Recommended Reading: Tuned In to What Customers Want

by Rick Braddy on November 29, 2009

in Innovation

WhatCustomersWantEvery once in a while, I run across a business or marketing book that’s worth it’s weight in gold.

A few years ago, it was “What Customers Want”.

Today, it’s “Tuned In”.

There’s clearly a common thread here to what seems like common-sense – tune into what customers want, then give it to them, and then make lots more money.

Question: If it’s so easy to innovate around what customers want, why aren’t more companies doing it then?

Answer: Because it’s easy to say and write in a book… but in practice, it’s hard to do because it takes not only knowledge, but also extra time, self-discipline and the ability to put someone else ahead of our own selfish interests: our customers.

Before continuing, please allow me to recommend two books that are an excellent choice for anyone seeking to learn more about how to identify high-growth opportunities, then formulate a strategy and product plans required to tap into those opportunities.

Book-WhatCustomersWant

The first one is:

What Customers Want: Using Outcome-Driven Innovation to Find High-Growth Opportunities, Create Breakthrough Products, and Connect with Your Customers

Author Anthony Ulwick makes a compelling case that to drive high-growth, one must identify the important “outcomes” that people want to achieve, and innovate in ways that enable them to better achieve those desired outcomes.  It’s also important to recognize negative outcomes, or consequences, associated with a given customer alternative and find ways to avoid those pitfalls.

To do this. one identifies the areas of the market that are “underserved” and “overserved”.  One approach is to view the customer’s problem as a “job to be done”, the main thing the customer wants or needs to accomplish to make their life better, then identify why the customer is not satisfied with the results provided by existing products (underserved) or where the problem is more than satisfied, perhaps at too high a cost (overserved).

The key premise involved entails the ability to “tune in” to the jobs potential customers are trying to get done in their lives, along with how THEY view the existing solutions – and at a sufficiently detailed level to pinpoint the real areas of opportunity.

As I said earlier, it all sounds good in theory, but how can we put this into practice?  (the answer is coming soon)

TunedInBook

The second recommended reading is Tuned In: Uncover the Extraordinary Opportunities That Lead to Business Breakthroughs“, by Pragmatic Marketing authors Craig Stull, Phil Myers and David Meerman Scott.

The premise of Tuned In is that to create breakthrough growth one must tune into what customers want and need most, and clearly identify the various “buyer personas” as a means of better serving each class of customer.

The ability to tune in involves meeting directly with potential customers, preferably face-to-face in the customer’s place of business, where you can gain the complete picture of their world and how it operates.

I’ve heard this referred to as “gaining carnal knowledge of the customer” (a quote of Citrix CEO Mark Templeton), which drives the point home of just how close one needs to become to potential customers to truly understand them.

And keep in mind it’s often more important to gain these insights with non-customers, where your biggest market growth opportunities are, than to concentrate on existing customers (who you hopefully already know fairly well).

Tuned In then goes a step further, defining a “process” for identifying the opportunities that customers will actually “resonate” with and pay to address.

TunedInAs shown in the diagram to the left, the “tuned in” process involves six key steps:

1. Find Unresolved Problems

2. Understand Buyer Personas

3. Quantify the Impact

4. Create Breakthrough Experiences

5. Articulate Powerful Ideas

6. Establish Authentic Connections

In these times of economic turmoil, global competition and the highest advertising noise levels in history, becoming closer to those you want to buy your products and services isn’t just a good idea, it’s a requirement to succeed and grow.

So how can we become closer to our customers, especially when we can’t meet with them all face-to-face in their office?

Well, we live in the Internet Age, where it’s easier than ever to communicate on a global basis.

The answer is simple enough.  Use ALL available means, including:

  • Read what your target market is reading online:  blogs, forums, news sources, Twitter, Facebook, industry publications, etc.
  • Pick up the phone and call for an appointment, then have a “real” (non-sales) discussion
  • Set an appointment to go visit local customers/prospects (again, to have a non-sales discussion)
  • Establish an online “discussion community” around a particular topic that relates to your target market
  • Use a blog to have a two-way conversation with your community (using email to drive the discussion to the blog for feedback and discussions)
  • Hold focus groups (if you can afford it) to uncover “qualitative” areas for further investigation
  • Use surveys to solidify assumptions and qualify your findings with “quantitative” data  (to ensure the conclusions project across the marketplace and aren’t just the musings of a misguided few you happened to connect with one day)

The key is to find ways you can intersect with people in your target market and go on your own “learning journey” to discover what others have overlooked in their haste.

If you have an existing product in the market, look more closely at exactly how customers are using that product, and identify new and unique areas where a new “persona” may have emerged to identify new, innovative uses for your product.  Then create specialized product offerings (and/or marketing programs) targeting those specific use cases (jobs to be done in that particular market for a group of similar buyers).

Products created using the “tuned in” process quickly become “pull products” – products that customers demand and buy from you (instead of being “sold” or pushed).  These products resonate with real customer needs and the desire to buy doesn’t require so much nurturing or development.

By identifying usage patterns as “buyer segments”, you will discover the highest probability areas for rapid, significant market expansion without a lot of additional, costly product development while improving the likelihood of success.

In contrast, a “tuned out” company instead chooses to innovate based upon the company’s own “experience”, the founders or leader’s divine guidance, or the combined “wisdom” of a group of chosen people who meet in conference rooms to figure it out.  This usually leads to mediocre products that must be pushed hard, where the market must be “educated” on why they need them, why they’re of benefit to the customer.  To sales people, these are referred to as “push products”, because Sales must push them hard to make a sale.

Tuned out thinking is also referred to as “inside-out thinking” or M.S.U. (making stuff up), which I covered in a recent post.  Tuned out thinking and decision-making is probably the single biggest cause of business failure, especially for technology companies, where engineering-driven decision-making and technology-driven innovation is commonplace.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love innovation as much as anyone; however, innovation only matters if it results in solving customer problems in a way that truly “resonates” with a group of like-minded buyers.

I really like the Tuned In mantra:

“Your opinions, while interesting, are irrelevant.”

This is the standard response to anyone who begins to pontificate, extrapolate or guess in meetings about what should be done, when it’s not backed up by customer-centered research or sufficient “market evidence”.  Guessing and gut feelings are the fast path to failure when innovating.

This stuff isn’t meant to be taken personally – it’s just that everyone has an opinion, but when it comes to creating product innovations that must sell, the only opinions that actually matter belong to customers (who make the ultimate buying decision based upon THEIR opinions).

Find ways to become more “Tuned In to What Customers Want” and it will definitely help you grow your business, and introduce more new products that are first-time winners.  It’s the key to uncovering new, high-growth opportunities in any market.

If I could only pick two books to recommend for a business person or marketer seeking improved success, then (currently) these are the two books I would buy for you and then urge you to read and actually put into practice.

Finally, let me leave you with this.  In my nearly 30 years as an innovator and entrepreneur, ALL of my biggest failures came from inside-out thinking, where (for a variety of reasons) we listened to ourselves and followed our “gut” instincts and experience and made “assumptions” – instead of seeking insight from prospective customers, along with gathering and analyzing the proper market evidence required to validate our direction.  In most of these cases, we were also in a hurry to get to market with something to drive revenue, which was used to justify the shortcuts taken and allowing our egos to drive our decision-making process.

Conversely, my successes have involved market-driven insights that led to innovative solutions, where we invested the time and effort required to truly understand our existing and potential buyers (within the time and budget available), before making critical decisions about what to do (and whether to do it at all).  In these instances, we were more concerned about what would resonate with customers, as evidenced by ample market research, and putting the customers’ needs ahead of our own.

I hope you gain as much value from the insights these two books offer as I have.

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