This is going to sound elementary, but hang with me for a minute. The key to becoming a great business problem solver is the ability to distinguish customer problems from customer outcomes or goals.

Here’s what I mean. Customers say things like, “One of our biggest problems is that we don’t get enough repeat business from existing customers.”

It’s easy to take statements like that at face value (the problem) and quickly turn our attention to the product solution.

Here’s the thing. That statement itself doesn’t describe a problem. It represents a business goal or outcome, even though it’s phrased as a problem. The customer goal or desired outcome in this example is “more repeat business.”

At this point, we don’t know what the problems are or why they occur. We just know that the volume of repeat business is less than desirable.

If you’re going to build new solutions or position existing solutions that nail the value target, try these two things. 

  1. Go higher up the customer ladder first and find out why “improving the volume of repeat business” is such a priority. There’s usually something strategic here like, “it’s hurting our valuation/stock price” or “we’re losing market share,” etc. Be sure to ask why another time or two to get complete context around the importance of stock price or market share.
  2. Once you understand the big WHYs, then it’s time to find out the smaller WHYs. This is where you can expect customers to say things like…
    • “We don’t know why and need a solution to help us figure it out.”
    • “The user experience is too cumbersome.”
    • “We do a poor job of post sale communications/support.

For each of these tactical problems, there’s more context to be had before you start thinking about product solutions. What parts of the user experience are cumbersome and why? Why is post sale communication/support lacking? How would you change it?

When all of these questions are answered, the business solution definition will be clear because you’ll know exactly what problems have to be solved to affect the outcome.

You now have a clear value target for the product/service solution.

The age-old adage still holds true. A well-defined problem is half-solved.

As product professionals, we should always do our best to get full context around customer outcomes and the obstacles or problems standing in the way. If we do that consistently, our ability to build, market and sell must-have solutions goes up exponentially.

Learn how to become a great business problem solver with the market’s only customer outcome approach to product management and product marketing. Subscribe to Product Management University On-Demand and get certified for $99.

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