To Understand Your Customers Better, Eat Your Own Dog Food

For a long time in the software development world, there was a phrase “eat your own dog food”. It was a colloquialism that described a company using its own products or services for its internal operations. The term is believed to have originated with Microsoft in the 1980s.

Small businesses often serve businesses that are much larger than their own, so the products and services they provide are difficult to consume internally. Yet, to the extent it can be done, any given business should “walk the talk” and “eat its’ own dog food”.

When you force your own company to consume your own product or service, you give yourself the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be at the other end of a transaction with your own company. This type of experiential insight can be invaluable to improving your company. For example, I was with a company today that is a leader in their vertical, yet the very thing they ask their own clients to do are the thing they themselves do not do. But I’ve seen this elsewhere:

  • A training company that lacks any internal employee training program
  • An information consulting company that doesn’t organize its’ own information well
  • A software development company that uses a competitors product for the functions it builds into its’ own software
  • A facilities management company whose offices are offsite from any of the buildings they manage
  • A church whose babysitting needs in the nursery is staffed by hired help who doesn’t attend the church
  • A financial advisor who is unwilling to purchase the very products she represents to others
  • A restaurant manager who regularly eats at a competitor across the street

I could go on, but I won’t.

Consuming your own products and services is the best way to find out where your company is weak and vulnerable. Consuming your competitor’s products is a wise thing to do – and then honestly compare your experiences. If you were a customer, why would you choose your own company over that of a competitor. Be brutally honest with yourself. Have some trusted advisors consume your products/services as well as those of your competitors. Have them give you honest feedback. It may hurt. But the wounds of a trusted friend can lead to immense growth.

Eat your own dog food. While it may not taste good going down, it will help you in ways that no other experience can.

Bill English
Bible and Business