When somebody tells me they’re product-driven, I generally believe them, but when somebody tells me they’re customer-driven, I assume they’re lying. And usually in the most dangerous way — to themselves. I’ve made no secret of my strongly partisan belief that being product-driven is a far superior stance than being customer-driven, but I’ve never properly unpacked why I think that. Here’s the main reason:
To be product-driven you merely have to be a talented person in a specific narrow and easily testable way. But to be genuinely customer-driven, you have to be a better person in a hard-to-test way.
Add to that my priors that talent is common, but genuine good character is rare, and you’ll understand why I have the bias I do. This bias extends to myself. I trust my product-driven impulses far more than my customer-driven impulses. I’m just not a good enough person to be properly customer-driven. So if you claim to be customer-driven, you’re essentially claiming to be a better human than me, and I’m going to evaluate the claim with extreme prejudice. I’m going to look for bad faith in your stated motives and visible behaviors with a microscope.
This does not mean you should not think about customers and users. That can’t actually be helped. When you think about a solution or product, you cannot avoid having thoughts about the people who might be buying or using it. But you must develop a skeptical self-awareness around what those thoughts mean because they will invariably be self-serving in ways you’re probably blind to. In other words, you must know what you talk about when you talk about “customers” and “users”. To that end, let me offer you my hierarchy of customer-relationship mental models.