I recently came across a quotation from Henry Ford, which I thought was sage advice for product managers. Ford stated “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.” The quotation reflects the fact that customers understand their problems and desired outcomes, but typically lack the skills to recommend to optimal solution to their problems. Customers are typically limited to past experiences in formulating ideas. They often lack the creativity to visualize new solutions based upon emerging technologies. Furthermore, most customers are not experts at product development. Customers have expertise in other functions such as manufacturing, accounting, sales, service delivery or information technology.
Of course, it is not the customer’s job to create technology solutions. It is the role of the marketing and product management team at a technology vendor to design new product concepts. In summary, listening to customers about their problems and desired outcomes is the right approach. However, limiting the scope of your ideation to just customer ideas is dangerous.
I have my own adaptation of Ford’s quotation to reflect the challenges with listening to sales about product ideas:
If I’d asked my sales team what they wanted, they’d have said a cheaper horse.
But that is a subject for another post…