Should we listen to our customers?

If we listened to Henry Ford and Steve Jobs, we would not listen to our customers at all!
“If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”
– Henry Ford
“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
– Steve Jobs, BusinessWeek, May 25 1998

I do think that there is a need of a balance among three factors

1. Current Customers (the silent ones especially, as the usual noisy ones are there anyway)
2. Potential Customers (the one that you don’t have yet and may not be aware of you or the problem you may solve for them)
3. Gut, Genius, Intuition, superpowers

1. Listening to current customers is good ( http://zhivago.com/) but it may also be extremely dangerous. They may actually doom your product (http://bit.ly/zLpLTp). Especially if the company culture (or some hole in the organization) enables raw customer requests to become automatically product requirements (this is SO bad)

2. Listening to potential customers is harder (you have to discover them and interview them. Effective interviewing is not an easy skill to find). But if you do it right, and are even able to build buyer personas, then you have made the most important think as a marketer (http://www.buyerpersona.com/ebook)

3. Then, if you nail down (1) and (2), all the others mentioned at point (3) may not be needed. But if you have one of them, well that can make the difference — unless you only base your product/strategy decisions based on (3) like many do with poor results – in fact there are not many Steve Job’s around …

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