Since time began, companies kicked off the week with famed Monday morning meetings. The more agile among them called ’em “standing meetings,” conducted while standing to keep the meetings short and to the point. But few companies ever brought the most important voice to those meetings- the voice of their customers.
Whether the company’s in the earliest stages of discovery or celebrating its second successful decade, as Steve Blank and I say in The Startup Owner’s Manual,, “customer discovery never ends.” When it does, often so goes the company.
Imagine a Monday morning meeting at RIM, without customers: “no businessperson would ever want his music and email on the same device,” said one exec, while another chimed in “serious people will never give up the keyboards on their mobile devices.” Without a customer in the room to dispute these axiomatic customer pronouncements, the epitaph of RIM was writ large.
In its heyday, Time Inc. mandated that its sales execs report daily on at least one if not three face-to-face customer interactions. But that was more about selling and building sales relationships than it was about learning what the customer actually wanted from their Time Inc. publication. But for companies in general and startups in particular, the voice of the customer should always be the loudest at any management gathering.
Some simple ways to bring customers to your staff meeting without ordering more bagels or coffee:
- Ask each person to report on their most important customer contact of the past week
- Have everyone commit to talking to at least three, if not five customers a week in “discovery,” not “sales” mode…and ask try to find a theme among the prior weeks’ collective conversations. (It’ll often point to a new competitor’s emergence or a shift in the marketplace.)
- Create a competition of some sort among the leadership based on volume of insights gathered, not volume of contacts made
- Occasionally bring a piece of market research to the meeting, but never let that replace one-to-one, face-to-face customer conversations. As Steve Blank always says, “you have to see their pupils dilate!”
Most important of all: create a culture in the company that customer feedback is the company’s lifeline…and everyone should be contributing to it or strengthening it every week. Create the habit!
Next: how to process all that feedback to be sure it’s actionable
Bob Dorf speaks with, coaches and trains startups in lean customer development all over the world. He blogs at dorfonstartups.com and tweets @bobdorf.