The notion of building and selling a product before identifying the customer who ultimately needs and uses it is not new. In fact, it is how most products and services have been created in the last 100 years. However, with an increasingly competitive landscape, coupled with the increased availability of data on what customers think and do, more companies are shifting their mindset to put customers at the center of everything they do.
Product-Centric vs. Customer-Centric organizations.
Product-centric organizations are focused on building products, whereas customer-centric organizations focus on building products for customers. In a product-first culture, internal needs take precedence over external ones. Customer-first cultures are more concerned about the needs and wants of their customers above all else: what they want, who they serve, and how they're going to get it done.
It's quite common for relatively small product companies to have a "product first" culture, which means that the customer is secondary to the internal needs of the company (eg. they want to build a specific product, regardless of what customers 'truly' need).
It isn't always a bad thing. In fact, it's often necessary when you're building something new or trying to create something that no one has ever seen before. But for this approach to work well over time and scale at high levels, you have to ensure that your culture is aligned around making your customers happy.
Usually, this happens when an engineering team solves a problem so well that word spreads, and people start paying for it. In other words, it's been pushed out ("product-first") rather than waiting for customers specifically ask for it ("customer-first").
A product-first culture looks like this:
- Customers aren't the primary focus of your organization. Instead, internal needs are your priority.
- The organization is built around products or services first and foremost, with customers coming second.
At some point, you often shift from a "product first" to a "customer first" culture.
When you're a "product first" organization, you're typically focused on creating the best possible solution. In this scenario, it doesn't matter who does or doesn't love your product—you just want to make sure that it's as good as it can be.
A "customer first" culture is often seen in more mature companies that have already created their products and are now trying to sell them to customers. The focus shifts from being innovative and passionate about products to understanding how your customers will use them and what they need from them—and how you can make money by giving them those things. A customer-centric company puts its resources toward helping people who buy its products become successful using them. In turn, these customers become advocates for those products within their networks of friends, family members, etc.
The question for many companies is, how do you achieve this?
It begins with your customers. By focusing on your customers' needs, you're able to build a product that they love, which will, in turn, keep them coming back. So, if you have customers bringing in revenue, you need to ensure they have a voice inside the company. This should be done by having customer advocates within each department at an organization like yours. They can then share what they learn with stakeholders outside of customer support so that everyone understands how things impact real people outside their bubble.
Secondly, there needs to be an overall culture shift toward thinking about people rather than products or profits - which means making every decision based on whether or not it will benefit customers first and foremost; even if it means losing money initially but gaining more loyal users later on down the line!
If your company sells a high-tech product, then you need a clear idea of what people need this technology for. You should know why they're buying it, what their pain point is, and how much money they're willing to spend solving that problem.
Ensure that your product team is working with users and customers and engaging them directly, rather than having engineers build a product first. It will give you an understanding of what they need so that you can create something they'll use instead of guessing at how it might work in the market or going through expensive cycles of trial and error.