Patrick Lencioni’s new business fable, Getting Naked is a short, but thoroughly enjoyable read about how being open, vulnerable, and transparent can help consultants and service companies do a better job for their clients. But it got me thinking beyond that:
“Doesn’t getting naked benefit product companies too? Can’t new product innovators uncover more unmet needs by being open, vulnerable, and transparent with their customers?”
Lencioni talks about three fears that hold companies back. The first fear is losing business – If a customer tells us what they want, many innovators want to take that information, run back and develop a product to match that as quickly as possible. After all, it’s what the customer said they want, so let’s get something in front of them before the competition does.
But that isn’t really doing the job the customer needs you to do. They need you to question their assumptions, to ask why they think that’s what they need, and to do so over and over again, until you get to their core problem (for more techniques see the 5 Why’s). Because what they think they want and what they may actually need aren’t always the same thing – getting them to see that is an invaluable service. It’s also the best way to find unmet needs that you may be able to develop products to serve .
The second fear is being embarrassed – it’s human nature to want to be seen as being smart. But you need to get comfortable asking “dumb questions.” Customers often have assumptions about what you know so they don’t always offer information. It’s only by getting over yourself and being willing to ask the crazy what-ifs that you stimulate thinking and get customers to share the really critical information you need to know in order to help solve their problem. Plus it’s a two-way street – once they see that you’re not hung-up about being infallible they’re more likely to let their facade down and participate in the fun.
The third fear is feeling inferior – not intellectually, but socially. You may have a PhD from Harvard, but if you’re worried about what others will think, if you’re above getting in there, rolling up your sleeves and getting your manicure dirty, you aren’t going to be able to see problems from the customer’s perspective. And that means missing valuable opportunities.
The Simple Bottom Line – The next time you’re headed out to see customers, keep your clothes on, but remember how letting go of those fears can lower the barriers between you and your customers and help you find more new product innovation opportunities.