While waiting for a plane in Frankfurt, Germany last week, I noticed the following advertisement. With my copy of Eric Ries' book The Lean Startup in one hand, I snapped this photo with the other:
In his book, Eric spends a lot of time trying to convince entrepreneurs and founders of startups to get out of the office and get real feedback about what needs your customers have and what they would be willing to pay to solve them. But this is where many fail to really understand the message.
You see, most interpret this concept of "talk to customers" as a dialogue wherein the customer is asked what they need and what they like. But this causes a huge problem, primarily because the customer is not an expert in the area where they have pain and they are far from qualified to address exactly what they need.
So, this concept of getting out of the office is more about understanding customers, hearing what their challenges are, and deciphering what the root causes of those challenges are. As noted in the picture above, you want your customers to have a sense that you 'get' their problems and that you know how to help them. The way to achieve that is full of skillful question-asking and careful, attentive listening.