How is your customer failing you?

Being customer-centric is hard.  As product developers, we are steeped in what we do and passionate about learning.  We are skilled in pedagogy, keep up with the latest research, attend the major conferences, understand the competition; it is our job to know the ins and outs of our market AND WE KNOW A LOT! Our customers aren’t stupid, but sometimes, let’s face it, they just need a bit of help understanding why what we have built for them is REALLY what they need, will REALLY save them time, will REALLY deliver the outcomes they say they need.   We just need to do a better job demonstrating the value of our product to them.  So, we call in Marketing and expect them to craft a campaign that will get the customer to the table ready to eat the meal we have prepared for them.  Don’t worry about the broccoli.  You told us nutrition is important to you. 

At every company, at every level, I have been in meetings where, after some general market testing, the statement “We just need to show them the value” gets said.  Your customer is failing you because they just don’t get it/aren’t using it/don’t see it the way they should.  The problem is exposure to your product; not the product itself.  And after that is usually a litany of sales and market tactics designed to take customers RIGHT TO THE VALUE.  But you know where this is leading.  Your customer is not failing you; you are failing your customer.

Product development--whether in the form of reviews, pilots, interviews, focus groups, surveys, forums, workshops—cannot be driven by validation.  It must be driven by insight.  The difference between “Which of these formative assessment types would you most likely use?” and “When you are walking around the room checking on groups of students, what are you looking for? How do you know they are ‘getting it?’” could make for big product differences during development.  In the first, we are asking our customers to validate the product’s formative assessment plan by choosing which assessment-types they are most likely to use (not committed to use, BTW).  Customers will certainly be able to pick out which kinds of formative assessment items they prefer, and there is your evidence of value.  But with the latter, we are getting to the heart of what formative assessment looks like to them in the context of their day.  The first question focuses on the feature of the product; the second question focuses on the outcome. 

There is a time for validation but that comes way later in the process and exactly where your marketing team can do their best work.  Testing and validating language, creating appropriate content marketing, and building product walkthroughs is much easier when the product development team has done the insight work that builds value as it builds the next best-selling product.