The hottest, most overused phrase in the tech world today? "Lean startup methodology."
Eric Ries coined the phrase, which describes the usage of free and open source software, agile software development method and rapid, customer-centric iteration. The mojo behind Ries' phrase is constant evolution; never be stagnate because there's always something to work on. One of the best ways to find out when and how to change your products is from your existing, exiting and potential customers.
Getting your customers involved with your development process through survey feedback is one of the best ways to begin changing your company for the better.
Customer feedback will help shape the direction your company takes and hack off the parts of your development cycles that are unnecessary. There are a few optimal times to get feedback from your customer base: when you're initially rolling out your product, when you make changes in your product and when your customers are leaving.
Finding the Right Users
You can't just survey anyone for your potential product because you need relevant users. Start creating a voice for your company. Get a splash page, an active blog and a social media stream going. This will begin to attract people to your company, which in turn will help you lure new users.
If you want to go outside the people already attracted to you, websites like Topsy and Wefollow will help you find people in the social media sphere. Or you can manually search through Google and Yahoo groups to find specialized niches. Sending the most appropriate groups your initial surveys is the best way to get quality feedback on your idea.
Getting the Right Data
Once your idea is built and has some users interacting with your product, your job has really begun.
Steve Blank is one of the biggest advocates of constant customer interaction, wherein he advocates the usage analytics tools like Chartbeat, Google Analytics and Clicky in conjunction with customer feedback (through surveys, A/B pages etc.) to target specific demographics of users.
For example, the folks at About.me wanted to gather data about what users used their profiles for. The feedback dialog box only popped up for users who had been on their “edit profile” page for over 20 seconds and had logged in to their account at least twice. This made sure the company targeted the more serious users, which gave it a plethora of feedback. It found out its users were using its product in a slightly different way than it had intended, which helped the company shape its future development initiatives.
Targeted user questioning should be a constant throughout your business. Whenever a change is made or there's a question about a current piece of your application, make sure to get feedback.
Making the Best of a Bad Situation
The “final point” of customer development is when your customers are dissatisfied, and especially when they're leaving. If you notice a new feature failing, ask those users what they didn't like about that feature set. If users are not logging into their account after a prolonged period of time or have decided to deactivate their account, ask them why and try to find out ways that you can improve upon your product.
Brant Cooper, serial entrepreneur and product development specialist, recommends “flipping the funnel” which means finding new prospects and leads from your customers instead of the reverse pattern. Look to your dissatisfied customers for new ideas since the'll be very vocal about why they're disgruntled and will be able to provide some good data.
Ultimately, there is no real final stage in data gathering. The rule of thumb is to always gather data in whatever form you can.