When it comes to uncovering customer needs, it’s easy to get caught in the trap reacting and developing products and features that they ask for without first understanding the real business need and its value.

Here are three techniques you can employ to uncover customer needs at the root cause level before reacting and investing in products or services that may not hit the mark.

1. Ask the Right Questions

Don’t ask your customers what they want or what they need. Ask them what they “want to do and why.” Keep asking why beyond the obvious reasons until you get answers that are related to something that’s strategic to their business.

For example, products or services that reduce cost are great, but it’s equally important to understand the reasons cost reduction is a priority. To offset revenue declines? To influence metrics that affect stock price? To fund investments in new R&D? To improve competitive position, etc.?

2. Don’t Limit Your Conversations to Existing Customers

Customer satisfaction is good, but when taken to an extreme it increases your risk of missing needs of the broader market because you’re only engaged with those who know you. Go straight to your sales pipeline and engage more of your prospective buyers to uncover emerging trends and strategic buying drivers, i.e. “what’s happening in your industry/organization that’s made the evaluation of our products or services a priority and why?”

3. Think in Layers Instead of Lumps

Most needs (a.k.a. requirements) are documented and communicated in one big lump that mixes business requirements, product features/specs and user scenarios. That approach makes them difficult to understand and even more difficult to design, build and deliver in a manner that addresses the real need.

Try this layered thought process to establish a direct line of sight between the market dynamics and the relevance of your products and services.

  • Market dynamics dictate strategic initiatives of your target customers at the CEO level.
  • CEO initiatives manifest themselves into operational goals and initiatives at the VP/director level.
  • Operational goals and initiatives dictate the how the work is done in the trenches.

With this approach, you can determine how your products and services should support the front line workers…to help them meet departmental/operational goals…that collectively support the CEO’s strategic initiatives…which are dictated by the dynamics of the market.

If your techniques for uncovering market and customer needs are inconsistent and reactive, check out our online and instructor led product management courses. Bring your real world into the classroom so that you learn how to uncover customer needs and establish a direct line of sight between the strategic goals of the customer and your products.