Products aren’t made… They’re discovered.
It doesn’t matter if you think you have a “brilliant” idea – what matters is if the customer thinks so, too, and is willing to pay for it.
You see, customers don’t buy anything they don’t want. So the question is, how do you figure out what customers want and give it to them? Product discovery.
Here’s how product discovery works, why it matters, and some tips for pumping out products your customers are virtually guaranteed to buy.
Let’s start with a brief explanation.
Product discovery is a process of rooting into the mind and emotions of your target market to understand exactly who they are, what they care about, and all of the problems they wished they could solve.
Those problems will lead you to discover the solutions they require and the products that must be created to deliver them.
Product discovery matters because creating products that don’t serve customers will ruin a business. And so do products that make customers say “meh.”
Businesses don’t survive that long with apathetic customers settling for 10th best in a competitive market.
And the only way to get that kind of reaction is by identifying your markets’ genuine needs. Too often, products are built on assumptions made by your team and company – instead of your customers’ preferences.
Products should be evidence-based and informed by listening to customer desires, which is the process behind product discovery.
The “what” of product discovery is straightforward, but the “how” is a little trickier to grasp.
The first step is challenging your assumptions as we mentioned in the last section. If your executive team pushes product initiatives forward, then you have to challenge the assumptions they’re making about customers’ likes and dislikes. If your product team suggests features based on past experiences, they need to be closely examined.
Regardless of where product ideas come from, they must be weighed against fresh customer insights and reliable data.
What you think you “know” about your customers should be rephrased as what you “hypothesize” about your customers. And then move to the next step:
There are 2 types of data you can collect for empirical research:
Customer surveys such as Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) help you understand the way customers currently view you and your solutions. It helps you empathize with your customers and see their journey through their eyes – allowing you to develop better customer experiences and products.
Did customers open the onboarding emails after they subscribed to your app? Did you get more sales from customers who bought products in the last 6 months or the last 12 months? How many customer complaints have you received after rolling out a new feature?
This kind of data and much more like it will give you direct insights into customer behavior, and when cross-checked with qualitative data, will begin to form a clear picture of who your customer is and exactly what they want.
Again, every assumption must be challenged and compared to real data.
Once armed with this data, you can create “living” documents that are updated as you learn more about your customers.
The first document we recommend creating is a customer persona. This is a list of demographics, psychographics, and verified behavior of your customers.
Another worthwhile document to have is the customer journey map. It documents the path prospects follow to become customers. It usually starts with some kind of “first contact” and ends in a renewal of service or another purchase.
And then there’s the empathy map.
It helps you to visualize the behaviors and attitudes of the user in a way UX teams can follow and reference when thinking about how and why a user interacts with their products.
Create those three documents to give you and your company the best progression-growth-map to follow.
There are plenty more progression-growth-map-docs you may wish to produce as you go through the product discovery process.
The product discovery process is messy, sometimes confusing, and different for every business and market. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few fundamentals you can use to make it easier and more effective.
Empathy should always be the starting point in product discovery. It forces you to look through your customers’ eyes and see the world as they do. The goal is to eliminate projection, assumption, and “intuition” and replace them with accurate observation and genuine understanding.
Imagine just one customer. Describe everything you know about that one customer.
Fill this one customer with all the attributes and characteristics you’ve discovered about your real customers.
The process will give you a robust image you can use to pinpoint the problem they need to be solved, the solution they require, and the right way to package it into a product they would buy.
Product discovery isn’t linear, neat, or tidy. It’s chaotic.
The only way to get the data you’re looking for is to embrace the mayhem. This is especially true when it comes to discovering your customers’ problems.
There is always more to learn, and the day you stop is the day new products won’t be discovered. You have to remain hyper-curious about all the challenges your customers want to overcome because if you don’t, your competitors will.
We already mentioned empathy and customer journey maps, but you can map virtually anything to help you visualize each step and how they fit together.
Drawing visual maps help you think. The visual map externalizes complex and abstract mental concepts and makes them concrete, easily understood, and more “real.”
The added benefit is that once it’s out of your head, you’re not spending time thinking of the map while maintaining it in your mind – you can just think about the map you’re looking at, freeing up critical mental energy.
I’d encourage everyone on your team to draw maps of processes, strategies, concepts, and ideas. If you want to see an explosion of growth — at the very least, have managers and decision-makers draw this visual map.
Coming up with an idea to solve your customer’s problem is easy… The first time.
But that initial idea is probably not the right one to make into a product. It’s really easy and feels really good to move forward on the first idea presented (especially if it’s yours), but you have to verify that it matches more than one dimension of what the customer wants.
Map your solution idea to the opportunities you find by analyzing the market and your customers. The act of identifying and drawing the map is a reminder of the customer’s actual needs and mitigates the risk of teams running with an idea and forgetting about the preferences of the people they’re building the solution for in the first place.
That’s how you find the idea that sticks out as the true solution and the viable product for your customers.
Everyone on your team specializes in something:
In your team’s specializations, they’re expected to perform the function of their role without assuming the tasks or responsibilities of anyone else’s role – a buzzing hive of perfectly divided labor. You’ll need all hands on deck when figuring out which product to make.
Encourage teams to pull everyone out of their silos and come together during product discovery to leverage each other’s perspectives and unique knowledge.
It’s also helpful to get everyone’s opinion on what product to move forward with building, first. The type of heavy collaboration this involves isn’t easy.
There will be plenty of disagreements and arguments, but if you can work past them, you’ll tend to develop better products that your entire organization believes in – inspiring them to work even harder to make the product as perfect for the customer as they can.
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