Go on a Safari: Get to Know your Customer

 Go on a Safari: Get to Know your Customer

A business model can only be successful if your value proposition matches the needs of your customer. It is therefore essential to really know your customer. You need to identify your customer’s ‘job to be done’. How? Go on a Customer Safari to get deep customer insights, instead of doing traditional market research.

Get out of the building

According to Steve Blank and others you should go out of the building to interact with your customers directly. Steve calls this customer discovery and customer validation. Getting out of the building is an absolute must for startups and corporates who want to develop profitable, repeatable and scalable business models.

Safari for discovering customer needs

A few weeks ago, we supported one of our clients on their journey outside of their building. Our client is in the construction and building industry and needs to better understand the (unmet) needs of three different customer segments. Together with them, we designed a 3-day safari.

A safari is about observing animals customers in their natural environment. During our safari we visited several customers at their working sites to observe what job they were trying to get done. In addition, we interviewed them to get a deeper understanding of what we observed. The goal of the safari was all about learning from the customer directly through looking at and investigating facts.

The results

A safari is successful if you are able to validate your thinking about your customers. After the 3-day Safari, our client had a much deeper fact-based understanding of the needs of their customers. Our client was able to validate quite some assumptions about their customer’s needs and jobs to be done. For instance, they found out that their customers do not have strict deadlines for finishing their construction projects and labor costs are quite low. So, innovative yet more expensive products that enable installers to work faster are not relevant to their customers. These insights have been used to design better and more relevant value propositions.

Do not go on a safari unprepared!

In order to get the most out of a Customer Safari, you need to spend significant time on:

  • Preparation: set goals and rules for effective learning from observations. Arrange meetings with customers and inform them about the purpose of your visit. Have a clear understanding of the assumptions you want to validate.
  • The safari itself: take a few days off your actual work to do the customer visits. Be open minded and willing to learn. Don’t judge or give advise, just observe and ask questions. Also bring a camera, a notebook and pen to record your observations in video, pictures and text.
  • Reflection: think about what you learned from the observations and interviews. Which assumptions were valid? What assumptions turned out wrong? What else did you learn from customers? And what does this mean for your current business model and the design of business model options for the future?

Are you ready to learn directly from your customers?

Developing new products, services and business models is not easy. Product development depends too much on traditional market research, and building and polishing features of the product or service. Your first priority as an entrepreneur or intrapreneur is to find out what the problem worth solving is based on the needs from real customers. So, invest your time in a safari to find out what customers really need upfront. This is much better than investing your time, money and energy in building a product or service that customers don’t need.

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 Roland Wijnen



Strategy Designer at HQ Amsterdam. Helps organizations innovate their business model.

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