We have lot of smart people in the software industry. We have great ideas and we innovate at a rate faster than many others. We know how to solve a complex problem and if only our prospective customers can see the brilliance of what we are offering, they can save so much money, effort and compete effectively.
And this is the problem afflicting many in our industry. We don’t know jack about what problems our target customers are trying to solve. We have untested theories and we build products based on these theories. We don’t talk about these products till they are ready to be launched because we are afraid our competitors will steal our stellar ideas.
We think what we are doing is special and cutting edge that prospects will not appreciate rough mockups and we should show them fully baked products. We have theories on how incompetent the IT guys are at our target market. We think our main problem is that these guys are not smart, so we should try to sell to their bosses. We have this idea of a CIO sitting idly at his desk waiting for us to pitch our brilliant ideas and he would join us in the cheerful dance at the end of the pitch. We think the sales people we hired do not get this simple fact and are stuck in selling to middle management and that’s why this wonderful product is not selling as much as expected it would.
When going gets tough, we raise yet another round of funding, so we can invest more into engineering, hire some famous engineers, infuse design thinking, hire heavy hitting sales people, get the buzz going, sign few more partners and throw parties at industry events.
So much waste, so much wasted energy, so many hopes being dashed. Could all this be avoided? Yes, there is one stupidly simple trick to avoiding this waste. Without much ado, I present to you a proven solution in few steps:
1. Talk to your target market customers
2. Show them rough mockups and ask what they think about them
3. Ask them if this problem is worth solving for them
4. Ask them what its worth to them
5. Ask if they would be willing to spend time testing your product when you have an alpha
6. Hang out with them, become friends with them, ask them for advice
And most importantly,
7. STFU and listen – listen, listen, listen – if you speak more than 30% in a conversation, you are boring the other person. If you forget everything I said and just remember to STFU and listen, you have a fair shot at building a product that market wants.
None of this is new guys, but as the saying goes, common sense is not so common. This post would have met its goal if I can inspire at least one product manager to pick up the phone and call a customer next week.