How to Understand Your Customers’ Must-Solve Problem

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Organizations typically understand the problems their products solve. It’s always clear to them. But rarely can they differentiate what problems their customers see as nice to solve vs. should solve vs. must solve for their business. In the B2B world, customers typically spend money on must-haves.

To know a customer’s must-solve problem, you need to speak with as many current and prospective customers as you can. There is an art to interviewing customers. Many companies ask pointed yes or no questions such as would their life be better if they could do X faster? Companies design these questions to get the response they want, which typically confirms their assumptions and makes their current strategy look smart. This reveals almost nothing about what the customer actually thinks or wants. I sought to understand the entire context of their world. I created a system to discover the must-solve problem, where I would interview them about the following five items: status quo, problem, ideal solution, benefit, and impact. 

The status quo represents the current situation, how they conduct business now. This matters because you don’t often lose business to a direct competitor; you lose it to the status quo. 

Here are some examples of status quo questions:

  • Describe your current process for X. What works? What doesn’t? 
  • (For new customers) What were your operations for X before you hired us? 
  • How does your team stay on top of X or don’t get overwhelmed by Y? 
  • What are a few of the tools you currently use? What do you like about them? What do you not like?

Sample problem questions include the following:

  • What problems do you face when trying to do X today? Tell me more. 
  • How long has this been a problem? 
  • What solutions have you tried to implement? Did they work? 
  • What obstacles have you encountered to solving this problem? 

If you believe you can solve their problem, dig further into their pain and ask about their ideal solution. This will provide you with a better under- standing of what’s most important to them. 

Here are some sample ideal solution questions:

·       How important is it to you or your organization to solve this challenge?

·       What would be an ideal solution to this problem? Why is that the best solution?

·       In a perfect world, how quickly would you solve this issue?

After that, you can ask what benefits they will receive from having the problems solved. Will they save time? Money? What’s the opportunity cost? Take all the relevant information gathered about their status quo, the problems they have, and what their ideal solution looks like, and use that to tailor questions about the benefits of having their problems solved.

Here are some sample benefit questions:

  • What impacts does problem X have on your business? 
  • What happens if you do nothing to solve it? 
  • What would it mean for you, your team, and your business to solve this problem? 

Finally, the rubber hits the road when you ask about the impact. Never assume that the benefits expressed by target customers equates to impact. An impact can be a business impact or a personal impact. Saving time is a benefit but the impact means more productivity, more time to strategize and come up with unique ways to grow the business. Or both. You need to find out if the impact is meaningful. This, ultimately, is how you identify a must-solve problem. 

Sample questions about impact include the following:

  • What would you do, or do more of, if you had more time in your day? 
  • How important is it to you, your team, and your organization to be able to do more?

Pay close attention to the specific language that customers use. Consider keeping a master document populated with the phrases that prospects and customers employ to describe their situation and problems. Then in your content and ads, reflect that language. One of the major advertising fallacies is that a unique or unusual way to describe products stands out and wins more customers. The truth is that in the B2B world, buyers don’t care how clever the marketing department is. They want to work with someone who understands them and empathizes with them. Speaking their language proves that you do that.

STEVEN MARK KAHAN has successfully helped grow seven startup companies from early stage to going public or being sold, resulting in $5 billion in shareholder value. Steven is the author of Amazon best seller, Be a Startup Superstar. Steven’s newest book is High-Velocity Digital Marketing.   https://www.amazon.com/High-Velocity-Digital-Marketing-Silicon-Breakthrough/dp/1637742169

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