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E155: Why Customer Research Should NOT Focus on Solution Design for Your B2B SaaS

by Sean Boyce

Customers are bad as designing solutions (hint: that’s your job) so let’s talk about how to steer conversations with them away from this topic and make sure you get what you need from that time spent to provide them with the value they really need.
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Episode Transcript
 Hey folks, Sean here, and in this episode I want to talk to you about why when you’re in the research and discovery mode with your customer, you want to avoid. Having them dictate to you. Solution design, allow me explain integrated detail, and I’m also gonna share an antidote. So a million years ago, I used to work as a mechanic working on cars.

We work on like passenger vehicles doing oil changes and replacing tires and stuff like that. So I learned a lot about that trade, but more importantly, I learned a lot more about how the professionals in that industry, Do that job well and important for that role was efficiency cuz of how the business model operated.

But either way, one of the things that they told me early on was to be careful of what a customer says the problem is. And I want, I kind of wanted to know why. So they, I had asked them for an example and they shared one. They shared an example in terms of why this is such a problem. From the perspective of if someone came in and thought they needed an alignment, which is where they essentially, they realign the drive wheel, which front two wheels in your car, that’s when you turn the steering wheel.

Those are the car, those are the wheels that move. They said that some people will come in and it was a common problem, say that their steering wheel was vibrating at highway speeds. So when the car got up to speed, they’d feel vibration in the steering wheel, and then they would march into a mechanic shop and they would demand an alignment without providing sometimes even any additional context.

Now, the problem comes in the fact that that problem is not connected to the solution that they think it is. So if that mechanic shop went ahead and just gave them an alignment, They get their car back and it still would have the original problem. So in that example, the customer is not sharing with you what the problem is.

They’re trying to tell you what the solution should be, and that’s a problem. Cause customers are not particularly equipped for solving their own problems. That is your job now. Instead, what they tell me to do. Is to listen for the problem as they describe it, as in why they feel like they need an alignment.

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And if you had asked that question, you would’ve found out that it was their steering wheel vibrating at highway speeds. Now, the real solution to that problem is to balance your wheels. So that has nothing to do with an alignment. But in the end of the day, if that’s what you do to correct the problem, the customer gets their car back and it no longer has the problem.

That’s all they care about. So the point of this story is that, The customer just wants the problem to get solved, but they might jump around and dive into solution designing with you because that’s a natural thing for humans to just do. It’s part of basic human psychology. So what I’m trying to describe here is that, and I’m doing this now with several of my products, but when you are interacting with a user free trial or otherwise paying customer, that’s using your B2B SaaS, And you start talking about the additional value your product can provide.

For example, what you wanna stay away from is the customer saying things like, wouldn’t it be great if, or maybe your product could do this. Cuz there that’s them ideating around solution design and there may or may not be value there, but more than likely there isn’t. Because of how they’re describing it should work as probably either not ideal or not going to work.

When you ultimately figure out, remember back from the mechanic story. How whatever they’re asking for is tied back to a real problem, and that’s where you wanna focus. So if they start basically throwing feature ideas at you, you need to make sure that those are gonna solve real problems of theirs. So when they share that kind of stuff, ask them, okay, well if we did that, what problem would that solve for you?

And then if they can connect that to a problem, what kind of impact is that problem causing? Making sure it’s connected to a problem ensures that they’ll get value out of it, meaning that they’ll use it. And then asking them what kind of impact that problem has will help you prioritize that against the list of any other request that they have.

That’s the best way to manage that conversation. Now, if they throw a solution design element at you or a feature request and they can’t tie it back to a problem, that means it’s not really a priority for them. And it’s highly likely that if you invest a time and money in building that, that they wouldn’t actually use it.

So anyway, long story short here is stay away from solution designing with customers from their perspective, and if they do volunteer or anything like that. Make sure you tie it back to a problem cause that’s what’s going to be necessary in order for you to verify whether or not if you build functionality that solves that problem, whether or not that’s actually gonna provide real vol, real value for them and move the needle.