Obsessing over Customers and Competitors

When going out to validate your startup’s prospects and product market fit, you will inevitably hear the question;

“What about Google or Amazon? Don’t they do this already or build it when they want to?”

It’s a pertinent question and one you should expect to hear from potential investors as well. The questions come at you harder and faster as the space you build in gets hotter. For us in the voice space we’re feeling the heat. Around the Verbz kitchen table, we’ve discussed repeatedly how to not only answer this thoughtfully but live up to the position we choose to take.

Jeff Bezo’s insightful annual Amazon shareholder letters hammer home their obsession with Customer focus. In his 2016 letter he wrote;

“There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach, but here’s the big one: customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf.”

At risk of geeking out on the Amazon letters; if you word searched through all the 23 annual letters, you’d find the word “Customer” comes up more often than any other term, including “Amazon” itself. Customer focus is no doubt working for Amazon.

We’re building Verbz to solve our own pain points so in many ways, we’re the Customer. By being focused on building customer value in the product we hope to give users a reason to engage, return and refer. We know we can improve our user experience and work hard to smooth off any rough edges as we discover them. That discovery process comes out of customer feedback so having an open culture of support and responsive channels for customers to easily reach you are important. Talking to customers and those fitting our buyer personae have given us some of the best insights on functionality and user experience. Even when we decide to disregard the feedback, gathering customer intelligence influences how we think about our design roadmap.

Focusing on our team as Customers is a great way to keep them engaged and aligned which in the end will lead to better service for all our users. Each business is on its own track and focusing on a competitor’s distracts you from delivering on your own. So our focus is always to act on what we can control and whilst mindful of competitors, we’re not wasting time fretting about things out of our control.

Neel Desai’s 2018 survey confirms the benefits in terms of NPS as compared to product teams focused on competitors;

The same survey reveals some benefit to having competitor focus such as comparison pages which assist the buyer in their due diligence stage to make a decision to purchase;

I suspect all entrepreneurs are competitive in some way and it’s easy to allow competitive instincts influence how we operate. Rather than worry over a competitor’s latest press release, we try to take it onboard our decision making on how we can improve on our own ability to better delight our customers. Our monitoring of the competitive landscape focuses on understanding their value propositions so we may concentrate on our own and work on improving what matters to our customers.

Unlike competitive sports or wars; building a successful business within a vertical is not a zero sum game. New entrants and features can expand the market as much as it gives the innovator a transient competitive advantage. When large incumbents enter a market, their efforts bring a lot of attention to the sector which floats that market as a whole. Their products tend to target a large segment of users to be a viable exercise which leaves other segments underserved. These underserved buyers with specific needs and desires are waiting to be catered for.

In the voice space we’re in; Google and Amazon’s push into the smart speaker market has brought voice into the mainstream and expanded the addressable market of users as much as it has worried potential investors on Verbz being crushed in their path. I’ll leave how to respond to investor questions for another post.

Summary

So this is how we stay focused on our Customers rather than obsessing about competition;

Stay true to your Vision

Your startup was born out of pain points identified by you and your team. Building to solve those challenges in ways that delight your customers should be a far more compelling factor to your strategic plan than tracking competitors and their features.

Know your Customer and Talk to them

We started building Verbz to solve our own pain during days of back to back meetings. We’ve spent hundreds of hours discussing our vision and strategy with potential customers. Indeed our product roadmap is influenced by the insights gained from these customer interviews. Keeping our customers close and being open with them continues to be inspirational.

Anticipate future needs and desires

As much as being competitor focused is like predicting the road ahead by peering into the rearview mirror; customer obsessed strategy requires staring as far ahead along the road as we can. A deep understanding of the evolving market and customer challenges is essential to develop our product to anticipate our customers’ future demands.

This sort of foresight analytics is akin to following your intuitions whilst in tune with the macroeconomic conditions of your sector. Look for trends in the customer feedback and industry data you collect. Listen and engage with your customers as well as key influencers in the sector not just to be a trend follower but to predict where the trends will go. Being a thought leader and innovator means to be willing to experiment and prepared to pivot.

Do you obsess over your customers or your competitors?

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