what is customer development


In online marketing terms, 2014 is the time of  engagement and interaction, largely as a result of  the growth of mobile  social networking.  As a result, customer relationships and development have become a vital part of any contemporary marketing campaign. However, what many modern marketers mean by customer development is significantly different to the conventional view of this concept in business.

Conventionally, customer development is a term that was coined to refer to the way that the entrepreneur  develops products  and services that the customer would need and desire. Customer development  was focused on researching and  finding out what customers want or need and then developing  products to suit those needs. it is seen as the “… practice of gaining customer insights to generate, test, and optimize ideas for products and services through interviews and structured experiments. Customer development is used to help build products that customers want and avoid spending time and money on products customers don’t want. ” . (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-b-fishbein/what-is-customer-developm_b_4259917.html)

The old view of customer development was all about increasing sales – the new view is about creating relationships and trust.

The modern idea of customer development  includes the above view but  is much more open, interactive  and holistic. The contemporary online marketer sees customer development as the process of helping the customer to develop and grow their business or interests. In other words, to help the customer to meet  his or her goals online. This is a  significant move away from sales and profit as the central and  determining factor to a view that emphasizes relationship building, trust and authority. For example, if a customer at Imaginet wants to create a viable and lucrative website for his business or product, we would help him  to develop and execute his  vision and ideas. This is achieved by providing all the necessary tools  – ADSL hosting, web design  and search engine optimisation, social media management  etc. – so that the customer begins to develop and grow within a process of interaction and the sharing of ideas.

Of course the sales of products and services is essential but the emphasis shifts to helping the customer to develop his ideals and aspirations in an interactive and ongoing way. In this sense, customer development is closer to the concept of customer care and has a strong educative component.  There is a genuine interest  for the customer’s needs and goals,  which can include instruction and guidance,  as well as providing the necessary tools.

Whereas the old view of customer development  was finding out how to sell to the customer – which was essentially a one way process aimed at immediate profit only – the contemporary view of customer development is a two way developmental and customized process that  has at its centre the ideal of creating relationships of trust, rather than just enticing the customer to buy a certain product. Once these relationships are established the word gets out and profit motive looks after itself.

Customer development and the ethos of the new SEO

There are certain advantages to this view in terms of search engine optimization and ranking. It has a beneficial effect in terms of SEO and follows new trends in search which places emphasis on value and relationship building.  Google  has changed the search engine landscape over the past year and is giving preference to those sites that provide value and informational content to the user.  In fact relationship building, trust and authority are the new criteria of importance in SEO. As a number of experts like David Amerland have stated, there is a return to the “town square”or more intimate ways of doing business on the internet -and this ethos is reflected in the outgoing and relationship based view of customer development.

So, what does this mean for modern online marketing.  It means that in order to get sales one  has to give value and provide trust. More importantly, the old view where profit and sales were the only  imperative has been superseded by a more intimate and trust based mode of customer interaction.


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