Many people in the tech entrepreneurship community, particularly in Silicon Valley, already know about and follow Steve Blank. But many in the enterprise solutions arena may not, even though you have likely heard of one of his home runs as a serial entrepreneur, Epiphany, Inc. This was an enterprise software company that saw its heyday during the dot com boom. Its success ensured that Steve will never have to worry about paying the mortgage. I’ve come to know Steve through our mutual involvement in the Stanford Technology Ventures Program.
Over the years, Steve developed some observations about the differences between product development and sales at a startup vs. an established company. He developed a methodology around this called Customer Development and began to teach it as a class at UC Berkeley. He eventually wrote his class notes up as a book in The Four Steps to the Epiphany. Most recently, he has teamed with Eric Ries, a former student, to promote the Lean Startup movement, which incorporates much of Steve’s customer development methodology. In fact, here is a quick overview of the methodology in Eric’s blog. A key component of the methodology in developing a new offering is to iterate in conjunction with conversations with prospective customers. Also, think of the development stage as a search. And know that it’s going to be a little sloppy and seemingly inefficient.
What does this have to do with enterprise solutions sales and marketing, you ask? Lots. Working with a large solution provider and trying to package and take to market an innovative, complex offering a few years ago, I realized that the same, seemingly sloppy and iterative process we were going through mirrored what Steve advocates in his methodology. There were people in the company who were uncomfortable with what they perceived as inefficiency, but only because they were unfamiliar with the Customer Development methodology.
At the high end – with complex business solutions aimed at senior executives – often you are offering something quite new to the market. You are trying to lead companies into new ways of doing things that address not only their immediate business issues but prepare them for the future. These solutions are often quite innovative and new, even within your own company. In other words, the conditions, both internally and externally, are similar to those of many startups. So we have a lot to learn from what makes startups sink or swim.
Here is an 8-minute snippet of Steve talking about why he saw a need for the Customer Development methodology and providing an overview.
To go deeper, here is a 20-minute mini-lecture.
If you are in sales management, solution or product development, or marketing, I do recommend that you learn about his methodology and subscribe to his blog. You may also want to read the book.