There is a well-known phenomenon known as "customers don't know what they want".
Very few product professionals will argue this point. This is especially true when facing an innovative solution where consumers have nothing historical to compare against it. Yet it is less true when you are offering an evolutionary product offering.
For example, the leap from rotary phones to cell phones – this was a novel category shift.
It was an innovation that was not immediately identifiable by the common customer of the rotary phone. They didn't know that they wanted to fit a phone into their pocket and have games to play while killing time between events.
Yet, once you fast forward from corded home phones to wireless home phones you can start to see the evolutionary path that suggests that phones could get more mobile and smaller – it was still a leap for wanting apps in your pocket.
So if customers don't know what they want, what do they know?
Well, they know what they don't want. They know what they've tried in the past to avoid these pains. They know if previous solutions resolved the problem. They can offer suggestions for how to tweak existing solutions into what they *think* they want.
Yes, in evolutionary cases they can provide good directions, yet be cautious of taking their word for it. If it is a small idea and you can iterate your product to quickly validate the request before investing too much, then fire away. If it is a bigger idea – amounting to a big strategic bet – then you must validate it via solution experiments.
You shouldn’t just claim that customers don’t know what they want until you give it to them. In fact, out smarting customers can be an expensive investment. If your revolutionary product or service requires too large of a leap for consumers, then you will certainly find yourself stuck at the chasm, only serving early adopters. This is because the early majority is far more pragmatic. As such, you must meet them where they are at and bridge them to where you want them to be, eliminating the leaps, providing measurable value at every step of their path in bite size chunks.
So what are you to do? Well the first thing you have to do is get out of the lab and talk to people. You must validate your perspective with potential customers.
How do you go about that?
What do you talk to them about?
What don't you talk to them about?
It can be confusing … and if you do not do it right, you may decide that it doesn't work.
Voice of Customer discovery is a deep topic so here we will only cover the highlights of the process at the 100,000 foot view.
The first step is to work through your problem space activities such as Voice of Customer interviews, jobs to be done, divergent brainstorming, etc. as this will arm you with the right facts to create a foundation for your hypotheses. You can exit the problem space when you have validated that when you talk about your prospects problem, it resonates with them as a 10x problem.
Don't fall victim to failing the Grandma test. This is where you tell your Grandma all about the merits for the “great idea” that you have. It is a misstep because of course your Grandma is going to confirm that it is a great idea and that you should definitely do it (because she wants to be supportive of you and your relationship). Telling your customers about the solution you have before you validate that they have the pain that you are looking to solve, creates the same echo chamber and gives you an invalid green light.
Next, you are ready to enter the solution space to identify the optimal solution concept. Formalize your hypotheses, run experience tests for risky bets, measure, and evaluate. Once you have mock experiences with customers that validate you have a novel solution that resonates with your prospects, you are ready to begin the productization phase.
NOTE: TIP ABOUT OPINIONS FROM THE PRAGMATIC MARKETING FRAMEWORK
If un-validated personal opinions continue to haunt your planning conversations then place this quote on the wall of every conference room – "Your opinion, although interesting, is irrelevant. Get out of the building and talk to Customers".
In the end, while customers may not have the answers, they have all of the problems … and without those facts, you cannot accurately define the proper solution or product.
Corrective Advice Recap
- Get out of the lab & talk to customers and prospect.
- Ensure you are not using leading questions – they skew your discovery results.
- Perform experience experiments, measure, evaluate, and iterate – iterating with pre code investments is significantly less expensive.
- Remember that customers and prospects have MANY of the facts that you need to build viable strategies.
- Recognize that you can have a novel solution to a validated problem which may still flop in the market because you overshot market adoption preparedness – ensure that you are meeting your customers where they are at, providing solutions that bridge them to where you want them to be.
- Have candid conversations about not understanding someone’s reasons for solution optimism.