Build Relationships with your Customers, don’t go on One-Night Stands

When you’re building a product, as a Product Manager, your goal ought to be to develop meaningful, lasting relationships with your customers: shallow interactions will leave you both feeling empty not too long after.

Building Customer Relationships

You can apply this mantra to pretty much any phase of your product development process. But, for the sake of brevity, we’ll stick specifically to the process of customer development in an early-stage startup.

The Customer Discovery Process

Why do we need a customer discovery process?

It’s simply to get an idea of what customers love without over-investing in a product that no one will actually end up using, once it hits the market.

During such a process, you typically want to sit down, face-to-face with your potential customer and simply figure out what problems she has in her life, what solutions or workarounds she currently puts to use, what works, what doesn’t work, and how you can help improve her overall quality of life. Ultimately, you want to find out if your product has practicality, and — if not — what tweaks need to be made to get it there.

Keys to a Successful Customer Discovery Process

Let’s just address these in bullet-point form,

  • Have 3 key objectives or key questions that you’d like to address with your client
  • Bring one other person along with you to take notes or to ask any key questions you might have missed
  • Stick to 45–60 minutes
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Make sure your questions unearth specific past or current behaviors and not just insubstantial opinions
  • Try to get the whole story behind why the customer has the problems she has, why she uses the workarounds she does, how well her currest solution fares, and what gaps exist

Building a Relationship

There are many benefits to establishing a relationship with your customer. Customer discovery is about unearthing qualitative considerations, for example, frustrations and emotional attachments and investments to specific problems or products. If you have built rapport and trust, with your customer, you’re much more likely to reach the depth necessary to find the golden nuggets of wisdom that any product manager is desperately searching for. Also, customer discovery ought to be an iterative process; remember, you want to course-correct quickly and prevent fruitless investments. So keep the initial meeting casual, briefly talk about the problem you’re trying to solve, set the pace for subsequent meetings, and avoid going into too much detail. The next time you meet that same customer, she’ll be well-equipped to discuss more relevant, real-life examples; the context you established in the initial meeting has served as the lens that she’s evaluated her life problems through, for a good week. Now you can break things down and get into the nitty-gritty.

The data you gather from your customers grows incrementally richer and more valuable with every subsequent meeting. You can even build robust personas from the customers that you build a strong relationship with; not only that, your customers to-be will also value the work you put into building, and eventually producing, your product.

Coming up next…

In the next article I’ll share more details on how to get the most out of your customer discovery process. You’ll be surprised how such a process can be so similar to what you’ve seen on Law & Order, many times over.


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- Ben