You know the chicken or the egg dilemma. Thinking about our digital products we can paraphrase the question: which came first, the problem or the solution?
Let’s make a jump in time, around the year 2000. Stock markets are at their peak, startups even with no revenue nor business model are accepted, and traders are fighting on their stock. The only problem seems to be not missing the future unicorns valued at more than a billion dollars. But this was before the peak of the Dot-com bubble.
Two years and a couple of lost billions later, the problem is not the same. The shock woke up the world and put back in focus the goal for these companies: the problem they were trying to solve, and their business model.
Without being dramatic, we should avoid the same trap. To know what your current or future customers think about your product you need to learn more about their problem before proposing any solutions:
- research the concrete problem
- research the audience having the same problem
- finding target profiles to interview
Online discussion topics reveal real problems
An especially important thing to do is to speak to actual people that would need the problem fixed. How could we do that in the age of the Internet?
Amy Hoy and Alex Hillman teach how to bootstrap a business by addressing real problems that real people or businesses have, and who are ready to pay for a solution (or for learning how to fix themselves). Their Sales Safari method is a way to gather information on the problem by searching Internet forums and comments.
Then, active reading is used to extract the pains, recommendations and jargon employed concerning the problem and to existing solutions. But how to know the relative importance of the problem’s different aspects for the audience, and which should inform your product’s design, strategy, and marketing?
Actions speak better than words
What actions could we observe on the Internet? Momoko Price writes about mining messages related to the problem/solution/audience space and gives some examples of user review search engines for specific industries.
Interesting, right? But you still must do the work, there is just no way around it. You need to document all your findings around the different problem aspects, about solutions competing or complementing your product, all from the perspective of your target audience.
How to understand your clients
Real people talk and write in a way that is easily understandable by other real people, in a way that is quite hard to reproduce solely by using writing skills.
To better understand your clients Sean D’Souza proposes the target profile interview. This is also a way for you to obtain an actual way of describing the problem and the solution. The target profile is a real person that is part of your target audience, has the problem you are tackling, and needs a solution.
The interview provides you with points of view regarding the importance of the problem and why a solution is needed. Also, you will learn how to build and provide it in a way that fixes the problem for the right audience, one that is needing it and will appreciate the value of your service.
Shouldn’t we try to fix our own problems first?
In an ideal world, we would fix our own problems and that would be enough to make the solution appealing to other people like us. Unfortunately, this is not enough. You can do better.
For example, influenced by the possibilities offered by their expertise, software developers sometimes think the solution is a purpose in itself and forget about finding other people needing it.
To know what your customers think about your product you can start with:
- research the problem
- research the audience
- find one or more target profiles and interview them
This is true for your existing offering, as well as for your future products.
The last one (Quora) was the best to find people who had issues to start creating graphics for their products and articles. Go search Quora and you might be surprised. But try not to limit yourself to your product, search about the problem it solves, and to the jobs to be done.