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I wrote about this in The Overview #24 – don’t overestimate your customer’s maturity. A lot of people reached out sharing their experiences, so I thought would be good to cover in a bit more detail.

All too often, we imagine our customers to be so experienced and advanced that unless we keep building new bells-and-whistles, they won’t come or stay. But even the tallest, shiniest skyscrapers are built on solid foundations.

Your customer vision is not their reality

I bet that right now your product managers, sales reps, your CEO has a vision in mind of your customer.

In their mind, your customer is a Steve Jobs/Olivia Pope superhuman: revered, with thin-frame glasses that frame steely grey eyes, within which swells a unique outlook on life, the universe, and everything.

They’re smart. Passionate. Powerful. Full of wisdom, a guru in your industry. A savant, brought to earth by the corporate gods to disrupt processes, obliterate workflows, and bring about the second coming. They’re constantly assessing their options, with the power to to smite your company into obscurity at the slightest displeasure, or instill you upon a gold pedestal and bow to your greatness.

In reality, your customer probably cares about your product for… maybe 10 minutes a month? Probably much less.

They’re struggling to summon the energy today, let alone go the extra mile for just a pat on the back. They’ve got a busy family life, working from home isn’t the best setup for them, and while they want to do the best job they can… well, you know how it is. They’ve got a ton of responsibilities, they’re understaffed, and there’s a hundred other problems that they need to solve (or at least, decide to tackle later on).

Overestimating your customers is a big mistake

It’s easy to let your imagination run away from you, and you’ll build, position, market, and sell in ways that just don’t match what your customer wants, needs, or expects.

Overestimating customers starts internally, innocently enough.

Your PMM team pick up on one customer who, admittedly, may be more mature than the rest in your market. A sudden swell of forward-thinking innovation sweeps your product team into envisioning the future. A sales rep thinks they can impress a customer by promising a snazzy feature that doesn’t actually exist yet.

You’re at the intersection of your customer’s problem space and the cutting edge of technology. It’s only natural that you’ll begin to elevate your base, unwillingly.

What damage can it do? A lot.

Building the wrong features, lost sales opportunities, and confusion on customers wants contributes to the enemy of momentum: inertia.

Increased resistance and lack of velocity means things feel harder, stickier, more difficult. Motivations wear down, and a spiral of despair sets in.

Build a solid foundation

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we cannot rely on assumptions about our customers. There’s simply too much at stake – both lack of ROI on work invested, and missed opportunity costs.

We need accurately grok and iterate our understanding of:

Your understanding of these should power product strategy, positioning, the sales pitch, and everything else that your business does.

The artifacts you develop should be documented, revisited, questioned, and socialized at every opportunity. And that’s where the challenge lies – getting adequate buy-in on the legitimacy of the research, and ensuring it’s used to provide direction to everyday decisions.


Nothing important happens in the office.

Get out there, understand who your customers are, and what they really need. Come up with clever ideas, but validate them with your market first. Don’t position your product based on assumptionstest as much as you need.

Remember the momentum equation: focus + confidence = momentum.

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One Reply to “Don’t overestimate your customer”

  1. […] customer is coming from a slightly different starting point. We’ve already covered about how they are likely not as mature as you think they are, they have different motivations and […]

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