The importance of interacting with your customers should never be underestimated. It is from these discussions that you learn about your customers and shape the future of your product or innovation. This is one of the most valuable lessons we provide in the Pitt Ventures First Gear program. You must “get out of the building.”

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When you step out of the building to engage with your potential customer, it is likely that you will find there are several variations – or segements – of customers. You will learn through customer discovery that the various customer segments have different needs, and therefore, different expectations of your product and how they interact with it. Not all customers are the same. To ensure you have the right product-market fit, you need to define and understand your customer segments.

Customer segments address who your customers are and what job they want you to do for them. One product or technology can solve multiple problems for different segments of customers. Sometimes this requires slight modifications to your offering and other aspects of your business mode to address their needsl. To make sure you get it right, as well as to prioritize and target the “best” customers, you need to deeply understand each group of customers. Customer segmentation works in relationship with your value proposition to create product market fit in which what you’re building fits with who wants to buy it.

Customers are an ecosystem of people you need to understand, satisfy, and appeal to in order to get them to buy your product. You first hypothesize their problems, needs and motivations and then you test these assumptions through the course of customer discovery. It’s important to understand “A Day in the Life” of your customer, so you know exactly where your product fits in and the significance, or in some cases, insignificance of it, in their day to day lives.

Further defining your customer segments includes understanding the jobs (things they need to get done), problems, needs, gains, and pains of your individual customers relevant to the solution you are providing among each segment. At the individual level, these aspects all converge into the “persona” of the customer. Consider these four parts when constructing your customer personas:

1. Who are your customers? (position, title, age, sex, role)
2. How/where do your customers buy? (what is the path to purchase, customer journey?)
3. What matters to them? (what motivates them? what are their emotional triggers?)
4. Who influences your customers? (what do they read? who do they listen to?)

Once you understand more about your customer, list the functional, social, emotional, and basic jobs that your product gets done and rank them according to their significance to the customer. Then look at the gains and pains your product serves. Gains benefit the customers’ expectations and desires, for example by saving money or increasing quality. Customer pains are the undesired costs, situations, risks, and negative emotions that your product should be relieving.

By understanding your customer segments and persona’s, you can map them to your solution. This will help you to align and prioritize product features and target markets, as well as identify gaps in your product, or perhaps even customer segments that you should disregard. It may sound surprising, but part of the process of understanding your customers includes understanding which segments or personas are not the best fit.

If you are a Pitt researcher or student with an innovation you would like to take to market, or interested in customer discovery or commercialization, find out more about our First Gear program where you can prepare to take your innovation to market and recieve $3,000.