Customer Development: The Difference Between What People Say and Do

One of the things all great marketers share is a deep understanding of their customer. This understanding is often the result of a ton of research.

I’m a huge advocate for research, especially when it involves spending time outside of the building and talking to customers in real life (great article on the importance of getting out of the building here), but research is not always a good indicator of success.

Just because someone says they are going to do something doesn’t mean that they will actually do it.  This is the reason why we have closets full of clothes we never wear, cabinets full of appliances we never use, and New Year’s resolutions that have – well, never been resolved.

So when it comes to your customers, there’s a huge difference between what people say and what they do.  The data that you get from surveys, questionnaires, sign-up forms etc. is definitely valuable, but to really understand a customer, you need see what they are actually doing.

Add to Your Arsenal of Research Tools

Here are two things to try/suggest to your team the next time you’re thinking about doing customer research:

  1. Make friends with the UX team.  Find out who’s responsible for user testing, buy them a coffee, and instead of sending out yet another survey, see if you can start sitting in on user testing.  Ask questions, add value and show that you aren’t just some guy from marketing – and they might even let you add in some questions for the next round.
  2. Create fake doors.  A “fake door” is a methodology that can be used to help predict if someone is going to use a particular feature or not.  Basically, you put a fake door in your product and see if people try to open it.  With web products – as Jess Lee points out – a fake door basically means you pretend a feature exists by serving up a button or an overlay, and then you see if anyone clicks on it.  Lots of clicks = build.  Not a lot of clicks = don’t waste your time (Jess has an awesome five minute presentation on fake doors and her learnings here).

The best part is that you’ll get actionable learnings fast.  The real question now is what will you do with all of the time you had blocked off to write survey questions and analyze the data?