Stop: Ask the Customer

Your Success Depends On It


How many times do ideas get communicated to the marketplace without seriously engaging the potential customer in the process? It is more times than most would care to admit. Recent events reminded me of the immense value provided by stopping long enough to ask the customer.

Start the Dialog

There is clear benefit to taking the initiative and getting the dialog started at the earliest possible moment. I recently received a pivotal insight on a current project, that no one but a customer would have been able to articulate so effectively.

My Three Favorite Questions

In my business I talk with potential and/or actual customers early in the process in order to shape a companies positioning and messaging direction, and then again to gauge their react to the direction chosen, all before going public. I have found the following three questions most effective for “seeing” the company and its value from the customer’s perspective.

  1. How would you describe [company/product] to someone unfamiliar with the company and its products?
  2. What three words best describe the [company] “experience”? Which one is the most important and why?
  3. What should [company] be communicating in order to attract other customers like yourself?

This approach always delivers powerful insights while saving considerable time and money in the process.

Demonstrated At Milestone 9 Demo Day

As a mentor for 9Mile Labs, a B2B high-tech accelerator, I know that the program places a lot of emphasis on having the start-up companies engage in dialogs with potential customers. At the Demo Day event it was a pleasure to see how the man-hours of effort they spent on “asking the customer” resulted in the companies being able to articulate their mission and communicate their value proposition. Congratulations to all nine companies for their determination and growth.

Before a Single Line of Code Written

Driving this all home, was when successful entrepreneur, Sunny Gupta, co-founder, President and CEO of Apptio and keynote speaker at the Milestone 9 Demo Day, said that he engaged in deep dialog with twenty CIOs who were potential customers, before he wrote a single line of code. How often does that happen?

For Your Business

So stop long enough to ask yourself how a customer could be helping you solve the pressing issues you have on your “short-list”. Take the time to pick-up the phone, send an email, meet them for coffee, or design a survey to gather meaningful feedback. Your success depends on it.


I was honored to receive an award at the Milestone 9 Demo Day event. Thank you Cohort I companies and thank you 9Mile Labs for all you are doing for the start-up community.

9Mile labs

“Stop” image courtesy of Stuart Miles/


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