What does your product really do? No, I know you can tell me all its detailed specification, how it functions, the internal workings, the cost of goods, but what does it really do as far as your customers are concerned? What needs does it fulfil?
I was at a breakfast meeting for local industrialists a few months ago and bumped into a travel agent. We swapped the usual small talk about the state of business in uncertain times and he told me how his business, which was mostly focussed on selling air tickets to business travellers, was under considerable pressure.
I suggested that it might be worth thinking about fulfilling his customers’ needs (to have face to face meetings with clients, colleagues, suppliers, etc) rather than focussing exclusively on just one part of one way in which that could be achieved. He looked at me blankly, slowly blinking in that “oh my god, why does the loony always sit next to me on the bus” kind of way.
“Well, for example”, I ploughed on thinking he needed some help; “you could set up high quality video conferencing facilities so that your customers would have an alternative to flying.” That was it; I was clearly not good for a business class return to New York, so he quickly headed off in search of more lucrative opportunities. He just did not want to think about his business in any other way; selling airline tickets was what he did.
There are those who seek comfort in the certainties of how things work, steering clear of the uncertainties of other people’s behaviour. When I was young we had a shorthand to refer to the phenomena; “F stop” – those photographers who were more interested in the speed of the lens on a camera than what they might see through it. What the customers want to do is to take great photographs, and the camera and all its amazing technology, is a pre-requiste to doing that. The camera needs to solve amazingly difficult techical issues delivering reliable and high quality performance in all conditions. That task is so difficult that we tend to overlook the fact that the function, as far as the user is concerned, is to take great photos, and that has a lot more to do with the user than the camera.
We need very clever people to design and build fantastic cameras, but we need a different kind of thinking to understand why our customers might use them.