five failure points of a measurement strategy 6

Understanding customer needs with a purpose

This content was originally featured in the October 11, 2023 newsletter found here:

Each week when I sit down to write the opening to the newsletter I ask myself, what would be helpful? What does the audience and customers want to hear about? I don’t want to talk (or write) at you. I want to make sure that if you’re spending time reading what we’ve put together for you, that you’re getting something valuable out of it.

And therein lies the issue – what is valuable to you might not be valuable to me. That doesn’t mean it’s not important. It means that I need to work harder to understand your needs to ensure that you’re getting them met.

So, how to do you, the marketer, go about understanding the needs of your audience and the needs of your customers? Chris talks about this in the Data Diaries below. You ask them what they need.

A family member reached out to me the other day because he’s thinking of starting a business in a saturated market. He feels that he has a unique value that he can add. Because I’m in his target demographic he asked me, “what would appeal to you?” This is a simple, but strong, question. I’ve been thinking about it since he asked, compiling my thoughts to be as helpful as possible.

When I worked as a product manager, the team wanted to reach out to customers to ask them what they wanted but struggled to do so. We put together a Voice of Customer (VOC) strategy. The plan was overthought, overcomplicated, and overdeveloped. We spent so much time scrutinizing the questions we wanted to ask that we never got around to asking them. We were so paralyzed with concern over getting it right that we never considered what we would do if we got it wrong.

The worst kept secret in VOC research is that it’s okay to get it wrong. You can ask the wrong questions. You can collect the wrong data. You can make the decisions. Yes, you can. What you cannot do is accept that it’s wrong and move onto something else.

When I look back at the mistakes I’ve made in my career, both big and small, I cringe. There were a lot of mistakes I could have avoided if I took action. If I were okay with making mistakes. Asking my customers how we could have improved the product is one of those mistakes I would fix. Hands down, no question.

What should we have done differently? We should have picked up the phone. We should have had a conversation. We should have been more clear on our purpose.

Purpose. That was the heart of the issue. We could not agree on our purpose. That is why we failed to get started. We had a lot of internal agendas and stakeholders. Too many. Each individual had their own set of data they were after, for their own reasons. We failed to see that we were all working toward the same business goal, which was to sell more seats in the product. We let our egos get in the way. Wa all wanted our own way. So instead of asking basic questions like, “what do you need?”, or “what would help you do your job better?”, we focused on ourselves. We were selfish and our customers suffered because of it. We put our needs first.

Having a clear purpose is always a good starting point for any initiative. It helps you focus on your “why”. When I look back, that’s where we went wrong. We didn’t focus on the, “why”, we fixated on the, “what”. We could have benefited from a solid set of user stories.

A user story is a simple, three-part sentence:

As a [persona], I [want to], so [that].

The “persona” would have been each of us. Our perspectives. Every single person involved should have created their own user story. The “want to” would have been our what. What we wanted to do. And the “that” would have been our why, our purpose. We skipped over this part of the planning process completely and failed spectacularly. User stories would have helped us get our of our own way. We could have refocused on the needs of the customers and not ourselves.

This was a long winded way of sharing my experience with you in the hopes that you would learn from my mistakes and find some value. The take away is to do something. Figure out why you’re doing it and then do it. And then learn from it. Do it again. Keep trying. Don’t let the process of planning get in the way of doing. Ask basic questions. See what happens.

When I talk to my family member next, I am going to share with him my initial thoughts about his business idea. Then I will suggest other places he should seek information. He’ll keep asking until he feels like he has enough to get started, and then he’ll ask more questions.

But do it with purpose.

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