Reminder: Customer’s First

The title of this seems to overstate the obvious. From my vantage point, many businesspeople, including salespeople, product managers, marketers, and others, would benefit from some tried-and-true tools to garner customer insights and reveal true customer problems.

I’m writing this because I recently spoke to a group of entrepreneurs starting new businesses.  Most people in this group presented great ideas for products and/or companies.  Most could easily articulate the problem from their own perspectives, and they spoke passionately about them.  Yet when I ask, who’s the real customer? What’s the real problem? How did you find out? What research did you conduct?  Some were able to talk about their interpretation of the total addressable market. Some were quite animated about their opinions about market size and revenue potential.

I’ve been writing and training on this topic for two decades.  I also realized that some people were probably toddlers when I started Sequent Learning. I have a new set of eyes and ears that I probably should speak to. If you’re well-versed in customer or user research, or you’ve nailed your value propositions, you can give this a pass or share it with someone who might benefit. For others, read on, and I’ll share some key things you probably should be familiar with.

  1. Customers don’t always know what they don’t know.  They may express what they want or need, but often, a problem rests below the surface.
  2. Salespeople often respond to explicit requests. Sometimes these are valid, and sometimes they’re not.
  3. A request for proposal (RFP) may have enough specificity to respond to a unique solution, but it doesn’t mean it’s a solution with broad market appeal. The same is true if a senior executive commits to a specific client.

To validate who your customers truly are or to understand prospective customers’ underlying needs and motivations, you need to do some homework.  This can be done in a couple of phases.

 Intelligence Gathering Phase

  1. Observe them as they do what they do.  Look for expressions of angst or pleasure.  Look at clicks, steps, and other items related to time and motion. There’s value in saved steeps or less pain.
  2. Monitor what they do. Digital footprints don’t lie.
  3. Interview them.  Plan what you want to learn, don’t lead the witness, and watch for confirmation bias.

Insights Creation Phase

  1. Empathy. What does the person think, and how do they feel?
  2. Motivation. What do they want to do, or what are they trying to do and why?
  3. Sensory. What do they see, hear, or say?  How does this influence the problem they are experiencing?
  4. Assess. What do they need to do differently? What decisions do they need to make? What’s the ultimate problem they need to solve?


Businesses exist to meet the needs and motivations of customers. Understanding customer needs is vital to uncover customer needs and problems and solving them innovatively.  Any businessperson who takes the initiative to visit and observe customers and develop meaningful relationships with customers will garner the insights to develop creative, value-oriented solutions.  As you learn and grow from this discipline, you’ll want to coach others so they learn similar techniques.

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