May 092012

ask your market

Before Launching A New Product Or Service

Before launching a new product or service, or even a new business, what do you think is the most important thing you must do?  Is it to read a bunch of market research reports?  Is it to look at what your competitors are doing?  Is it to calculate the gross profit you will make on each unit you will sell?  While these are all important, in fact, the most important and most overlooked step is to ask your customers what they need!

Not everyone agrees on this point.  In fact, many prominent and amazing entrepreneurs have made statements to the effect:  “Customers don’t really know what they want, and even if they do, they cannot articulate it too well, particularly in a market research environment.”  It’s hard to argue with Steve Jobs’ success in developing extraordinary products, of course, but I think that if done correctly, asking your customers and prospects a few questions, can inform how your develop your products and services and help increase your odds of success.

In particular, along with several other successful entrepreneurs I know personally, and several others I have studied and learned from recently, I believe it is useful to ask your clients and prospects the following questions.  Then, just let them talk, or let them type if it’s a written survey.

The first question you should ask them is:  “What are the three (or five) biggest challenges you face in trying to accomplish X (whatever is relevant to the product or service you are considering offering, or more broadly, the market you are entering).”

The second question you should ask is:  “What is the one issue or risk (or potential issue or risk) you face that keeps you awake at night related to X (your potential offering)?”

The third question you should ask is:  “What are your biggest frustrations in or with X (the issue or situation you’re trying to address with your new offering).”

The fourth question you should ask is:  “What would have to happen for you to double (or triple, or whatever makes sense in the context of your offering) your productivity (or enjoyment, or whatever metric makes the most sense) in X (the area of your offering)?

The fifth question you should ask is:  “What have you already tried to solve the challenges (or issues, etc.) that you are facing in or with X?  Did they work?  If not, or if they partially worked, where did they go wrong and what worked well?”

There are other questions you can and maybe should ask, of course, but these get to the core of what you’re trying to determine before you take the next steps in launching your product, service, or business.  That core is:  what are the pain points that your customers and prospects are struggling with and what are their aspirations?

Some would tell you that it’s sufficient just to know the points of pain, but I am becoming increasingly convinced that in order to reach your peak as a marketer and entrepreneur, you must also orient yourself toward the aspirations of your customers and prospects.  As humans, we usually work hard to avoid pain, but we also strive to achieve our aspirations.  While most marketing studies and anecdotal evidence I’ve seen confirm that the instinct to avoid pain is stronger than the motivation to seek “pleasure,” your effectiveness is even greater when you can take both into account in formulating your product development and marketing strategies.

Don’t launch products, services, or businesses without asking your prospective customers about their needs, concerns and aspirations.  I know that sounds like common sense, but you’d be amazed how many entrepreneurs I’ve met who have committed the cardinal sin of launching a new product, service, or business based on their own tastes, thinking that they’re representative of what the market seeks and needs.  That approach typically does not end well.

I look forward to your thoughts.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.


Paul Morin

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  • Great post. It sound like common sense but, as you said, a lot of entrepreneurs forget about it. I should say that common sense is not common

  • Isn’t this the truth? I am a product creator and I found out the hard way in the beginning. I would think “Oh they will love this” only to find out nobody wanted what I was selling! Now, I always ask but sometimes don’t have to. If my audience is complaining about something, that’s a great place to start. Find the solution to their problem and they’ll pay you for it. It’s that simple. Great post!

  • Thanks, Martha. An excellent insight … delve deeper into what your audience is complaining about! There may be excellent product and service opportunities there!

  • Thanks, Fabrizio. Indeed, common sense is not so common!

  • I agree that asking customers what they need is very important in product development. Not just your own customers, even competitor’s customers can help you with this research. People are many times open and like talking about problems they have because they are in search of a solution it is just up to you to be willing to take the time to listen.

  • Knikkolette

    Hey Paul! I loved this post so much I’m bookmarking it so I can refer back to it later! Thanks for sharing your tips!

  • Paul,

    Ice this with chocolate frosting and call it an insight cake!

    One thing that many people jump past is getting market research before they hop in. Whether it’s crowdsourced input or market research data — it’s prudent.

    Finding pain points is also something highly important. If we’re not fulfilling an answer to a problem or feeding an insatiable pleasure…what are we doing?

    Those points spoke to me most.

    Thank you for sharing your expertise,


  • Hi Paul, I am not a product creator , I am offering my services and sometimes my customers don’t know their needs or even they don’t know wich sort of problem they have to face. Great post, great read

  • Nodding my head all the way through your post and the five crucial questions and yet, how often do I catch myself just pushing ahead. It serves well to do your homework first.
    Thanks, Paul, for the gentle reminder, enjoyed this great post.

  • Jhenny

    Launching a product is not that easy and we are actually very aware with it.. I am sure the tips you have shared here are very helpful and you did a great job for this..

  • Well said, Karla. It is just up to us to take the time to listen!

  • Thanks, Knikkolette. I’m glad you found it helpful!

  • Thanks, Keri. I agree that points of pain are extremely important … most everyone is quite motivated to solve their pain points, so if we as entrepreneurs can help them do so, we are much more likely to succeed.

  • Agreed, Maria. That is the challenge: customers and prospects may not know exactly what they need or even what they want, so it’s important to ask them questions to try to obtain the pertinent facts, feelings, aspirations and points on pain.

  • Thanks, Barbara. Well, it’s very important to keep pushing forward as an entrepreneur. The key is to make sure you’re learning as much as you can before you make the push, during the push and after the push! As entrepreneurs, our job is to test, learn and adapt, with as much frequency as possible.

  • John

    Hey good stuff Paul, makes perfect sense if you ask me. After all, these customers will be the one using your product/service.

  • Thanks, John. Yes, who better to ask, right?

  • Dan Ballard

    “Before launching a new product or service, or even a new business, what do you think is the most important thing you must do?” I think the most important thing to do is to ensure through legal due diligence that you have the right to (1) sell the product and (2) sell it as you want to brand it. The first requires a patent and/or trade dress analysis and the second requires a trademark analysis. Far too often marketing folks get way out in front of the legal folks and unnecessarily add risk of infringement liability to the product launch — and when that risk is too high a product reconfiguration or re-brand is necessary.

  • Thanks, Dan. Agreed — review for potential intellectual property violation is key! This is an increasingly important area of law and key due diligence before launching a product or service.

  • Investors, executives and employees want to see the time and money spent in research and development pay off, so you need to strive for a successful product debut..

  • pb

    Thanks for the great input Paul! As a small business owner just launching my business, the challenge I face is not having that many customers to poll. Even if I know what my target is, it might not look good if a company starts out asking questions rather than providing solutions.

    What would you suggest in such a situation?


  • I think it is perfectly valid to ask questions of your prospective customers, in almost all situations. The key is how you phrase the questions. Rather than asking very basic questions, for example, ask questions that get to the heart of refining the features and benefits of your offering(s). I agree with you that there is risk of sounding like a newbie if you don’t position your queries and the reason for asking well, but it’s usually the case that you can phrase your questions in a way that will not raise concerns in the minds of your prospects.