SuperMac War Story 3: Customer Insight Is Everyone’s Job

After my first month we knew a lot, we knew more about our customers than anyone in the company.  In this one month we had learned more about desktop publishing on the Mac than any one of our competitors.  Now the question was what to do with it.  First I need to make sure what we really learned was information we could base a company strategy on. 74HGZA3MZ6SV

Our first question was, did the total number of customers that had already bought products from our competitors and us represent a saturated market or the tip of the iceberg?  In other words what was the Total Available Market (TAM) and how much of the market had been already served?  Since our competitors were also small privately held companies, none of their data was readily available.

But we knew something they didn’t; the total available market for color graphics boards was measurable by looking at an adjacent market, the color desktop publishing software market.  As it happened there were quite a few industry analysts following software companies like Adobe, Aldus, and Quark, who happened to be the suppliers of the four key applications our customers said they used.  These analysts not only told us that the market had plenty of room to grow, they took an interest in us, since we were going to be a hardware company going after this growing market.

Since I was heading a marketing department, not acting as an individual contributor, I needed to teach all of marketing the importance of customer data.  First, I presented what I had learned.  You could sense the skepticism in my staff meeting as I described what I found.  But no one was prepared when I said, “These facts are now old, but since we are going to be changing customer perceptions we need to get new customer data weekly.  All of you are now part of the customer discovery collection team.”  Then I handed out the questionnaire to all of marketing and made two customer calls a week mandatory for everyone, including my secretary.  At first people couldn’t believe they were actually going to have to call a customer.  Some took cajoling to make the calls, other took me sitting by their elbow, but eventually everyone started dialing.  The first part of my weekly department staff meeting was dedicated to hearing everyone going around the room and talking about their customers.

Within a month the change inside the marketing department was palpable.  Customers were no longer some theoretical entities that existed only in data sheets, they were real people you talked to, understood, and connected with.  Soon marketing was talking about the needs of our customers with first-hand knowledge, passion, and conviction.  And without knowing it, the quality of marketing department’s work changed.  Instead of spec’s and technical features, our literature and interaction with customers shifted to how we could solve their problems.

Within a year we had called over 1,000 customers, and every year after that another 1,000.  Marketing, which had been unsure or unaware of what their jobs, were now had weekly reinforcement of who they were selling to and became a formidable force in the Macintosh graphics market.

Now we could execute a relentless come-from-behind strategy off of the information we had learned and discovered from our customers.  Now what was the strategy?

What did I learn so far?

  • Facts are the rock on which you build your strategy and tactics
  • In a startup second-hand facts are almost as useless as opinions.  Decision makers need to hear the facts first hand

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12 Responses

  1. Interesting and insightful… When is the next part coming out? And why have you split this into so many parts? Would love to read that whole thing at one go….

  2. Great stuff! I read all your posts today and can’t wait for the next one. It is pity that I can’t get hold of your book because it’s not available in a local bookstore (in the Philippines).

  3. I’m really impressed with your stories – in fact, that’s what I like about this blog the most, you’re writing stories.

    I’ve never said this before on a blog, but I can’t wait for your next post.

  4. Hi Steve,
    Thanks a lot for these articles. I particularly liked the simple idea of “everyone going to call customers twice a week”. The “what did I learn so far” is also a valuable summary.

  5. these stories really livened up the whole concept of “customer discovery” for me..

    i have your book, but stopped at the 4th chapter.. am going to learn from marc andressen and either finish it or absorb it thru osmosis by putting it under my pillow.. :)

    looking fwd to more of such stories on this blog =D

  6. Great story! It reminded me of “earlier days”, when I was just starting out in running business operations for startups. I had two mentors with impressive backgrounds hammering into my barely 20-something head full of ego and visions of grandeur that I must always have dirt under my nails or I will fail. As I have progressed in my career, I have realize how right they were. Nothing replaces first-hand experience, first-hand facts, and being in touch with what your internal and external customer wants. At the end of the day, they do pay your bills.
    I wrote an article on this subject on my blog: http://leanstartups.com/2009/03/want-to-be-great-ceo-get-your-nose-in-it.html
    Would love to hear your feedback.

  7. Not that I’m impressed a lot, but this is a lot more than I expected when I found a link on SU telling that the info here is awesome. Thanks.

  8. Cool. Thanks for the link. $7 shipping is not too bad.

  9. Hi Steve,

    Memory Lane! I do remember that those customer questioneers were our ticket to the weekly staff meeting ;) Hope you are doing well, I’m moving back to the Bay Area with my kids this summer, would love to catch up.

    Best, Claire

  10. I love your blog! I’ve learned so much! Thanks for sharing!

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