"It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them," said Steve Jobs.
And Henry Ford would have agreed to this.
There's so much truth in these words, though these are also the most widely misinterpreted.
In a Cornell University's published paper, the authors quote that practical ideas are generally valued. The more novel an idea, the more uncertainty can exist about whether an idea is practical, useful, error free, and reliably reproduced. When endorsing a novel idea, people can experience failure, perceptions of risk, social rejection when expressing the idea to others, and uncertainty about when their idea will reach completion.
Uncertainty is an aversive state which people feel a strong motivation to diminish and avoid. Hence, people can also have negative associations with novelty; an attribute at the heart of what makes ideas creative in the first place.
It's obvious then that asking potential customers exactly what they want could result in generic answers or ones that based on their perception of the solution.
The trick is to find out what your potential customers want without directly asking them. It's easier for them to comment on something that is placed in front of them rather than asking to imagine something that doesn't yet exist. Also, it's difficult for potential customers to articulate what they need, especially if it relates to something they don't often think about.
And this is where most customer or market research goes wrong setting the entrepreneur on a much longer path to validation. Don't ask them whether they like your product concept/idea or not. Instead, ask them the following questions, which would lead you to understand if the product solves their problems efficiently.
1. What are you currently doing to solve the problem?
Ask your potential customers how they're getting by solving the problem currently that you intend to help them with. Many will be using a competitive product or solving the problem inefficiently or in an unproductive manner.
And this is the information you need to understand where your customers stand with regards to the problem you intend to solve. It would give you insights into their behavior and how adaptive they are for newer solutions.
2. What is the hardest part?
The question to ask here is based on your product or the feature of differentiation that you are building. Get insights from your potential customers about the hardest and the most frustrating part about the problem.
The idea is to understand whether it's a problem worth solving and if your potential customers would give an arm and a leg to seek out a newer way of resolving their challenges.
Asking what the hardest part about the problem will lead you to the underlying pains that a potential customer has or is going through. These underlying pains are the problems you have to solve efficiently.
3. What takes most of your time?
Asking what particular task takes up most of your potential customer's time could lead you to an understanding of the inefficiencies built into current solutions. Most likely, the tasks that take up most of the time will also be least liked by your potential customers, leading them to pay for a more efficient solution.
4. What do you like/dislike about the current solution?
A great question to get insights into your competitive landscape and what customers feel first hand about the usage of the competing product. You would know what features or solution resonates well with customers and what their pain points are in regards to the specific solution. If they like a certain feature or solution, ask them what they like about it and why.
5. How often do you come across this problem?
Frequency of a problem occurring will tell you how frequently your product would potentially be used and whether there's a compelling need for it. If the problem occurs just once every quarter or even less frequently, you may have to rethink the problem that you're solving. On the other hand, if the potential customer is challenge on a daily or weekly basis, it definitely is something they would pay to have resolved.
These questions are effective if you interview a number of potential customers and that you interview them one on one.