80% of new products fail! 90% of the reasons for failure can be tracked back to the front end of the product lifecycle – that time when you gather ideas and requirements from which you decide what to build (both numbers can be validated through many sources – including PDMA, Coopers, etc.). Actually, and according to the Conference Board, a full 25% of product failures can be attributed to misread customer needs.
Why do you think this is happening? Of course, you have the occasional clueless product manager, who cannot extract anything meaningful from the marketplace – or worse, who draws the wrong conclusions from the information gathered.
But the main reason may in fact be that the customer is giving you the wrong information! Either intentionally or not – yep, some will lie to you!
Let’s take the unintentional case first. Most customers do not think as much about product usage as you would like them to, yet they will try to please you and answer all your questions – often times giving you the wrong information. Some do genuinely think that they know what they want – but at the end of the day, they are wrong (i.e., someone may tell you that they want a calendar as part of their product, when in reality they want to find a better way to manage meetings – which can better be solved in some other way).
The second case is the one where they intentionally mislead you. Take dating services as an example. There are usage models in there that are not socially acceptable – yet may happen to be the most profitable. If you interview people, they will not readily tell you their needs in those areas – in fact, they likely will lie to you and tell you that they would not use features in those areas.
So how do you solve this problem? You don’t ask your customers what they want – you watch them use your product and infer from that. You become a modern anthropologist instead of a interviewer. And that of course, requires a different skill-set!