Don’t Ask Your Customers What They Want, Ask What They Do

What They Want Is For You To Do Their Job, So Get To It

Joe Procopio

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A startup I advise is working on a B2B SaaS platform to take a large number of manual tasks out of the hands of their customers and automate those tasks as much as they can be automated. The goal of the product is to allow their customers to do more with less, increase efficiency and increase throughput.

I work directly with their head of product. A while back, he had spent weeks talking to their current customers. This was the third round of these month-long sessions over a year’s worth of the product-build phase, and each session had become more frustrating than the last.

The product was now on the market, somewhat successful, but the gains the customers were seeing were underperforming projections. Customer success was subtle, not pronounced. And before the product took the blame, the head of product wanted to know why.

  • Why weren’t the customers using the product as often as they should
  • Why were they misusing the product and creating workarounds?
  • Why were they setting themselves up for failure?

After all, he had given them exactly what they said they wanted.

“I’ve got to tell you, Joe,” he said. “And I’m not trying to be harsh, but it’s like they want someone else to do their job.”

Right there is the problem. Let’s talk about why giving your customers what they want can do more harm than good.

Why It’s Not About What They Want

Whenever I talk to my customers about my product, I think about the Henry Ford quote: If he asked his customers what they wanted, they would have told him they wanted faster horses.

The discussions I end up having are usually a lot different than what they might expect. I stay away from conversations about what they want or even what they need. I focus on what they do and why they do it.

This philosophy can sometimes be as confusing for my customers as it is sacrilegious among my entrepreneur and product engineering peers. But almost always, when they’re presented with the results, all…

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Joe Procopio

I'm a multi-exit, multi-failure entrepreneur. NLG pioneer. Building TeachingStartup.com & GROWERS. Write at Inc.com and BuiltIn.com. More at joeprocopio.com