Spending an excessive amount of time in the chamber with meetings not only gives you a headache, it can also screw up your priorities. But they’re correct in stating that users will often invite one thing and need a special thing entirely.
So how does one hone in on what users really need? You ask people that represent a heterogeneous cross-section of your target population, consider their built-in biases and perspectives and triangulate from there. In my experience, I’ve found it helpful to speak to users who represent the leading, middle and trailing adoption populations in my market also as influential observers.
Here’s what to think about with each.
Call them “influencers,” “hipsters,” or “mavens”. These are the super-early adopters who have a deep perspective on your market and your product. They’re often not target customers, but they need rich insights into how your product are going to be received.
Where they’re good: keeping you from stepping in your own manure. Influencers have an intuitive handle on what other hipsters get excited about, and what they hate. They ask many people, read tons and check out tons of things. The foremost important asset they provide is preventing you from committing a significant gaffe that would kill your product. Like launching an internet site in 2005 that only works in Internet Explorer. Or releasing a corporation blog that doesn’t have comments enabled. They will also offer you an early warning of competitive products or companies which may be relevant. And in contrast to most customers, they’re usually brutally honest.
Watch out for: influencers wish to run with lot of inspiration so you would like to understand the way to balance the feverish, often polarizing reception you’ll get (“it rules!” or “it sucks!”). Find out how to filter “cool” from “useful,” especially when it involves technology and interface. Watch out for the influencer’s boasted ability to channel the “average user”. Don’t believe it. Nobody who lives in Mountain View and spends their free time blogging about Ajax knows a whit about average users. None folks do.
You usually know who your leading adopters are. In many cases, they were the primary customers you found. They’re usually genuinely excited about your product and your company and wanting to help make the merchandise better. Listening carefully to your early adopters can function an early warning system for what the bulk of users will want within the future. To paraphrase Gretzky – they assist you skate to where the puck are going to be.
Where they’re good: the issues they’re having are problems everyone will have. When an influence user describes a drag they’re encountering in your product, you’ll bet tons of other users will encounter it at some point. Leading adopters also understand your product deeply, and may describe what they need in richer detail, using the terminology you’re conversant in and therefore the capabilities of your product as background.
Watch out for: early adopters are usually very excited about your product and really wanting to assist you succeed. That’s great for your ego, but it are often very bad for your development process. Many companies are lured to their doom by a really small, well-meaning and vocal group of power users who fooled the corporate into thinking they were gaining real traction. Also, power users rarely describe a drag, they typically invite a selected solution. Since they understand the merchandise so well, they like to talk in features, which may mask the underlying problem. For instance, a complicated IT user might invite a preference setting that permits them to cover a feature in your product from their users. Which may be a simple feature to ship, and you’d be tempted to try to it. But if you dug deeper, you would possibly learn that their posing for this because there’s a significant usability problem with the feature in question, and hiding it’s the simplest way they will consider to avoid being pestered by confused co-workers. During this case, you’d be happier fixing the underlying problem than delivering the feature your early adopter asked for.
You might be tempted to call these folks “average users” but there’s no such thing. the bulk of your users probably fall under this category, but take care to lump them into a pile – they’re far too diverse. the very fact is, these folks are your most precious asset from a development perspective. They’re also those paying the bills.
Where they’re good: your product has been designed for them, so they’re the simplest equipped to shape your roadmap. You get the foremost out of them once you get them talking about pain – what’s painful about what they’re doing today and what would help eliminate the pain? A patient rarely knows what prescription they have, but they typically know what hurts. Middle adopters need interactive dialog. They won’t just start talking unaided just like the influencers or the first adopters, so you would like to bring them out with many open questions and “what ifs”.
Watch out for: these users are often reluctant to mention anything negative. You would like to offer them permission to be brutally honest. In my experience, they’ll usually apologize to you for problems they’re having together with your product – “I am quite dim” or “I must not have read the documentation closely enough”. Rule – when a middle adopter user starts apologizing, it’s your fault. Since these customers aren’t as comfortable or conversant in technology, going to the important problem can sometimes desire an archaeological dig. But keep at it.
Unless you’ve got huge market share during a mature market, these people probably aren’t your customers. You’ll want to speak to them to urge a way of what’s preventing people from using your product. Are they fearful or simply skeptical? Late adopters are the sanity filter for your customer research.
Where they’re good: they will assist you appreciate the facility of established order. As product developers, we are great at convincing ourselves of the royal ineptitude of the incumbent solution and therefore the absolute withering pain under which our soon-to-be-freed subjects stand to be liberated. Nothing sort of a conversation with a late adopter to throw cold water thereon. Working within the wiki space, I’m sometimes startled to listen to these people say things like – “you know, emailing around a bunch of Word documents doesn’t bother me that much”. But poke a touch and you’ll gain an understanding of what they really care about – “I like emailing documents because I can control who sees them”. (Ahh, control and security!).
Watch out for: take care once they tell you what they need. They know what they like about what they need today, but they’re not nearly as good at articulating what they’ll need tomorrow. And don’t sweat yourself to death. Ultimately late adopters move when somebody else tells them to, or when something appears to be a foregone conclusion. The sole thanks to influence them is to win the bulk.
As you’ll imagine, many product developers make the error of only lecture leading adopters, or worse yet, influencers. Why? It’s more fun. They love your product, they’re hooked in to it and that they skills to speak to you during a language you understand. Plus, we product developers are usually early adopters ourselves, so they’re kin. Don’t fall under that trap. The sole thanks to get an entire picture of what it’ll fancy make your product successful is to speak to a good cross-section of users, and triangulate from there.