Have Software Suppliers Become Too Customer-Focused?

Remember the old dictum that says “the customer is always right”? Guess what, they aren’t.

Many times during my career as a management consultant, I have heard clients articulate their business needs and wants in the form of technical solution requirements. Besides completely ignoring the important intermediary step of stating those needs and wants as business requirements, the technical requirements voiced too often reflect only what the client knows to be possible; they do not imagine new and alternative technical solutions to business challenges. In other words, customers are not always a great source for innovative ideas on software functionality, much less on entirely new products.

I mention this because, lately, I have been hearing so many software vendors saying how focused they are on use cases and requirements voiced by their customers. Platform module and individual application development seems to be highly driven by customer feedback these days. Perhaps too highly.

Please do not misunderstand; software suppliers should consult frequently with customers, absorb their feedback, and develop against their use cases and requirements. However, vendors must also proactively imagine and build new functionality that will help customers overcome real and critical business challenges in ways that that they did not realize were possible.

A few software suppliers are mindful of this need. I recently saw a position opening announcement for a Senior Product Manager at a software provider that listed the following as one of the key qualifications for a successful candidate:

A demonstrated ability to get past what customers say they want and deliver what they really need

WOW! How powerful is that? It would be difficult to say it in a more simple, clear fashion.

The point of this post is to encourage software providers to think beyond stated customer technical requirements. Those are an important part of product planning, but cannot be the sole basis on which current product development and long-term roadmap decisions are made. Think and act like a management consultant; help your customers envision previously unimagined possibilities. That is a sustainable source of product innovation and competitive advantage.

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3 responses to “Have Software Suppliers Become Too Customer-Focused?

  1. Lynne Capozzi

    Larry,
    As a software marketer, I agree with you. @acquia, we have customer personas and by knowing who they are, by learning their pains and by following in their footsteps we are hoping we can anticipate where they will step and how to solve the problem that hasn’t happened yet. We are trying this in development of Drupal Gardens.

  2. Larry, I tend to agree with your observations. The truth is that my hardest task as a management consultant over the years has been to lead the client off their solution, and to refocus attention on the real (and validated) problem. Thank you for the opportunity to comment, and regards…

  3. A fascinating and well-written post! It contains a cornucopia of truths. It is truly essential to determine the “why” of a request before moving on to the “what” or the “how.” This applies to any industry. Before recommending a solution, one must know what the one asking is ultimately attempting to accomplish.

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