How to Build Products That Customers Really Want

By | October 31, 2016

How to Build Products

Everybody has an idea. An app that will disrupt the market. A product that will blow away the competition. A killer feature that will wow the customer.

Software developers have incredible power because they can turn ideas into products. We can literally make dreams come true. But developing software takes time and it certainly isn’t cheap. So how can we be sure we’re not wasting our time and money?

We need to shift our focus. We spend too much time focussing on features.

It uses state-of-the-art augmented reality and artificial Intelligence? Great! Tell me more.

It has machine-learning capability, runs in the cloud and can process 10 billion requests a day? Sounds impressive.

It’s a highly concurrent, distributed system with fault tolerance and adaptive load balancing? Awesome! What else?

Ok, it uses a cutting-edge technology stack. That’s good. You’ll be able to recruit new developers easily. What else?

I can login to a website (which doesn’t need a password, awesome) and view real-time activity. I can click a button and see how many times I’ve logged in over the past month. Yawn.

Stop thinking in features

Customers don’t care about features. They don’t even care about products. They want the benefits that products (and features) give them.

“Customers don’t care about features.”

A feature without a benefit is a gimmick. Gimmicks are ok for wowing audiences but customers quickly become bored of them. Features are facts. Customers don’t want facts they want benefits.

Benefits have an emotional aspect. They solve an intimate problem. I don’t care that I can view a list of login attempts. I want to feel that my data is secure.

There’s a famous analogy used to differentiate features and benefits. Recognise this?

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

Why do people want quarter-inch holes? Because they want to hang their new TV on the wall. They want to sit down with their family and enjoy a film together. They want to put up a photo of their pet. These are emotional benefits.

Customers don’t want features. They either want to gain a benefit or avoid a hassle. Customers don’t care that they can produce an invoice in the cloud. They want a hassle-free method for charging their clients. They want to get paid.

How to focus on benefits

Here are some techniques you can use to make sure you’re building products that customers want.

1. Use the ‘So What?’ Technique

Start with a feature and ask ‘So what?’. If you repeat this a few times you’ll get to the real benefits. If you can’t answer this question you’re looking at a gimmick.

The customer can choose to display labels using a colour blind friendly mode.
So what?
Labels can be distinguished by pattern as well as colour.
So what?
Colour blind people can make the best use of the product.
So what?
Products should be accessible. Some of our users are colour blind. They tell their friends and colleagues about how great our product is!

(P.S. I love you, Trello!)

2. Develop Empathy

Empathy is important in software development. If you want to write clean code you have to have the reader in mind.

The same applies to features. If you develop features with the customer in mind they are more likely to have real benefits. What does your customer want? What do they wish? What problems are they having? Solve them.

3. Work backwards

Start with a benefit that the customer desires. (You’ll need empathy for that). Then use the ‘So what?’ technique to move towards a feature. If you can’t think of any benefits to begin with then maybe you’re building the wrong thing.

When you focus on the benefits and drop the gimmicks, great things happen. Customers will use your product. Your revenue will grow. You will save a lot of time. And then you can enjoy the benefits.

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