Ideas can be very romantic things and people tend to get enamored with them, especially their own ideas. I was fortunate that I started my career working for a company that had an existing product, because over the years I had a lot of different ideas but nothing ever really got off the ground. Working for that company taught me the value of execution but it really showed me how the customer should be driving execution, not ideas. Product ideas are great, but it’s really the customer who drives and shapes those products. Over the course of my career I’ve heard it said time and time again that “the customers don’t know what they want.” That is absolutely false. The customers do know what they want, but they may not know how to articulate what they want exactly. It is your job as the product owner or business owner to figure that out and implement it into your products.
Implementation over Ideas
Ideas are great but they are overvalued. There are a lot of reasons people do this, especially if they have gone off and created their product in a vacuum. They don’t go to the customer and ask for feedback because it’s scary; it’s an opportunity for rejection. They fear that rejection because they’re stuck on having to be right, or that their idea is The Idea, or they have this vision of themselves that they have to the person who did something. That overvaluation of the Idea leads to them to neglect the truism that the hard part is the implementation of the idea, from initial conception to market. I’ve built a successful career with just a few really good ideas because I’ve been successful at executing those ideas. I owe that success to the fact that I’ve been successful at asking customers what they want. You’ll come to realize that your product may not be able to do what they really want, but it may do something that enables what they want. It may only be a piece of the puzzle.
Finding out what Customers Want
Filtering product ideas is difficult. Every project has deadlines and resource constraints, and you have to prioritize what gets worked on. Suppose there are five upgrades to be made to a product but you can only do two of them in a year, you should ask your customers what they want. Because they are the ones who use your product and ultimately it only matters what they think.
An important step in this is determining the right type of interaction to gain that customer focus. If you’re building a new product, make a sample of a product available to the target customer base. If you already have an existing customer base, you should engage them all the time. Talk to them at every opportunity that presents itself. If you’re in a very large organization, or you have large product, engage your customer whenever you can capture them. For example, if they call into customer support, ask them to take a survey and create special offers around completing them. If you have a low cost product with lots of customers you can survey them and go out to where they exist, such as conferences and trade shows. If you have a really huge product – beverages like Pepsi or Gatorade – send some people to venues where they can interact with customers. For SaaS (Software as a Service) apps or any other kind of application where your customers login, you know how to contact them. At all points in your organization you should be working to build a feedback loop that brings in as much of your customer base as possible.
If you run a services-based company or an organization that sells high value goods or services, you need to interact with your customer directly. If you’re a consulting firm that sells six or seven figure contracts, you have to get on a plane and go have coffee with them. Don’t send an internet survey with three questions on it; ask them what their pain points are and how you can help relieve them.
Ultimately you need to interact with your customer base in a way that make sense for you business and you need to listen to what they are telling you.
At all times, your customer determines the product. You may have an idea that compels you to make a product, to start a business, but that’s where your idea needs to end and the work needs to start. Owners need to learn to separate themselves from their own ideas. The value in your business is in its ability to execute the ideas that the customer wants, not those that you want.
Romantic ideas don’t build companies, execution does.
Romantic ideas don’t build products, execution does.
Romantic ideas don’t make money, execution does.
Romantic ideas don’t make customers happy, execution does.