Customer Development Biases

I haven't weighed in on Customer Development thoughts for several hours, so it's about time. Interesting series of tweets in the last several days got me thinking about the biases we bring to Lean Startup Customer Development practices. Unfortunately, but perhaps inevitable, the biases often result in finger pointing and not a little bit of self-congratulation. To an objective user, however, such instances seem to be rather obvious forest-tree issues, rather than the profound insights they hope to be.

Here's a handy graphic illustrating source and bias:

Customer Development Bias graphic

If one looks closely, one can perhaps discern my bias. ; )

Let's go through these.

1. Those with marketing backgrounds are comfortable speaking with customers in a manner determined by their specific role.  Product Managers talk about road map, collect feature requests and bounce ideas off customers, often in group settings (focus groups, advisory boards, etc.).  Product Marketers communicate features and benefits and elicit feedback, often through surveys.  Corporate marketers practice "branding" and spin.  Feedback goes to info@ email boxes, twitter tweets, and Facebook 'Likes' (or not).

2. UX Designers are quick to tell you they invented Customer Development only called it something different.  And frankly, they're right to a degree.  When it comes to product design.  Or parts of product design.  Anyway, UX Designers are good at observing user behavior and interacting with them in a particular (not peculiar) way to determine if the product is "working."  This is instrumental to today's products.  (Not always the case, as I'll argue in another post.)

3. Engineers, in their lifetime quest to never have to actually speak to a live animal of the "Customer" species, utilizes analytics tools and product instrumentation to produce reams of data on user behavior, i.e., actual user interaction with the product.  Instrumentation is instrumental, too.

4. Penultimately and leastly, are the investors, branders, Madison-Ave marketers, turn-key salespeople, high-tech gadflies and backseat pundits who declare that Vision is the only thing that matters.  All you have to do is be like Apple and Ikea, get it?  Do I have to spell it out for you?  All you have to do is be just like A-P-P-L-E.  There now, go to it.

5. Finally, what is the Customer Development bias?  Customer Development needs all the practices above, but none of them help you understand the problem, the pain, the passion. That's the final leg or better yet, the first leg of Customer Development.  Empathy.  Whatever walk for mankind you need to do to walk a mile in your customers' shoes; whatever interview technique, lunch buying, drink toting, teatotaling, karaoke yodeling you must participate in to gain an understanding such that you feel empathy.

Now, then, can't we all just get along?

Please excuse the hyperbole and generalities and the tongue-in-cheek.  Recuse yourself as you see fit.  Feel free to post vitriol in comments. : )

4 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Customer Development Biases”

  1. Taariq Lewis February 23, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    You are absolutely correct about bias. If we can acknowledge our bias, then we can move from our perch of comfort and security to explore all areas of customer knowledge and understanding to reach the star.

    I’m worried that folks are taking CustDev as its own religion and setting themselves up against the other groups and splintering into camps that say…”this way to #CustDev” is better when all that really matters is revenue.

    How much revenue have you brought in lately? How are you helping develop a dependable and repeatable revenue cycle as fast as possible?


  2. Moses Hohman February 24, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    UX is more than usability testing. What about ethnographic interviews? Aren’t they all about developing empathy?

  3. Aurangzeb Agha April 15, 2014 at 11:13 pm

    A big piece missing in a lot of UX today is data. Not just 30 data points–which, btw, doesn’t work when you’re dealing w/ people (see:, but statistically significant data.

    What if the process of better understanding your users, what they want and need and what matters to them (and how much!) could be better explained not just by sharing the results of your most recent focus group, but through a mechanism that allowed you to say, with some level of (statistical?) confidence that you users really want x over y and b over c?

    Wouldn’t that make UX better? Wouldn’t that make product management and development better?

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