That was what the ghostly voice told Kevin Costner in the inspirational baseball fantasy ‘Field Of Dreams’. It works in the movie but the surprising thing, as Steve Blank points out in his book ‘The Four Steps To Epiphany’, is that many companies operate under this very belief.
Companies have various methods for developing new products but often the last people who are considered in this process are those who matter most: the customers. In too many companies, the voice of the customer is refracted through someone with a vested interest - typically the sales or marketing director - and, for everyone else involved in product development, the success or failure of a product seems entirely mysterious. As one engineer who bought this book put it, if a product didn't succeed we just tried again.
Blank suggests that companies stop focusing purely on product development and think about customer development. What does he mean by this? For a start, he means get out and engage with customers, arguing that: "Inside your building there are no facts, only opinions." Listening to customers isn't the same as making a list of what each one wants and then trying to tick them off but it should give you a clearer idea of whether your views about your products and services are realistic or delusional. It's much cheaper to find this out before you launch something than afterwards.
Managed properly, this process can encourage your staff to see customers more clearly. Too many managing directors curse employees for not understanding the marketplace while doing their utmost to prevent their staff from interacting with customers. Sometimes, this reaction is driven by fear - what if they say something inappropriate? - but too many organisations just fail to make time for this crucial activity.
Blank's book is turgidly written at times but it is essential reading for anyone running a business who isn't sure why product a worked and product b didn't. In other words, for almost anyone who is running a business.