Not Everyone Is The Right Customer Ross | June 29th, 2011

A few days ago, Christian Jung, a designer and consultant from Germany wrote an interesting post – Goodbye Basecamp, This Is The End Of A True Love. My Heart Is Broken, explaining why he would no longer use Basecamp, popular project management software created by 37signals.

Christian decided that after six years, his needs changed and Basecamp was no longer the best solution for him.

Christian’s post prompted a spirited discussion on Hacker News – the discussion is worth a read. I was most intrigued by a comment posted by Jason Fried of 37signals:

For reference, here’s our original post on this very topic in June of 2006 when Basecamp was 2.5 years old. http://37signals.com/svn/archives2/growing_in_vs_growing_out…

Today Basecamp is 7 years old. Signups are stronger than ever.

Whenever we survey customers asking them what they love most about Basecamp, the top response by a mile is: it’s simple, easy, and their co-workers and clients actually use it. It’s not multiple choice either – the words “simple” “easy” “intuitive” show up more than any others in the open ended textarea.

We’ve made Basecamp a lot better over the years. Some people still ask for more. Others say it’s too complicated and they wish it was even simpler.

Software development is a challenge. Everyone wants something different. So you do what you can to thread the needle and make as many of the right customers as happy as possible. Not everyone is the right customer.

It sucks to lose a customer because we did something wrong, but it’s OK to lose a customer if we just aren’t the right fit anymore. People move on from all sorts of things. Clothes, houses, cars, jobs, relationships… Why not software? As circumstances change, one product may not fit someone forever. That’s OK as long as it fits plenty of other people at the same time.

Some customers stick with you forever. Others come and go. Many who go come back after trying other tools that promise them more but that no one actually used. In the end, the tool that actually gets used is the one that’s the right fit for someone. It’s really really hard to get people to actually use things.

We’ve found that the simplest stuff is what actually gets used. It’s why email is still the world’s most popular project management tool.

The temptation to accept any and all business, especially when a company is young, can be blinding. Many young companies have failed because they tried too hard to cater to the whims of a few customers.

Not everyone is the right customer.

Do you agree?


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  • Anonymous

    Great post Ross – I think you’re spot on. I know I’ve evolved from using certain products/services, especially offline ones. Do I really need a home phone anymore? No. Does that mean they did anything wrong with the product? No, it just means I grew out of that phase. It’s important to recognize that there might come a point in your customer’s lifecycle when they no longer need you, and it’s no fault of yours. 

  • http://www.netsprinter.com Lyena Solomon

    Good point indeed, Ross.  As a company, you have to consider your product as well.  If you are taking every customer you can find, your product or service evolves with the customers’ needs.  Before you know it, your product moved miles away from your vision. Adjustment takes time and resources.  Focus on your road ahead, pick the right customer, get the right feedback and realize your dreams.

  • Amir Homayoun Rafizadeh

    Love the title of your post and the actual subject is a really good one Ross. As you correctly point out, as business keeps changing and growing, so does its requirements. Smart business’s keep up with customer demand and needs. Not everyone is the right customer. I agree :)

  • Pingback: Weekly Small Business Roundup – July 8, 2011 | Circa Consulting LLC

  • Frank Sowa

    You said: “The temptation to accept any and all
    business, especially when a company is young, can be blinding. Many
    young companies have failed because they tried too hard to cater to the
    whims of a few customers.”

    I started my business 30-years ago. It is still operating today. I started it with $26 USD and an idea that companies were failing because they did not know how to ‘manage’ their strategies. I apparently was right. They didn’t.

    They didn’t see how everything is a system. To understand a system you need to focus on the relationships NOT the parts or “how you define the parts.” They did not see that for a strategy to work it MUST remain aligned with the system — thus it must use the advantage of understanding the relationships to “manage” (dynamically, not statically) the alignment of the strategy to the system. Systems change (even reverting back in the opposite direction for a time). Strategies, to remain aligned must change along with them, and as the person from 37signals said: “As circumstances change, one product may not fit someone forever.”

    In advising start-ups, I explain they need to understand the system, the relationships, and the dynamics (especially now as the velocity of change keeps increasing). The best way to do this is to identify six ‘dream’ customers and then go to them — not to sell your product, but to learn. If you can solve their problems with your start-up offering by giving them what they need and exceeding their expectations … then you should be able to establish a good customer base (at least three of the six should buy in — and that should be the minimal standard (the three-to-six dream customer buy-in) to show you are on your way). Once that is accomplished then you should increase sales by targeting up and down these dream customers sales and end user lines (as this builds the relationships and increases their and your viability).

    I am amazed that this simple approach misses the mark in so many business schools and in companies that provide business and/or operational development and planning support.

    Frank Sowa — Founder / CEO, The Xavier Group, Ltd.

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