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8 Best Practices for Customer Development

You can't have a successful company without a great product, true. But if nobody buys that great product, consider yourself an epic failure.

Customers. You need them.

To ensure your product is always worthwhile and relevant, you must focus on customer development. There are hundreds of pieces of advice out there, but here we offer eight of the most essential tips that you can take to the bank.

1. Release Early and Often

You don't have to release the most full-bodied, feature-rich initial product. Getting out the most basic version of your product, followed by its subsequent iterations, is one of the most important methods of gaining traction early. As Rob May of Backupify said, "By releasing an early buggy minimum viable product, we got a pretty big lead on everyone else. Now we have a bunch of competitors, but with more than 60,000 users and 30 terabytes of data backed up, we are pretty far ahead in terms of traction."

2. Strong Social Media Presence

Facebook, and especially Twitter, gives your users unprecedented access to your company. And when they are happy, they can tell the world in an instant. A good example is the case of service-provider Suddenlink. The company had a very happy customer who was a powerful investor in Twitter. He tweeted his contentment with Suddenlink's product to his almost 1 million followers. Instant free advertising/positive feedback combo.

3. Maintain A Blog

While a strong social media presence will help you engage new users and quickly gain feedback, a blog allows you to be much more elaborate with your responses. Adding videos of your team in action, pictures of company events and insight into the inner workings of your company gives your product a personality which allows customers to engage more fully with you.

4. Respond Quickly To Feedback

If a segment of users have things to say about your product -- negative or positive -- let them. Especially on a public sphere like the Internet. Always choose to engage in any conversations about your product. If someone has a complaint or a compliment, make sure they know you're listening.

5. Dedicated Customer Support

Engaging with your users isn't a part-time job. And no, you can't simply add it to somebody else's to-do list. A specialist must be hired in order to fully engage with your users. If you're not prepared to go all out in user engagement, then don't bother trying. It's all or nothing here. Nothing repels customers like being ignored.

6. Follow Up With Your Disengaged Users

Once users begin using your product, it's inevitable that some won't find it useful and will leave. This is a valuable opportunity for you. Send a service cancellation survey to those who are leaving the fold. Find out why they're leaving, ask them for feedback and even offer some incentives for them to come back. Learning why they are dissatisfied as your customer will help you create a better product and in turn attract more customers.

7. Be Transparent With Your Failures

One of the biggest cases of failed customer development was when computer maker Dell openly ignored legions of unhappy users who were publicly bashing its product. Dell thought the problem would simply go away, but the negative feedback kept rolling in. Eventually, Dell completely revamped its strategy by quickly responding to customer feedback, offering solutions and creating a strong community presence. The Internet community praised Dell for its efforts.

8. Get Creative

Don't just copy your competitors when trying to engage your customers. Find something new that will make make your users sit up and raise their eyebrows. Get people talking. Clever marketing, especially when it goes viral, gets the buzz going about your product in a way that was hardly possible pre-internet.

Your company is only as good as your customers say you are. Take the time to internalize these best practices in your own customer development, and you'll find yourself drawing even more customers. After all, everybody wants to be around a winner.