When people listen to one another many times the listener is hearing their own radio station playing--W.I.I.FM (what’s in it for me FM radio).
I used this analogy recently to describe why most voice-of-the-customer (VOC) efforts fail to get good VOC information about what people really want (and value).
This often leads to the wrong products being defined and is one of the contributing factors that cause 9 out of 10 new technology products to fail in the market place.
Most of the time when development teams talk to customers (if they do it at all) they get a confirmation of what they already know. They call this VOC, and check off the box on their product life cycle system that says "get voc."
They lead their discussion with the customer with something like this... "let me show you what we have designed and how it works..." They are showing the customer HOW they are going to solve the problem that they have already decided the customer has...
The alternative approach is to lead with trying to understand the real WANTS or needs that the customer has. This should be based on the problem the customer is trying to solve. HOWS fulfill WANTS, but you can't discuss HOWS until you know the WANTS. We call "wants" the "customer requirements" and the "hows" are "product requirements" or "product features." Most of the time these two get mixed up by developers, they think they are getting the WANTS and all they are doing is getting a confirmation of the HOWS that they have already prescribed to the problem they have already defined.
Here's a crude example to illustrate the point. I go out and get VOC from the customer. I show him a prototype of the knife my team built. I discuss the attributes of the knife; it is made out of Titanium, it never needs sharpening, it has a sleek modern design, if feels good, it is inexpensive, and it comes in many different shapes. The customer is impressed and likes all of these important selling features. I return to my development team and report back that we are "on the right track" to a huge success with our new knife.
Fast forward, our new knife is released--few buy it, especially the target customers with whom we did VOC. What went wrong? I go back and ask them what we did wrong. The say, "you didn't ask us what our problem was, you just showed us your solution. We liked your knife, but this is not the problem we were trying to solve. Rather, our problem was how to more efficiently eat soup and your knife just didn't 'cut it.'"
I could go on for many pages with real examples of multi-million dollar development projects that failed once they arrived to market because of essentially the same problem I had with my wiz-bang knife invention!
Another example is a large semiconductor company we work with who's CEO defined six criteria for evaluating new product ideas in order to determine which projects get funded and which projects he would kill before they consumed valuable resources. The usual financial criteria like ROI, revenue growth, and margin were included, but the top ranked objectives were a) level of customer engagement and b) engage tier 1 customers. In fact these two objectives got 60% of the importance weighting versus the other four financial drivers.
This selection criteria translated to "No driving tier 1 customer = no funding for your new product idea." No customers, then why are we making it?
Recently we have seen two of these mistakes totaling about $50m invested into development efforts that now have no customer waiting for them. In one case the project was never killed since it was the bright idea of the senior executive in charge and no one wanted to tell the king he had no clothes and the other was the result of the engineering team "knowing more than their customers."
More of the "right" VOC is needed now to weed-out the bad development projects from the portfolio, those that are consuming valuable resources that could be used on the good ones. Now, more than ever, you need to evaluate your new product pipeline for the level of "real" VOC you gathered that drove the product's definition.
So know that W.I.I.FM is playing when you talk to your customer and lead with "listening" rather than "telling."