Product Management Tactics — Go Deeper

Ash Maurya, Founder at LEANSTACK KEY TAKEAWAY Focusing on the problem isn’t as simple as asking your customer what their problems are. That is simply asking them to self-diagnose. That wouldn’t work at a doctor’s office, and it won’t work for your business. Instead, ask…

Ash Maurya, Founder at LEANSTACK

KEY TAKEAWAY

Focusing on the problem isn’t as simple as asking your customer what their problems are. That is simply asking them to self-diagnose. That wouldn’t work at a doctor’s office, and it won’t work for your business. Instead, ask about what they hope to accomplish and why.

OUR TAKE

Most true product people understand that you can’t simply ask the customer for solutions. After all, it was Henry Ford who said, “If I asked my customers what they wanted, I’d have built a faster horse.” (OK, we think it’s been proven that Henry Ford never actually said this, but the point is still valid).

But, Ash Maurya’s point about not asking their customers what their problems are really got us thinking. Don’t customers know their problems? If they can’t tell us what their problems are, how can we as product people possibly help them?

Ash suggests that we start by asking customers what outcomes they’re trying to achieve. It may seem nuanced, but after some thought… asking for this can certainly be helpful.

If we were asking a customer about their problem, we may get an answer that points to something that they think is a problem, but isn’t actually the heart of it.

Here’s an example:

  • A customer may say that their problem: is not being able to generate enough sales leads.
  • A customer may say that their solution should be: Hiring a new salesperson.
  • A customer may say that their desired outcome is: Closing more sales.

If we focused simply on their stated problem — we might be focusing all of our time on their inability to generate enough sales leads. We could dig in with them on all sorts of reasons why they aren’t generating these leads, and ultimately… come up with some great solutions.

But, what if that actually isn’t their problem?

If we focused on their desired outcome, we may ultimately discover that their problem has nothing to do with generating leads. It has more to do with their inability to convert leads. Or we may find out that they are experiencing quite a bit of churn. Solving these problems will still help them achieve their desired outcome.

Ultimately, understanding their problem is the most critical piece of being able to produce solutions that help our customers. But to Ash’s point, asking about desired outcomes at the start can help us get there.

Paul McAvinchey
Paul McAvinchey
paul@productcollective.com

For over 15 years, Paul has been building and collaborating on digital products with fast-growing startups and global brands, including AOL and WMS Gaming. Currently, he's a co-founder of Product Collective, a 15,000+ strong worldwide community of product people. Members collaborate on Slack, meet at INDUSTRY: The Product Conference, listen to Rocketship.fm, learn at Product Lunch and get a weekly brief that includes best practices in product management. In recent years he led business development at DXY, a leading product design firm in the Midwest, and product innovation at MedCity Media, a publishing startup acquired by Breaking Media in 2015.