What Products Should You Create?

Most experts who want to market and monetize their know-how make the mistake of creating products they think their audience wants or should have, rather than what their audience actually asked for or will buy.

You’re in the business of satisfying needs, not creating them. So, by far the best way to discover what products your target market wants is to ask them. You might be reluctant to do this. You think it’s time-consuming or you don’t have a following to ask. Don’t worry, there is a simple – and enjoyable – way to get out in the field and research your market’s needs: customer interviews.

How to discover what your target audience will buy

  1. Identify your target market. Before you begin, who is your ideal customer (aka your customer avatar or customer profile)? Every product you create will be to solve problems for, and provide value to, this customer. If you do not have an ideal customer/market in mind, choose an industry you would be interested in helping and start building a customer profile from there. (Note, the following advice applies whether you’re an established expert in your field; you’re looking to start afresh in a different industry; or you’re not the expert yourself but you’re researching and bringing valuable content together).
  2. Establish your hypotheses. Before you get started on your customer interviews, you need to figure out why people who match your customer profile would be interested in what you’re offering. Come up with a list of hypotheses: these are what you think your ideal customer would need, want and buy. Create a list problems your products could potentially solve for your customer avatar. Most people who set out to create products do not go beyond this stage and that’s a mistake. Once you do that, you’d be left with an idea of whom you should be interviewing in order to accept or reject your hypotheses.
  3. Select your longest-standing and best customers for an interview. Chances are that quite a few people subscribe to your site only to never visit again. Go through your e-mail list to see how many customers have stuck around the longest and bought the most products. These are the people for whom you’re solving problems, and they are therefore the people you should be interviewing. Consider also those who have paid for the membership, although haven’t necessarily purchased anything (yet!)
  4. Structure the interviews. After you’ve made a list of the people you’re going to interview, you have to write up the questions that stem from the hypotheses. Keep in mind that the purpose of these questions is to get to know your customers and get their input on the products you should be offering. Here are several tips:
    – Don’t become attached to your hypotheses. Your job is to uncover what your customer truly wants and what they will buy; it’s not to guide the customer down a particular path to confirm your hypotheses.
    – Don’t ask leading questions, i.e. “It must be difficult to run a dental clinic” is a leading question.
    Try to learn their goals and desires;
    Don’t ask about price until the very end. The priority is to uncover what your target audience wants.
    – What a customer wants and what they need may not be the same thing. Sell them what they want but give them what they need. Many experts make the mistake of trying to sell customer what they need. It may well be true but it’s selling features, not benefits. This is what is meant by the famous marketing line, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak”. Think of medicine for children. It often tastes very sweet and smells like candy: the child gets what they want – a sweet-tasting “drink”; but they’re really getting what they need, the medicine.
  5. Questions to ask. The following is a list (not exhaustive) of useful questions to ask at your customer interview. (The examples we use are business-orientated but they can be easily adapted to any topic):
    – What are the main challenges you face in your business/your industry?
    – What would make your job or your colleagues’ jobs easier?
    – Are there any inefficiencies in your business or industry that you would like solved?
    – What do you least like about your business?
    Once a problem idea has been identified, you want to become more specific. Focus on that problem area and ask further questions:
    – How often does the problem arise?
    – How many of your colleagues or people in your industry do you think it affects? Is the problem unique to you and your business or is it widespread?
    – What solutions have you tried? What did those solutions get right? What could have been improved? Why did you stop using them?
    – What specifically about the problem makes it difficult to overcome?
    – If the problem could be solved, is $x a reasonable price to pay?
    Always keep in mind that these questions are subject to audience and it might take a few rounds of interviews before you see any results and decide to add more questions or strike a few.
  6. Organize the interviews. The best way to interview a customer is face-to-face over coffee. If this is not possible, approach by email. Here’s email wording we’ve used in the past that has worked well for us – feel free to take/adapt it.
     
    Subject: Can I pick your brain over coffee?
     
    Hello Wendy
     
    Excuse me for contacting you out of the blue. My name’s Bill and I’m a [programmer/expert/consultant/trainer/author…] in [town/city]. I’m currently conducting research to learn about the biggest challenges faced by [dentists/gym owners/lawyers…] in the hope of developing possible solutions in the future.

    This is just research. I have nothing to sell and nothing to pitch – I promise!
    Could I meet you for a coffee at [choose a venue very close to the interviewee] on [date and time. Give two alternatives. Avoid Mondays and Fridays] to ask you about some of the [work] challenges you face on a daily basis and in your industry in general? It’s an informal chat and will take about 30 minutes.
    I hope you say yes. Thank you for your time and if there’s anything I can help you with, please let me know.

    Kind regards
     
    Bill Pink

  7. Interview and evaluate what goes well and what doesn’t. The fun starts when you actually start interviewing and gathering the data. Each interview (we suggest you conduct 5-10 interviews to start gathering sufficient data to validate/disprove certain hypotheses) is going to go better than the previous one if you’re doing it right, because you would be learning something new each time and seeing what questions give you the most information and correspond, or contradict your initial hypotheses.
  8. Carry out data analysis. Once you complete all your interviews and have dozens of facts and impressions at your fingertips, it’s time to start putting it all together.
    – What are the recurring themes?
    – What are the problems that stand out?
    – What problem is causing the most aggravation/pain?
    – What solutions have your customers tried in the past? What are the pros and cons of those?
  9. Make conclusions as to what products you should be creating. The information you receive from these interviews is nowhere near conclusive, and your market research should not stop there, but it is an excellent starting point. Once you analyse the answers to the key questions, you will see whether they correspond or contradict your hypotheses and, based on that, you can either enhance or tweak your business model by developing new products.

Takeaway points

  1. Customer interviews are your main initial source of information as to what products you should be working on.
  2. Conduct 5-10 interviews, minimum. The more the better.
  3. Don’t be shy. You’re just asking to meet for a chat over coffee. The other person may be too busy. It’s not personal. Thank them for their time, suggest an alternative time and if they can’t make it, ask someone else. (When we do this exercise we get a very high, positive response rate. Almost all of the answers are super-nice and none is rude or unpleasant.)

Action steps

  1. Google your target audience keywords to find potential interviewees.
  2. Adapt the above email and send it out to all the interviewees you’ve identified.
  3. Do your homework. Before you meet someone for an interview, learn about their business and their industry so that you can ask intelligent questions. Your interviewee will notice and appreciate the effort.

Photo credit: Chris Campbell via Flickr.com / CC BY-NC 2.0




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