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Sunday
Sep182011

Strategic Retreats ... Transforming Technology into Product

Let’s start by assuming that your goal is to come up with products that your customers are compelled to buy and use to extract some important value to them.

In general, the best way to pursue this is to:

  1. Identify your target customer
  2. Identify an important need or frustration that they have
  3. Find, invent, or tweak technology to craft an effective product for these customers

The Problem – Starting with a specific technology overly influences the product we deliver

In many cases, companies start with a “great” technology they intend to productize and make millions.  But “Great” depends a lot on whose perspective is being considered, and what their most important priorities are.  Even if you were once one of these customers in a previous life, how similar are your current priorities to that of your current customers?  There may be some similarities in priorities, but also many differences.  It’s this common disconnect that can result in the development of products that customers find “useful”.  But rarely produces products that customers absolutely love.

So how might your priorities differ from your customers, and why does this result in products that don’t resonate strongly with them?  The most important difference is your priority to use a specific technology in your product.  Customers want solutions to important problems, not a specific technology.  Though their perspective may change later when marketing gets to put their spin on things.  It’s the importance you put on your technology that will color how you evaluate the product features you may implement.

We will find ourselves in this situation when at a high level, our technology shows some relevance to a set of customer needs.   But later, as we get into the more detailed product requirements work, is when a big problem subtly reveals itself.  As we evaluate product features for their merit, our subconscious lets the technology influence us in two ways.  The merit of a feature grows if our technology is uniquely able to provide this feature; and/or the feature is easy to implement with this technology.  These two criteria have nothing to do with how important the feature’s capabilities will be to the customer.  But we will find ourselves rationalizing why it is important to them.  In the end, we provide a product that was reasonable to implement and can more easily do things that other products cannot.  But customers are left pretty unimpressed.

The Strategic Retreat

The plan is to clearly define a product that satisfies your customer’s most important needs and frustrations, and to do it in a way that they can easily appreciate.  So you must ensure that you know what their most important needs and frustrations are. Your technology will establish the starting point for this determination, and you must be prepared to accept a product vision that may or may not be what you originally envisioned.

Step 1 – Ask yourself, “What important need or frustration will this technology address?” 

You should probably brainstorm this list and identify many possibilities.  From that list, narrow it down to the 3 or 4 most interesting candidates.  Remember that Not All Pain is Created Equal.

Step 2 – Ask yourself, “Who do I think will most benefit from this technology?” 

Brainstorming would be useful here as well, as you create your list of target customers.

Step 3 – Interview those potential customers identified in Step 2

This is a hugely important step.  This is where you are going to identify the true target customer and their most important needs and frustrations. 

BEFORE you tell them anything about your technology or ideas, you want to know what their top-of-mind priorities are.  Don’t do yourself a dis-service by leading them to your favorite technology.  Do ask question like:

  • “What are the most important things you need to accomplish?”
  • “What gets in your way when trying to accomplish these things?”
  • “Which of those barriers do you not have control over?”
  • “What are the most frustrating things for you?”

If they did not identify any of your assumed needs, then go ahead and ask them how important your need is to them.  Ensure you discuss the need, not your proposed solution. 

Ask if the need you proposed makes them think of any other important needs that might be similar or related. 

Step 4 – The crossroads

This is the point where you must be vey honest with yourself, and make the right (and sometimes tough) decision for your customers and for your product’s potential for success.

  1. Can your technology truly be the foundation of a product that addresses the most important needs identified by your target customer?  If yes, wonderful!  Charge forward with your plans to productize your technology.  If not, ask yourself the next question.
  2. Is there a different target customer that my technology may be more relevant to?  If the answer is maybe, then go back to Step 2 and repeat the process from there.
  3. If you couldn’t answer yes to A. or B., then the toughest question you must ask yourself is, “does this technology really have the value that I thought it did?”

I suspect that for a good number of you, you will find that right customer, need, technology, and viable product intersection.  It just takes deliberate and honest evaluation of all of those moving parts.  As long as you don’t shortcut the process, you will end up in a good place.

If you don’t reveal a highly relevant product idea for your technology, don’t despair.  You have just completed some very valuable customer research.  Leverage that work to craft a new product idea that instantly and easily resonate with your target customer.  This is a starting point that will give you the maximum potential product success.

Depending on how this process unfolds for you, it may feel like you have given up some ground and have lost some time; but follow the plan and you will win the battle, and eventually the war.

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