Most companies I have spoken with–who are reluctant to explore the customer development process–feel that talking to customers is too hard and don’t even know where to begin. The secret (there is no secret) is to just start. It is much easier to have done something, than to think about doing something. In other words, JUMP IN!
Anythony Tjan has provided a great exercise that should make it easier get started:
You can learn a great deal about customers by studying the broader context in which they use your product or service. To do this, ask what your customer is doing three minutes immediately before and three minutes after he uses your product or service…[ via The Three-Minute Rule – Anthony Tjan – Harvard Business Review ]
If you still need a little help, (i.e. want to wear a life jacket and an inner-tube before jumping in) then you need to learn how to ask your customers questions. The secret (there is not secret) is to just start. Pick one customer you have spoken to before (not so scary) and ask them those two questions: (1) What were you doing 3 minutes before you last used our product? (2) What were you doing 3 minutes after you last used our product?
Don’t create a form. Don’t send out a mass email. Don’t assign it to your sales team. Don’t make your intern do it. Pick up the phone and call one customer. You don’t need to promise them anything, and you better not try and defend yourself or your product. Just listen, learn, and share the love by saying thank you.
Now, you’re ready to swim in the deep end.