One method to help identify the customer’s real needs is to ask questions around four critical elements. What are your goals for your product? What are your financial goals? What are your goals for the market? And finally, what resources do you need to accomplish these goals? The answers to these questions will help uncover any hidden problems that your solution can address.
Developing a customer solution often involves coming up with a range of ideas—from simple to complex; from modestly-priced to expensive. Pick the finalists from the list of ideas that will fit the customer situation. You don’t yet have to settle on one. You may select two or three to share with the customer, depending on how willing the customer is to explore options. When I worked as a designer it was common for us to pitch several alternative ideas because we knew it was a whole lot easier for clients to accept our recommendation if they had a chance to reject another option.
As you narrow the pool of possibilities, it’s important to revisit those four critical questions (around Financial, Market, Product, and Resources) to assess each of your solutions.
Financial. Rate each of your solutions on the financial dimension. If your customer implements this solution, what kind of financial return might there be in terms of revenue, profitability, cost, productivity, or any other important financial measure?
Market. Examine each of your solution options from a market perspective (if a customer applies it to their customer). When thinking of market implications, ask how this solution will affect your customer’s customers.
Product. Judge each alternative with the customer’s offering in mind. How will this solution impact the sale of the product? If the customer is addressing an internal situation, rather than an external customer situation, think about product as the application of the customer's solution.
- Resources. Consider how this is going to match up to the customer’s resource objectives to make things happen or get things done. This may refer either to resources that the customer needs to work externally with its customers or to the resources required for internal operations.
Because you use these questions to define the problem in the beginning of the process, these dimensions offer the perfect standard against which to test your ideas and help you objectively evaluate a range of creative ideas and build consensus among the team. Now, you’ll see which of your solutions have potential, and which should be filed away for later use.