The New Era of Customer Development

By July 3, 2015 March 19th, 2019 Evolve Insights

As it appeared in the daily nation of June 16th 2015

Lucy Kiruthu

I once took up a sales role. Like many in sales, I was expected to close deals and bring in the business.  However, unlike many sales people, I had the luxury of picking a title which I was most comfortable with. The title I choose was rather unusual; I opted for Customer Development Director. Initially there was the proposal to consider Business Development but I did not find it fitting and neither did sales and marketing director interest me. But what exactly is customer development? Could it be akin to conversion, to sales or even to business development?

Recently, I came across Steve Blank a key proponent of customer development. Steve a serial entrepreneur in Silicon Valley and an entrepreneurship professor at Stanford University looks at customer development as the process that start-ups should adopt in building their business. He proposes the lean start-up model and says that entrepreneurs must get out of the building and talk to real customers before developing a minimum viable product. Once the customers have accepted the product, only then can one build a business he says. The lean start-up model by Steve which revolves around customer development is acclaimed by many as a good option to avert start-up failures though criticised because it rubbishes business planning and execution.

Unlike Steve who focuses on customer development from a lean start-up model, I view customer development as critical to the growth of both new and established business. I consider it as a process that starts with knowing your customers’ needs and expectations. What they like and what they do not like and why. In addition, the business becomes genuinely interested in addressing these needs. I believe that a business is able to come up with the right solutions to address customer needs by listening more to its customers; only by so doing does it develop a strong customer base. At the core of success in sales, conversion, marketing and business development is a commitment to develop the customer and grow with the customer.

When I look back, the customer development title interested me the most for several reasons. First I consider businesses to have one major goal, to develop customers whether new or existing. It is no longer just about making a sale, it is about developing a loyal customer. In addition, the life-time value of a customer is of utmost importance to forward looking companies. Sometimes sales can be seen as a hit and run but incorporating customer development helps look at the customer beyond the sale. A customer’s life time value is hefty. Finally, every smart company has a lot to learn from its customers. Smart companies work closely with their customers and continually learn from them.

I believe that we are now living in the new era of customer development. It is no longer about closing deal or developing a product. Today, many smart companies see the customer beyond the sale. They see their customers as part and parcel of their existence. Though the title may not really matter in getting the job done, I believe customer development is the way to go. It is more inspirational. The next time you are recruiting for a sales, marketing or business development position why not consider rebranding it to customer development?

Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on or via twitter @kiruthulucy

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