This guest post comes from Charles Obinna Onwugbene of Charles is a small business owner and registered civil engineer, specifying the right class of American porcelain tiles for projects.

New businesses decide what road to take when they begin. Many businesses look for the easy road and invariably end up not achieving success because the best road to starting a business is like the narrow road that leads to a happy life… and those who find it are few.

Most businesses believe if they can develop or market a superior product by describing its numerous benefits and features, the road to success is around the corner. This is true only if the business owner fully understand its competitors and customers.

Ironically, most businesses seek to develop and market products by describing the advantages they have over competitive products, with their sole strategy being to beat their current competitors. Pretty much all products that enter the market follow a standard rollout model.

The model entails four stages:

  • (a) Concept,
  • (b) Product development,
  • (c) Testing, and
  • (d) Product launch

Asking what is wrong with this model seems as heretical as asking ‘’what’s wrong with fish staying out of water?” The answer lies in countless businesses that have failed with this approach.

The flaw in this model lies in a simple question…where is the customer?

In a market where an existing products has a strong hold, developing a superior product without customer feedback is a fundamental flaw that leads to the road that is wide and broad, which eventually leads to destruction. To develop a new product, and market it successfully in a market where an existing product reins supreme, customer involvement must take precedence.

The customer development model entails:

  1. Customer Awareness
  2. Customer Validation
  3. Customer Building
  4. Company Building

For a new product to gain a market share and be adopted, a process for discovering the market needs, locating the customer and validating any assumptions must be designed.

The following overview will get you started in this design process.

(1) Customer Awareness

The primary aim of connecting with potential customers is to find out if your new product can satisfy their most important needs. This involves validating the value proposition of your business. Does your product provide value to the customer? This is not about guess work, this process takes place “outside the office” in order for you to learn what your customers’ problems are and if your new product solves these problems.

This also gives you an idea of who your customers and users are. If you told porcelain tiles this might be engineers, home owners, architects, builders, contractors, hotels, real estate developers, etc.

(2) Customer Validation

This is key to understanding if the rate of adoption of your new product will be fast and eventually replace the existing leading product. The goal of customer validation is to build a repeatable sales road map for the sales and marketing of your product. This process, if successful, proves you have found a set of customers and a market that responds positively to your product.

The customer awareness and customer validation process corroborate your business model. Successfully completing these two processes (customer awareness and validation) verifies your market, identifies your customers, tests the perceived value of your product, and identifies its commercial buyers.

This is the tipping point in most businesses. In this process, if you cannot find a group of customers with a repeatable sales process, you do not move on to the next step.

(3) Customer Building

This is a unique process, as most businesses are not all alike. Some businesses enter existing markets well-defined by their competitors, some create blue ocean markets (markets where no such product exist) and some attempt a hybrid of these two. Each of these market types requires a distinct strategy of customer building activity.

(4) Company Building

Customer building is where the company transitions from its informal learning into formal departments of sales, marketing and business development. These departments now focus on building teams with a mission, harnessing the company’s early market success.

This process of customer development design should take precedence over the product development model as all businesses and products exist because there is a customer.

Attempting to go into the reverse direction is the flaw that leads to most businesses to failure. The rate of adoption of any new product will be speedy and successful if that product can meet the most most urgent needs of the customers.