreneurs realize quickly is that if the startups is not tacking the most high priority problems for the user, and instead is only # 5 or lower on the users priority list of pain points, then getting “traction” is slow and long. Growth is stunted.

The second observation I have is that the categories that the user prioritizes over what the startup prioritizes are indicative of the lack of empathy that the entrepreneur has for the users job. The best case situation is if you have been in that role – so you can scratch your own itch, but if not, what I have seen is that there is a cognitive dissonance between what the users categorizes as things for a project versus things for building network, versus meetings for example.

Finally, if you can map the users day in the life, and even if you dont tackle the top 3 problems for the user, you will find that the top 3 offer you opportunities to market to the user by helping address their biggest other pain points – this is typically done by content, tools and other products that will help you establish credibility with your user. Which gives you an opportunity to build a longer term relationship with the user.