Products are cool. They’re sexy. Useful. You can touch and feel them. They can change the world. Successful products (especially software) can scale rapidly and cost-effectively, so investors love them.
I get that.
Perhaps this is why software startups seem to get all the love when it comes to brilliant advice, frameworks and tools, such as:
The experts behind these frameworks have done a fantastic job of educating leaders on how to pinpoint and address customer and user needs before and during the product development process.
But It’s Not Always About the Product (heresy, I know).
By doing customer discovery that’s tied to a potential or existing product–and obsessing about UI/UX and features, you’re potentially missing out of valuable insights in areas above and around that product, such as:
- Brand / Reputation: What does our target audience think we do well and do best? Is the product or service consistent with our identity? Does the audience view us as a credible purveyor of the product or service
- Positioning / Differentiation: Are we talking about ourselves in a vacuum? Or positioning the brand/product in the context of the buyers’ needs? Do they agree our approach is unique/better?
- Landscape: What is the full range of competitors, substitutes and alternatives (including building in-house or doing nothing) from the target audience’s perspective?
- Sales Process: Do we make it easy to buy from us–or challenging? Do our frontline people have enough knowledge to add value, or do they have to bring in a SME right away?
- Customer Experience: Does the product or service deliver on expectations and promises? Where are the gaps and shortfalls? In the context of other vendors, are we “pretty good,” “far better,” or “behind the curve”?
- Content: What insights do you need to do our job better? Are we providing those? Where else would you get them?
Inputs like these should not just be incidental by-products of your customer discovery efforts. They’re too important.
This is why I don’t necessarily believe customer discovery should be done by product teams (more heresy). Understandably, product managers and product marketers view the world through a product lens. After all, that’s how they add value to the company. But sometimes their perspective is too narrow–too product- or feature-focused–to see bigger picture insights. By contrast, a CEO, COO or CMO doing customer discovery with a much broader perspective can pick up information that is actionable across many areas of the business.
Try Agenda-Less Listening–at the Brand Level
To do customer discovery at the company or brand level (vs. product-focused) I’ve create the Agenda-less Listening Framework (see below) which I’ve used on dozens of client engagements to:
- Reveal a wealth of actionable insights that go beyond products and services to sharpen positioning and value propsition; and
- Help identify meaningful differentiators and themes that made marketing and selling easier for my clients.
Here are slides from a recent talk I gave on Agenda-Less Listening to a peer advisory group of senior executives. It includes all of the tools and advice (including sample questions and email template and listening tips) needed to launch a “listening tour” or just have conversations with a few customers.