Don’t listen to your customers. Yet.

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As an entrepreneur, you want to get feedback as soon as you can on your product or offering. Leading experts say this, my MBA program teaches this, and so do many articles, how to’s, and so on. I agree with these – mostly. Let me explain.

I think one of the biggest mistakes and entrepreneur can do is to listen to their customers too early. Coming from an engineering and design background, I find that many times the customer doesn’t actually know what they want and when they don’t completely understand what you have to offer, they may provide feedback that steers you off course. The quote by Henry Ford paints this picture perfectly: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” I think that you need to develop your business model or product to the MVP stage so that when you introduce it to a potential customer, they have a better grasp and where you’re headed.

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Next, I think you need to be careful with the feedback you receive and ensure you are getting the full picture. Many times, you are responding to only the loudest reviewer of your product who may not necessarily represent the common perception of your product or business. As the saying goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” I recommend that you avoid greasing that wheel unless you have a clear understanding of the majority of your customers and they agree on this deficiency or change.

One thing I like to keep in mind is that bad experiences are more likely to inspire reviews. These bad (squeaky) reviews will seem to stand out and make you want to change your offering. Yes, you’ll want to see what you can do to help these customers in the long run but not at the expense of the overwhelming majority who may be satisfied with your current product or business model.

When you combine listening to your customers too early, showing off a business or product pre-maturely, and listening to the squeaky wheels, you have found yourself a recipe for failure. This is ok however you are much better off if you can identify it early on. There are a few points I follow to make sure I’m not falling into this cycle.

  1. Do I have an MVP?
    1. Yes
      1. Begin showing this to customers to receive feedback.
      2. Use surveys to compile the data
      3. Study the data and find the majority opinion.
    2. No
      1. Make an MVP before I start talking to customers.
  2. How many positive reviews do I have vs how many negative?
    1. Follow the majority. Ensure to sample as many people as possible to ensure you are not looking at a small market segment. Find diversity in your customers which will help you paint a better picture of your customers true perceptions.
    2. How many outliers are in the reviews (i.e. 0 stars or 5 stars)
      1. What did the 0 stars hate? Is there an indication the majority may feel somewhat the same?
      2. What did the 5 stars love? What can we do to do more of that?
  3. Do the customers purchase more than once?

After looking at all of your feedback, its time to move on from the MVP and develop a product that begins to incorporate things from your sample groups. The more work you do here, the more likely you are to succeed.

Overall, the moral of this post is to realize that you need to develop you idea to a point that is understandable. You must work the problem enough so you can adequately explain your business (be the expert) and answer difficult questions. By following these guidelines, you will be more prepared for changing market conditions and more in tune with your product or business which will help you achieve your goals.

Have you changed your product too soon such that it ended up being something completely different than you wanted? Or maybe did you change your business before it had any legs? Leave a comment!


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