So you’ve got an amazing idea to solve a problem with a new product or service.

But before you invest in the design, manufacturing, marketing and distribution you need to be certain it will find the best product-market fit. That only happens through a customer discovery process.

Whether you are a startup or you’re expanding into a new business line, you can’t afford to skip the customer discovery phase.

So why is this phase so important?

Here are three reasons why:

  1. Your product or service must fulfill a need or desire of your target market. Regardless of how smart or new your product is, it won’t be successful unless you test it first with paying customers. (Our Design Lab course helps you create a product validation to get real feedback from potential customers or existing customers for each of the features and benefits that your product is trying to offer.)
  2. You may get feedback and insight that you never dreamed of that will make your offering much better.
  3. You’ll cultivate early adopters and raving fans even before your product launch. Keeping them informed about release dates, offering exclusive pre-orders and value added bonuses. They can also become your best advertisers through word-of-mouth and social media shares.

What are the steps to customer discovery and how do I get started?

It starts by listening and observing your customers. No really. The problem with most product design approaches is that it starts with the product and not with the user in mind.

Let me share with you a story about a product designer that put user experience first and foremost.

Pat had been in the Pool and Spa family business for 15 years. He was always coming up with hacks and new ways to maintain and clean pools for his customers. He noticed how often some of his customers were complaining about the leaf nets breaking only after a year’s use to clean their pools. He initially thought an improvement in the type of netting would solve the problem, but was curious to learn more.

But before he started a netting hack and product design. Wayne visited 10 of his customers at their homes and watched them clean out their pools. Maybe there was something they were doing wrong?

His observations revealed that most of the customers were using and storing their leaf nets correctly. However, he discovered that those with lots of broadleaf trees near the pool experienced a similar problem. When the leaves were scooped up from the water they stuck to the net and it required a hard tap to make the wet leaves fall off. This often caused the metal frame of the leaf nets to get worn and often break when tapping them on the concrete too hard.

So Wayne, invented a portable stand with a rubber surface and bristle brush on top so that pool owners could tap their nets safely and/or wipe off the sticky broadleaves. His observations of his customers and understanding a specific need helped him design a new product with potential for a wider market appeal.

Here are some resources that will give you more insight into Customer Discovery:

#1 has some great resources for social innovation

Check out their The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design and other resources.

#2 Lean Startups for Social Change: The Revolutionary Path to Big Impact by Michel Gelobter

You can also download a Reading Guide and join my Slack Channel #book-club for free.

#3 Communities of Healing has a great example of customer discovery

Like Communities of Healing FaceBook page and look for videos Tammy Jordan with Fruits of Labor, a social enterprise in West Virginia talking about the importance of planning, piloting and testing her new food product (Maple Syrup).

In conclusion…

Be sure you test your idea out with as many pilot testers as possible before your launch. It’s an important step that you cannot afford to skip. Check out our Design Lab course to help you go through this process in detail.

About the Author Paul Wright

Paul Wright is the founder of WVS Courses and Coaching, and is passionate about helping entrepreneurs launch and grow new enterprises. He especially enjoys working with social innovators who create a greater good in the world with their businesses.

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