I've noticed that a number of innovators I've spoken with believe they are doing customer development just because they are speaking with the customers.

And while getting out of the building is important, customer development is much more than that. It is a four step process for building new corporate ventures and startups.

The Customer Development Model. Adapted from The Four Steps to the Epiphany.
The Customer Development Model. Adapted from The Four Steps to the Epiphany.

In The Four Steps to the Epiphany, Steve Blank explains the steps as:

  • Customer discovery first captures the founders’ vision and turns it into a series of business model hypotheses. Then it develops a plan to test customer reactions to those hypotheses and turn them into facts.
  • Customer validation tests whether the resulting business model is repeatable and scalable. If not, founders should return to customer discovery.
  • Customer creation is the start of execution. It builds end-user demand and drives it into the sales channel to scale the business.
  • Company building transitions the organization from a startup to a company focused on executing a validated model.

First two steps are all about search for the business model, while the second two are about execution of the business model proven in the preceding steps.

It's a great process, and is well worth the time. The original book has been reprinted in 2020, so why not grab a copy?