Do your customers want your product?

Earlier I wrote a blog post about how to get customers to understand your product. In this post, I remind you to check what customers actually want.

Why would anybody buy something they don’t want? You might think you’re selling something essential, but the market might not. Market research is basic business practice, and anybody that doesn’t do it doesn’t want to succeed. I’ve seen plenty of entrepreneurs fail because they didn’t try to find out what their customers wanted – they just made a lot of assumptions based on zero facts, and so they failed to sell a lot of unwanted products.

You may have the view of computer pioneer Steve Jobs, who said that people don’t know what they want until you show it to them. There might be some truth to that. But you can’t force it. Think about the iPhone, first available in 2007. Everything about it had already existed for years. Touch screens were introduced in the 1980s. The first virtual keyboards appeared in the 1990s. Phones had been connected to the Internet for at least a decade, portable mp3 players (including Apple’s own iPod) had been around for several years and mobile phones were over 30 years old. What made the iPhone new and exciting?

Jobs answers that question at the Apple launch event: this device solves a number of problems. It eliminates the fiddly keypad. It allows software instead of hardware customisation. And it puts three devices into one – phone, iPod and web browser – in a way that is simple and convenient. He didn’t just make this up. Jobs noted that this solution was based on the feedback people gave about the devices they were using – feedback that revealed their problems.

Solving a problem is one of the main ways to build a market. You connect directly with your customers, because it shows that you understand them. Customers want to simplify their lives, and solving their problems helps do that for them.

But problems are not always obvious, and you might need to think a little to identify them.

Let’s take the example of a plumber. What does a plumber sell? You might say pipes, taps, toilets and bathtubs. Yes, they’re the physical objects you pay for. You might say preventing damage when your sink has sprung a leak. Yes, that’s a service you buy. But what does all that really give you? Properly working, running water in your home brings you convenience, health and hygiene.

What does insurance get you? Health insurance pays for hospital bills if you get sick, car insurance pays for your repairs if you’re in an accident, and life insurance gives money to your dependents if you die. But not everybody needs to make an insurance claim, so to some, it seems like a waste of money. What you’re really paying for is peace of mind.

You can do this kind of exercise with any business, including mine. At the time that I’m writing this, my company has been running for just under 17 years. How did I manage that? I’ve built a market by solving my customers’ problems. In the beginning, I was teaching English. But grammar exercises are just drills; they don’t solve problems. Ultimately, what my clients really want is to do successful business with their own customers. Since business is all about communication, I offer training in or services using the communication skills that will help them to achieve that goal. That’s why I use the slogan “Communicate better.”

So, your next question is: “What problem does my product or service solve?”

If you can solve their problems, customers will be very interested in what you have to offer. So do your market research but try to dig a little deeper. Your solution will be one step ahead of your competition.