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Innovator’s field guide to finding unmet customer needs

find unmet market needsField visits to get into the customer’s environment and find unmet needs is essential to new product growth.  This post continues to build on the customer value lens approach by outlining the essential elements to conducting customer visits in B2B markets – although many of these concepts apply in B2C as well.

1. Focus on the problems – the unmet customer needs
Customer visits must be focused on finding unmet market needs. This includes both finding problems that you might later be able to solve and also identifying the value that can be created by doing so. Think Mary Leakey the archaeologist there to unearth clues—maybe even a little Sherlock Holmes and Stanley Livingston. Remember, you’re there to study the indigenous peoples, not change them – at least not yet.  

2. Find the pain
It’s best if you can observe people at work. What part of the customer’s operation is inconvenient, time-consuming, costly, inefficient, dangerous, dirty, messy, frustrating, infuriating, embarrassing, or otherwise holding them back from achieving their goals or desires? That pain is where you need to dig, but don’t feel bad. You’re there to find the places where you’ll eventually be able to help.

3. Dig below the surface
You have to get below the surface of the problem. Continue asking why until you get to the root cause and then if necessary go deeper to find the part of the problem where you might be able to eventually develop a profitable solution.

4. Be prepared to cover the economics
B2B product success depends on helping customers sell more, spend less, or free up working capital. Your interview guide for finding unmet customer needs should include questions on these economics. And the team needs to include someone capable of discussing them at a detailed level with clients.

5. Keep information flowing
The detailed kinds of information mentioned above only comes out if the customer feels you need the information in order to decide if you can develop a win-win solution. Develop being the operative word. Any premature solution discussion shuts down the information flow because they suspect you’re trying to price the solution. So if possible, I recommend not involving your sales force for this activity as it can be quite a challenge for them not to jump to solutions. It’s not impossible, but not recommended without specialized training.

6. Never enter the jungle unprepared
Cross-functional teams, consisting of marketing, technical, manufacturing, and sometimes other functions must prepare before making any visits. They need to develop an interview guide and determine what role each will play in the interview (lead, scribe, observer).

For more on finding unmet customer needs, you can read this article to learn more on managing the different roles in customer visits.  You might also enjoy Edward McQuarrie’s classic little book – Customer Visits

 

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