Are You Building Something People Urgently Want (Or Not)?

Few things are more frustrating as a business owner and/or entrepreneur than getting ready to launch a new product and/or service … and hearing only crickets after its launch. What makes this experience even more frustrating than the lack of results/revenue is that we really thought the idea was a good idea (It’s why we built/offered it in the first place). So what do we say to ourselves when this happens?

  • “I don’t understand. They NEED this!”
  • “If only they’d try this, they’d love it!”
  • “This is so much better than what anyone else is offering!”
  • “If I were them, I’d buy this.”

But no matter how we much we try to console ourselves, the reality is we built/offered something that the people in our target market either didn’t want or didn’t want enough to justify the expense/investment. Why? Because people don’t buy based on need, they buy based on want and particularly, urgent want.

In essence, we ran head into the truth of one of my favorite quotes of all-time,

“Executives talking to other executives about what customers want is ridiculous.”

So, how can you find your way out of this conundrum? Well, here are a few ideas to put into practice.

I. Discover The Jobs Your Customers Want Done

Clayton Christensen puts it this way

“When people need to get a job done, they hire a product or service to do it for them. The marketer’s task is to understand what jobs periodically arrive in customers’ lives for which they might hire products that company could make.”

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever thought of it that way, but that’s what all of us do when we buy something. We hire/buy a product or service to do a job for us. For example, the other day my wife and I were out on a bike ride and I said to her, “I’m thinking about buying a chain saw this week.”

Now, I’m 53 years old (as of the date I’m writing this post) and in my 53 years of age on planet earth, I have never once uttered those words. However, in our new home here in Charleston, there are a number of trees and branches on our property that need to be cut down to size that can’t be cut down with the long-handled pruning shears I’ve used for decades (i.e. the branches are an inch or greater in thickness).

In other words, until this week, if you had tried to sell me a chain saw, I would have passed on it. However, all of a sudden this week, I discovered I had a job that I WANTED to do (note: I probably could have used a chain saw decades ago or even a month ago, but it wasn’t until this week that I wanted that job done). Now, that I have a job that I want done, I’m finally ready to buy because I’m looking for a product or service that will do that job.

The same thing is true for you and your customers. People buy what they want, not just because they want something, but because they have a job they want done. So, if you’re offering, let’s say, customer relationship management services to small businesses and you’re trying to convince Sally in her one person small business where she has ten clients a year that she needs your services, you’re probably going to have a hard time selling her. Why? Because she’s not looking for that job to be done. She can handle ten clients on a piece of paper.

So, as you look at your customers and target market customers, what jobs do they WANT done?

If you’re struggling with that question, you’ll want to apply idea #2

II. Actually Talk with Customers

Remember the quote at the beginning of this post, “Executives talking to other executives about what customers want is ridiculous”. Well, the reason that line strikes such a common chord is because it’s so true.

Now, sometimes this happens because of hubris (“I/we know what customers want better than they do.”). But my experience has been that the primary reason for business owners and entrepreneurs not actually talking with customers about what they want is fear, plain and simple. I know this sounds crazy, but it’s not. Ask a business owner or entrepreneur to go out and talk with/interview (20, 30, 50, etc.) customers/prospects (depending on the size of company/organization) and you’ll see a lot of back peddling. I’ve asked some clients for years to go out and interview people and they find excuses every time for not doing it.

Why? For some, it’s because they’re afraid they don’t know what questions to ask. For others, it’s because they’re afraid to talk with people they don’t really know. While for others, it’s a fear of the answers. For example, “What if I discover that people don’t want what I want to offer?” Or,  “What if I can’t deliver what they want?”

In my opinion, it’s the last fear (the fear of the answers) that is the biggest fear. Why? Because most of us want to create what we want to create. We want to offer what we want to offer. To actually dialogue with customers and prospects and discover that what they want is not what we want to offer is devastating (or so we think).

However, that’s all irrelevant. We’re not in business for us, we’re in business for others. If what they want is something different than what we want to offer, that’s a good thing for us to discover. It let’s us pivot and change and then offer what people really want. Why should you and I ever be afraid of that? That’s when sales take off.

Back in the 90’s when IBM was in trouble, one of the key practices that Lou Gerstner implemented (and was instrumental to IBM’s turnaround and strategic changes) was requiring his top team to talk with five customers per week and then report back what they learned. Maybe the same thing might help drive your growth this year.

So, how many customers/prospects will you talk with per week (or month) to discover what “jobs” they want done? Pick a number for this next quarter and then do it.

III. Make Sure You Have Problem/Solution Fit

In the lean canvas/lean start up movement, this is the first question to solve (the problem/solution fit) and the key question is, “Have I identified a problem that’s worth solving (for my target market)?” Followed up by, “Does my solution solve that problem worth solving?” Note: these are questions that are asked and answered BEFORE anything is built.

Why build something that people don’t want? Unfortunately, the problem most business owners and entrepreneurs run into is that they completely skip this step and rush to the product/service stage and then spend all their time trying to convince people in their target market that they need the solution that they (the business) are offering.

This is completely backwards. Trying to convince people that they need something is an uphill battle. Discovering what they want (a problem worth solving/a job they need done) and then offering them exactly what they want is a recipe for rapid success.

So, once you’ve done your due diligence and had conversations with customers and prospects, you need to reduce down their feedback into a problem they want solved. Once you have that identified, if you want problem/solution fit, you then need to go back and confirm that this is a problem they want solved. For example,

Joe, I want to thank you again for the feedback you gave me last month. I’ve now completed 50 of these conversations and it seems like [xyz] is the number one problem that you and your peers are dealing with that you can’t find a great solution for. Does that sound accurate to you or not?”

If they answer “Yes,” then, “Would you say that’s an urgent want, a want or a need for you?”

And if they answer “Urgent want (or want)”, ask, “So, if we created a solution that meets that want, would you be willing to actually pay for that solution?” Even better, if you can get them to pay you upfront for that solution at a discount.

Regardless, if you don’t have problem/solution fit, make sure you don’t waste any time on development or marketing or staffing, etc. Why? Because it’s a waste of your time and money building a solution (or offering a solution) that the people in your target market don’t want solved (i.e. why offer a solution for a problem that people in your target market don’t care about).

So, if you want to get out of the conundrum of building things people don’t want (or offering solutions they don’t want), work on these three issues

1.  Discover the jobs your customers want done
2.  Actually talk with customers (and prospects)
3.  Make sure you have problem/solution fit

If you get these three things right, chances are you won’t be listening to crickets the next time around!

To your accelerated success!

Key Question: Have you ever built something people didn’t want? If so, what did you learn from it? Add your comments to the conversation in the comments section below.

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Flickr image by Kyle May