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Best practices in customer research

Entrepreneurs from the University of Twente share their best practices in customer research.
How we find what our customers want? we first made assumptions. We didn’t know what our customers want. And we just dive to them, made a list of companies based on assumptions we had, and dive to the market and just talk to people. And that’s how we learn what they need. So. OK. Best practises in customer research– one can be how to contact companies– so a couple of tips here. If you want to contact mid- and small sized company, best contact person is VP of Sales Strategy.
These people usually have strategic thinking and are always open to new opportunities, while if you are talking to a big corporation– like DuPont, BSF, McDonalds, you name it– the best approach is to contact, first, venture group of that company. These companies have special units, who work with startups, which are aligned with their strategic planning. If there is alignment they invest to you, they help you to scale, and, one, maybe they buy you out. What is the most surprising finding? I was from customer research. I understood the hard way that what you think, it is not always so easy. I mean, it is not always true, meaning that you assume that you can add value, for example, to textile.
And then you go and understand that. So you might add value in certain parameters. What we learned that are usually several parameters, not one parameter. So if, for example, you might increase fire retardancy, but you also have to have tensile strength. If you don’t meet tensile strength requirement, having fire retardancy even superior to what there is in the market doesn’t matter. So we learn that there’s not only one parameter which mattered. There were a couple. We segmented the market straight from the beginning. It was very clear that there were different types of markets with different types of problems that could be surfaced with the same type of solution that we provide.
But an airport is not the same as an oil and gas field. It is not the same as a high value agricultural field. They experience their problems very differently. The business case actually works completely differently from all these examples. And we had to figure out which ones to focus on first which ones were attractive at first, which ones would become attractive later, and learn along the way. We thought that the airports would be the most important or most attractive market from the beginning. Again, we were wrong. The airport’s only now start to become attractive because they need so much proof that what we do works.
And we needed to influence the regulations in such an extensive way that we learned from that and segmented it in a different way. What I could share that I think is very important in customer research is, essentially, to be open-minded, transparent, and to be yourself. If you are on the table with a customer and you are yourself and you are modest about things and you accept criticism, then you go a long way with customers. Then you can get answers that are really, really important. And you can reflect that onto the work that you deliver at the end.
We evaluated our business idea by talking to some experts for example, in the markets of business development, strategy forming and so, also some regional partners that had many ideas and experience with the market itself. And we let our business idea for them out, and talked about them about the feasibility of the business idea and if they thought that our idea was commercially valuable. Well, early customer engagement is of critical importance for getting early validation and gain customer traction. Although it’s tempting to present a complete working product, in my opinion, it’s better to test a minimal viable product that shouldn’t be complete yet but at least proves the principle.
Often, founders put a lot of effort into developing something that they think customers want based on efficient value and use but without testing it in the real world without real people in a very early stage. As a result, these founders come up with almost finished product that cannot be adjusted to customer needs or notice that they already spent most of their budget forgetting the need for efficiency. However, even having a product that customers love doesn’t mean you’ll be successful. You need to thoroughly think about developing a viable business model and building a market, too, at the same time.

In this video, the University of Twente entrepreneurs share their best practices in customer research.

Early engagement of customers and having an open mindset is important to identify customer and user needs and the tradeoffs that they make. In Business-to-Business markets, different points of contact apply.

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