Finding the customer’s requirements are easy, right? I mean, all sales and marketing has to do is just ask the customer what is important to them, they tell you, and you have the requirements. If only it was that easy… Customer’s will provide you with an awful lot of information, ask for many features they think they want, and describe things that may not be realistic. Are these all requirements?

Let’s say you are designing a lawnmower. What are the customer’s requirements?

  • Quiet, clean, fast, easy, cheap, effortless, comfortable
  • Easy to: start, clean, sharpen, change, fix, use
  • Cup-holders, lights, bells, whistles, music, TV screen, Internet

Wow, that’s a lot of stuff. Does the customer really want all this? Can we make it? Should we make it even if we can? The list describes attributes without being too specific. Of course we can ask for more specifics but the point is that the customer is describing what they already know about current lawnmowers. Perhaps the customer is telling us something more but it is hidden in these attributes. Does the customer like cutting the grass?

customer's requirementsIf we take the opposite of each one of these what does it say?

  • Loud, dirty, slow, expensive, difficult, uncomfortable
  • Hard to start or use
  • Boring, uninteresting, need something to pass the time

I don’t think the customer likes cutting the grass. Should we give the customer bells and whistles to reduce their unhappiness or should we design a product that relieves the customer of cutting the grass in the first place, yet is economical and easy to do? How about grass that doesn’t grow more than an inch or an insect that eats the tops of the grass, or a chemical you add to the water that stunts growth.

Determining the Customer’s Requirements

If you make lawnmowers then you will probably look for the bells and whistles you can add to differentiate your product and make more money. After all, you have an investment in plant and equipment that makes lawn mowers and you can’t just throw that away can you?

But what if you don’t make lawn mowers? Then, you don’t have such an investment and you are happy to displace the lawnmower manufacturer. You see, as the lawnmower manufacturer, you are going to be displaced anyway by the new innovation. Wouldn’t you rather displace yourself then be displaced by the new innovations in your field?

When determining the customer’s requirements, don’t just rely on what they literally say. Dig deeper, use the opposite to understand what they are trying to say, and then test your assumptions. You may just find a new market you didn’t know you had.