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Why Senior Leaders Have To Make Time For Customers

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Seniors leaders typically have very little time to get out of the building and talk to customers. In this post we explain why it’s incredibly important for leadership to make time in their schedules for customer development when exploring new business ideas.

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Steve Blank, father of the Lean Startup movement, is famous for telling companies to get out of the building and to talk to customers. It’s how organizations can capture evidence to understand what customers really want.

We regularly talk about the importance of senior leadership supporting and guiding teams as they validate new business ideas. But senior leaders typically have very little time to get out of the building and interact with customers. In fact, they’re more likely to outsource the task and get someone else to do it. It’s a dangerous habit. You simply can’t hire an outside professional to test and learn from customer interactions when searching and validating new business ideas. You have to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work of getting to know your audience.

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It’s a big shift and enormous ask for incredibly busy people. But senior leaders have access to people who know the business. They probably have access to important customers who they should talk to regularly. Leaders may have a better understanding of how a specific industry works. This knowledge will be powerful as your team continues to validate and invalidate assumptions and ideas.

Of course, you’ll want a team of hands-on doers who can dig deeper where senior leadership cannot. This team will be agile and nimble, and they’ll be responsible for running experiments and analysing evidence. The team will be responsible for much of the ground work, but a leader has to be present throughout that process.  

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We’ve recently been helping a large global company who is reinventing a couple of business divisions. Some senior leaders who participated in our workshops and programs pointed out how busy they are, and how it would be hard to make time for customer interactions in their schedule. Isn’t designing a value proposition that customers want part of your agenda? Isn’t it part of your mandate to explore future growth engines that will reinvent your company’s business model? We stressed that leadership has to make time to get out of the building.

Leaders have to be more than just sponsors of new business ideas. They have to get out there and meet customers as well. Without this habit your team and new business ideas will not succeed. You’ll set yourself up for failure.

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