At Sussex Innovation, one of the most valuable services that we offer to our members is to scope and conduct extensive customer insight projects. We help our members gain true insight into what motivates their potential customers, what pains those customers have, how they currently solve them, what they will pay for and how they want to buy it.
Last year, one of our members, Maven Rocket commissioned the Sussex Innovation support team to help with a customer-led design project. Howard Sanford, CTO and founder of MavenRocket says:
"If we were a typical software studio, when building our Google AdWords tool, we would have rushed in feet-first and delivered what we though the customer should want. We would have built a ton of features that no-one wanted and would have spent a lot of money on an expensive app with no customers. Instead, thanks to Claire's help and guidance, we garnered feedback before committing anything to the whiteboard, and in the process discovered that who we thought would be our typical customer, turned out to be the exact opposite. Instead of building for the archetypal AdWords user, our app is now laser-targeted for AdWords/PPC/SEM Agencies, making them more profitable, and as a side benefit, because of the customer-led process, we also have a list of interested prospects, some of whom welcome the opportunity to participate in the pre-beta release."
Designing features for imaginary customers instead of listening to potential customers' feedback can often spell the downfall of a business before it's started. Apple encountered this problem in 1993 with the Apple Newton. A hand-held PDA, Apple launched the product they thought the market would need, rushing the planning, testing and research to get a jump on the market. This led to many features that consumers couldn't use or didn't need, so much so that a cartoon strip was made about the inadequacies of the main handwriting feature. Although much of the technology ended up being reused in the iPhone further many years later, the Apple Newton was scrapped as customers just couldn't connect with it.
Customer feedback is important, but it's just as important to ask the right group of people and not assume that everyone will need your product or idea equally. In my work as a Marketing Advisor, I often start by helping a member segment their market. It's much better for a start-up to design something that suits a smaller, dedicated market than trying to please everybody.
Customer segmentation is an important step in this process, but I've found that there are very few 'methods' available for small or start-up businesses. Try Googling it and you'll find lots of references to the importance of segmentation, but little explanation of how to actually do it. That can be very frustrating for new businesses who have a great idea but very few or no customers to test it on, so here at Sussex
Designing with customers builds the foundations of a good business idea. But the next challenge is creating a business model that actually makes money - more about that soon.