April Guest Blogger: What do Your Customers Really Want?

I’m pleased to introduce our April guest blogger, Urko Wood. He has some practical, yet powerful insights on discovering what your customers really want. Keep reading to find the three essential questions every marketing leader needs to incorporate in marketing research and customer feedback initiatives.


Urko WoodI’m pleased to introduce our April guest blogger, Urko Wood. He has some practical, yet powerful insights on discovering what your customers really want. Keep reading to find the three essential questions every marketing leader needs to incorporate in marketing research and customer feedback initiatives.

Today, every marketer talks about the term “buyer personas.” While personas can be powerful tools for guiding all kinds of value creation activities, such as messaging, positioning, and new product development, the critical information marketers need to discern is “What are people trying to accomplish with your offering?” While there may be a strong correlation between various customer characteristics and certain purchasing behavior, people don’t buy products and services because of their characteristics; they buy products and services to accomplish functional, emotional, and/or social ends.

Theodore Levitt famously told his students that “People don’t want to buy a ¼ inch drill. They want a ¼ inch hole!” This illustrates that a customer need is separate and distinct from the solutions people use to address those needs. The drill is just a solution whereas the reason people buy drills is to make a hole. This thinking can be applied to any industry with great benefit.

Procter and Gamble understood that “people don’t want to buy a mop; they want to clean the floor,” and they invented Swiffer, a billion dollar new product that many of us use in our homes.

Marc Benioff, founder of Salesforce.com, understood that “people don’t want to buy customer relationship management (CRM) software; they want to be more productive managing their business relationships,” and he created Salesforce.com, a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution that now dominates its market by eliminating the hassles of managing and maintaining software.

People don’t want to buy your product or service or mine! They want to accomplish some functional, emotional and/or social ends. What are your customers trying to accomplish with your offerings?

The question to ask customers is not “what do you want?” That question leads customers to think about solutions and most customers are no more qualified to come up with new solution ideas than patients are qualified to come up with new wellness or treatment plans. That’s not their job. But they CAN tell us what they want to get done, so ask questions such as:

  • What are you trying to get done with (product category x)?
  • What will (product category x) enable you to accomplish?
  • Why is that important to you?

These types of questions reveal the customers’ true needs, and the ends they have in mind.

Note: the common misbelief that “customers have latent unarticulated needs, needs that they cannot tell us” is simply false when we are talking about what customers want to get done rather than about solution specifications. To differentiate and grow, every marketer must know what customers are trying to accomplish.  If your offering helps customers achieve their ends better than the competition does, your offering will be a winner.

About Urko Wood:

Urquhart (Urko) Wood is an innovation and growth strategy expert. He works with leaders who want to differentiate and grow through innovation. He was recently interviewed by Forbes.

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