When it comes to uncovering customer needs, it’s easy to get caught in the trap reacting and developing products and features for “squeaky wheel” needs without understanding the core business needs and their value to the customer.

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

1. Ask Different Questions

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

Let’s say your products or services reduce cost. Fabulous! Everyone wants lower costs. But it’s equally important to understand why cost reduction is a priority. To offset revenue declines? To influence stock price? To fund investments in new R&D? To improve competitive position, etc.? You’d hate to miss an opportunity to deliver a solution with greater strategic value.

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 customers that 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, market, sell and deploy.

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 (by your users) 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. Let us 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.