I’ve been in the business world for a good amount of time now and I’ve created a range of successful companies. One fundamental concept that has helped me in those pursuits has been my focus on customer needs over any particular product solution. The times when I’ve done my best to hone in on those needs, I’ve invariably found higher levels of success. This concept is so crucial in the business world, that I wanted to take some time to touch on it and discuss how entrepreneurs can work to better understand the needs of their customers.
Defining Customer Needs
In order to talk about understanding a customer’s specific needs, it can be helpful to first discuss what customer needs are in general. In short, a customer need is a desire to find a resolution to a problem. Since this concept, problem-solving, is at the core of the business world itself, it’s probably unsurprising that looking at problems on a case-by-case basis can make up the bulk of customer need discovery for entrepreneurs.
Taking this concept further, when we can understand the problems that a customer is dealing with, we can then understand what their needs are. Those needs, invariably, involve the diminishment or eradication of the problem. If a customer feels that a business can help them in that pursuit, they’re much more likely to purchase its products. Conversely, if a customer feels the business can’t help in this area, they are far less likely to spend serious time considering its offerings.
So, when an entrepreneur is seeking to grow their customer base, what they’re really trying to do, in essence, is solve more problems more effectively. The more effectively the business solves problems, the more they can appeal to a customer’s desire to circumvent some of their life’s most distressing issues.
Considering The Competition
Of course, no business operates as a sole entity in its industry — it’s exceedingly rare for a company to not have any competitors with which it fights for a share of its market. That means that a business’s job is not just to solve problems, but to solve those problems better than its competitors. Now, when those problems are widely understood and generally somewhat simple, it may be easy for a company to define customer needs and move on to the product, i.e. the resolution of the problem.
However, if there’s space to expand upon your understanding of the core problems experienced by a customer, there may be an opportunity to move beyond your competition and capture additional market share. Think about this idea like this: if every business in a market space is competing to solve the same problems, then a business that can solve not only those problems but additional ones as well is going to be able to distinguish themselves in their field. In doing so, customers will, inevitably, take notice and may move over to the new business if their solutions are compelling enough.
The catch here is that the business first needs to identify those additional problems. How is this done? Read on!
Honing In On Needs
The actual understanding of customer needs can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Focus groups, surveys, buying pattern analysis — these are all traditional ways of trying to surface customer needs through systematic interventions. These have worked in the past, to varying degrees, largely through a business’s ability to craft questions or interrogative actions that cut to the heart of what a customer’s daily experience may be. The better equipped a brand is to create these situations, the better they’ve been able to hone in on customer needs in the past.
The present state of customer need discovery, however, has come a long way from its traditional roots, and we have the internet to thank for that. These days, so much can be gleaned from social media and other forms of internet-based data collection. This data can surface a wide range of actionable insights concerning customer pain points and the ways in which customers encounter problems throughout their life. Because of this, There’s arguably never been a more productive time to engage in need discovery. This is one of the reasons why I’m often singing the praises of the intentional usage of social media here and elsewhere.
Steps After Determining Customer Needs
Okay, so you’ve surfaced a host of customer needs through social media or other methods. Now what? Well, now you can finally turn to product creation. This is, arguably, the most popularly promoted aspect of the entrepreneurial journey. While it’s no small task to innovate novel solutions to life’s pressing problems, it is a task that would be virtually impossible without first understanding those problems.
Once you have that understanding, it then becomes your task to solve the problem. I can’t tell you how to accomplish that in a one size fits all approach, but I can give you an example from my recent work to illustrate how I’ve done it myself. I’ve long been fascinated with the process of buying pre-owned vehicles. In that regard, I’ve seen the power that vehicle history reports can provide to consumers, however, I’ve also noticed that their widespread adoption has been held back by one key consideration — their price. I’ve felt that if we could overcome that hurdle, then we could help to make a massive positive impact on the manner in which people purchase pre-owned vehicles.
I’ve recently taken steps towards that end with the creation of a network of vehicle history report websites. These websites draw their inspiration from credit report services, which provide free reports to customers by supplementing revenue with advertising and sponsorship. I’ve since implemented the same business model for vehicle history reports with some pretty compelling results. I mention this merely to give an example of how identification of customer needs (reports being too expensive) naturally led me to a product solution (free reports with revenue coming from other methods).
While there will likely always be a special place in the hearts of most entrepreneurs for the product innovation process, these business pioneers would do well to approach customer needs discovery with the same level of gusto. When a business leader can work to surface these needs with a diligent process that avails itself of modern technology, the sky really can be the limit. In that scenario, it’s not just the entrepreneur that benefits, it’s also the customers, the market, and really, society at large.