There’s a story told that during World War II, the RAF wanted to add additional plating to their bombers, in order to protect them from anti-aircraft guns. Since additional weight would decrease the bombers’ range, they could only plate the most crucial areas. They analysed the bullet holes in the returning bombers, mapped out where most of the holes occurred, then presented their findings with a suggested plan to plate those areas. A quick-thinking officer pointed out that the planes didn’t need protection in those areas, since they flew even with numerous bullet holes. The planes that had been hit in other places were the ones that hadn’t returned home. Successful product development and marketing requires asking the right market research questions.
Ask open questions
Closed questions are those that can be answered by selecting from a list of options, such as “Do you prefer option A or B?” Open questions are ones that require explanation, and usually begin with the words what, how, or if. Ask what they want or need in a specific arena, how getting it will make a difference, and hypothetical questions about their general situation. By using a mix of all three types, you will find out details about the way that your customer or prospect currently does things, including the things that work and the things that don’t. A successful product needs to be better than existing products in important areas, while still doing all of the important things that the existing products do well.
Identify both issues and costs
It’s not enough to ask what their biggest challenge is, or what causes them the most frustration. You also need to put a price tag on the solution. How much is that challenge or frustration costing them? The upper limit of your product’s price is the sum of all the money saved by all of the problems it solves. You can follow up with the confirmation question, “If a product solved those challenges, what would that be worth to you?”
Ask them what their top goals are, and then ask how their life or their business will be different if those goals are met. What would achieving those goals look like? By understanding their picture of success, you will better understand the emotional needs that your customers believe their goals will satisfy. For example, two executives with a goal of 10% sales growth might have vastly different pictures of what that success will look like. The first might be happy that no employees need to be made redundant, while the second is thrilled by a promotion and even bigger challenge. Pitching your product to appeal to a sense of safety and security would attract the first executive, while repelling the second.
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