How to find out what your customers really want even though they don’t

What do customers really want?
Did Henry Ford asked people what they wanted? For sure not! Because he knew that when asking the wrong question you get the wrong answer.
What did he ask then?

– Why do you need faster horses?
– What are you and your horses transporting? (= what do you do?)
– Why are you transporting these items? (= what does success means to you)
– Do you have problems with your horses? (= your current problems on your way to success)

For the new technology (the automobile) to replace an old technology (a horse), it had to have answers to the above questions and help people be more successful.

Read the article to know the answers Henry Ford got to his questions and how the automobile displayed the old technology even though it was much more expensive to purchase.

Now we know customers don’t know what they want.

Read my previous article, “What do customers really want? Hint: They don’t know.” In that article, I shared with you my first three product management insights. Now, let’s discover the next two.

Insight 4° Customers don’t know what they want, but they do know what success means to them.

You get answers to the questions you ask. Henry Ford asked people what they wanted, and they answered ‘faster horses’. Had he asked a different question, he would have received a different answer. In B2B particularly, in order to define a future product, you need to ask questions that mainly revolve around two areas:
– What does success mean to your customers within the context of their work?
– What problems do your customers face that prevent them from being successful?
Anything you can do to increase your customers’ success, or any obstacle you can remove from their path to success, will create benefits. And value.

The vast majority of customers don’t know what they want, nor what they need. But they know very precisely what problems they face on their way to success. Ask them the right questions and you’ll uncover their real problems and how to help them be more successful. At the most basic level, customers are looking to become more successful, to do things quicker, easier and cheaper. In other words: to deliver more with less time / effort / money.

Henry Ford could have asked questions such as:

– Why do you need faster horses? He would have learned that the speed of horses was deemed sufficient in most cases, but that they got tired after 20 miles and needed breaks to rest and drink in between. So people wanted to be able to cover longer distances without pause.
– What are you and your horses transporting? People, bulk goods, fragile goods… Ford would have learned that horses have a limited weight they can pull over a long distance, typically 1,5 times their weight, and that different types of cargo require different types of chassis and suspension systems.
– Why are you transporting these items? People travel between towns, and cargo needs to be brought to the centre of towns.
– Do you have problems with your horses? Yes, I need a large stable to accommodate them as well as someone to look after them, including a veterinarian. That’s a big cost. Buying a horse is not so expensive, but keeping it healthy is.
– Finally, horses, being animals, can be unpredictable. So when delivering goods in tight and busy city streets, accidents can happen. What’s more, when one horse gets sick, I cannot work with it for some time. They’re not very reliable.

For a technology (an automobile) to replace an current technology (a horse) it had to have the following solutions to the problems above: a capacity for longer distances, without requiring breaks; lower running costs; less dangerous and more reliability. As soon as automobiles did manage to fulfil these criteria, they quickly displaced horses even though they were more expensive to purchase. Henry Ford and Steve Jobs probably knew intuitively the answers to these questions without asking; they were geniuses. But I’m not, so I rely on asking these questions.

Insight 5° A product manager is actually a translator.

The vast majority of customers can’t articulate all of these elements into a product. They need an external translator, which is your job as a product manager. Translate all their responses to your questions above into an offer they can effectively use and you’ll be delivering them value. Value they are willing to pay for. Yes, your job as a product manager is to discuss features, quality, implementation, development priorities, business cases, and more… But all of these activities support your primary role, which is to be the interpreter of what your customers need to be more successful. 

How do you currently find out what your customers want?

What is your best success story? I’d love to hear from you!

Elithan Consultancy is a consultancy and interim management company that helps B2B technology
companies create, capture, position and launch customer value. Elithan Consultancy helps you make
informed and better decisions that lead to lower business risk and more positive outcomes.