Ask These 3 Questions to Really Understand Your Customer’s Pain

photo credit: CarbonNYC via photopin ccYour startup may have the best technology in the universe, but if it doesn’t solve a problem that real customers are willing to pay real money for, your business can’t succeed.

This is especially true when you’re selling B2B.

To solve a customer’s problem, you really understand what that problem is. Do not wait until you have your prototype built.

Here are three questions to get you on the right path.

Ask the first question of yourself.

1. Who should I be talking with to learn about the pain points in the markets and companies I hope to serve?

  • Talk to the people doing the work. They will understand problems with process and execution. If your target market is manufacturing, reach out to the folks who work in the plants. If it is software, the IT folks who install and maintain application systems can tell you things you need to know. If you have a physical distribution solution, talk to the drivers of the trucks and the managers in charge of the warehouse or inventory.
  • Functional managers with profit and loss (P&L) responsibility live and breathe margins, pricing, and costs. Use your network to gain appointments with upper level managers with responsibility for markets and product lines.
  • Sales, marketing, and customer service teams know better than many in the company what their customers want. If you can come up with something that produces an advantage over the competition, these groups can become your internal advocates.

Now start talking to potential customers.

2. If you could change one thing about your business, what would that be?

  • Every customer has this hot button. If someone tells you they like things just the way they are, you’re talking to the wrong person. Go back to question #1.
  • Your customers have the same concerns you do—it’s just the specifics that are different. You’ll hear about Increasing sales, reducing costs, finding the best people with the right skills, keeping customers, beating the competition, dealing with regulatory issues, speeding up product development, finding the right strategic partners.

3. What would you like to do with your business that you can’t do today?

  • In well-managed companies, there are lots of individuals with vision. Imagining new possibilities isn’t the exclusive territory of senior management. Open your aperture.
  • From wish list to strategic plan, the more you hear about the direction of the company, the better you can aim your technology to match the pace. There’s nothing worse than having a solution that solves a problem that your customers won’t have five years down the road.

Googling gives you a great head start, but nothing, absolutely nothing, beats talking—and listening—directly to customers.