Do: It is more than Demographics. Its about Behavior…What do people do?

Many product managers and market research teams build their assumptions about customer requirements by asking the question “What do you need?” That is the wrong question. The question they should ask is “What do you do?”

An epiphany struck me the other day after I was teaching senior managers and engineers about marketing who are in India.  The product manager and product marketing manager aspirants from such companies as Intel, Intuit, Cognizant, Alcatel-Lucent, Adobe, Microsoft were in the class.

When the subject of key messages targeted at certain personas came up and how one used market research to define the personas, one stated, “Apple never did market research”.  This is a continuation of that fable that Steve Jobs perpetuated in part to throw off the competition.

The fact is Apple and Steve Jobs did do market research, as is evident in the article here by my fellow Apple colleague Jeni Sall, a senior market researcher amongst about 50 of them when I was at Apple. A pretty large resource for a company that supposedly didn’t do marketing research. And that was in 1982 when Apple had about 3,000 employees.

In that article, Jeni cites famously that Henry Ford might have said: “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would’ve said a faster horse.”

Venture capitalists here in Silicon Valley, say it’s all about the technology.  Find a technology that gives you an “unfavorable competitive advantage” and your company/product will succeed. But that is not right and generally will not work.  I can sum up this argument in just one word: “Segway”.

I’m writing a book called, “Building Insanely Great Products”. As part of my research I reread David Packard’s “The HP Way” In that he says that when they asked customers if they wanted a color printer the customers said “No”.  But when they asked customers if they wanted a color printer for the same cost as a black and white printer they said “yes”.

After thinking about these things it hit me.  Customers can’t tell us what they “want’ nor can they tell us what they need.  Especially if they don’t know yet that they need it or that that product or service could dramatically change they way they do things for the better.

The right question is “What do you Do?”

Everybody can tell you what they do.

As the Larry Huston, former head of innovation at Procter and Gamble says, you have to “connect with the customer and then develop.”  He says, “60-70% of products fail because the customer is not understood”.

Certainly that will not occur if you ask customers what do you want?

So go forth and ask these questions of your customers and prospective customers instead. You will find you are in a far better position to build an Insanely Great solution for them:

  • What do you do?
  • How do you do it?
  • Why do you do it?
  • Where do you do it?
  • When do you do it?
  • What’s standing in your way?

Then you can translate those “dos” into wants and needs.  Real problem statements that engineering can be challenged to solve.  Real solutions that people will buy.

Not just a technology that may or may not solve a problem that people have doing things.

In short, successful products are all about “do” not want or technology.

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About David Fradin

David Fradin has trained thousands of managers throughout the world. He infuses his workshops with insights and experiences gained as a expert product leader, product manager and product marketing manager at companies like Apple and HP. He was classically trained as an HP Product Manager and was then recruited by Apple to bring the first hard disk drive on a PC to market. As a result of his leadership and management skills, Apple promoted him first to Apple /// Group Product Manager and later Business Unit Manager at the same organizational level at that time as Steve Jobs. His forthcoming book “Building Insanely Great Products” and these workshops covers the founding values, vision, product life cycle and management employed by Apple at its founding and which it returned to in 1997 when Steve Jobs returned to Apple. What students will learn in these workshops is exactly what has made Apple the most valuable company in the world.

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