• Matt Burrell

How To Build Products That Customers Really Want



Everybody has an idea. An app that will disrupt the market. A product that will blow away the competition.


Software developers have incredible power because they can turn ideas into products.


But developing software takes time and can be expensive. So how can we be sure we're not wasting our time and money?


The answer lies in shifting our focus away from features.


Stop Thinking In Features


Customers don’t care about features. They don’t even care about products. They want the benefits that products and their features give them.


Customers don’t care about features.

A feature without any benefit is a gimmick. Gimmicks are ok for wowing audiences but customers quickly become bored of them. Customers want benefits, not features.


Benefits have an emotional aspect. For example, I don’t care that I can view a list of login attempts. I just want to feel that my data is secure.


There’s a famous analogy used to differentiate features and benefits.


People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!

Why do people want quarter-inch holes? Because they want to hang their new TV on the wall. They want to sit down with their family and enjoy a film together. They want to put up a photo of their pet. These are emotional benefits.


Customers don’t want features. They either want to gain a benefit or avoid a hassle. Customers don’t care that they can produce an invoice in the cloud. They want a hassle-free method for charging their clients. They want to get paid.


How to focus on benefits


Here are a couple of techniques you can use to make sure you’re building products that customers want.


1. Use the ‘So What?’ Technique


Start with a feature and ask ‘So what?’. If you repeat this a few times you’ll get to the real benefits. If you can’t answer this question the feature is probably a gimmick.


Here's an example of the colour-blind-friendly mode feature in Trello.


Feature: The customer can choose to display labels using a colour-blind-friendly mode.

So what?

Labels can be distinguished by pattern as well as colour.

So what?

Colour-blind people can make the best use of the product.

So what?

Products should be accessible. Some of our users are colour-blind. They tell their friends and colleagues about how great your product is!


2. Use Your Empathy


Empathy is important in software development. If you want to write clean code you have to have the reader (another developer) in mind.


If you develop features with the customer in mind they're more likely to have real benefits. What does your customer want? What do they desire? What problems are they having?


Richard Branson says that before you sell anything you need to know your market. By definition, the market consists of customers so we need to know them first.


Focus on solving the customer's problems and giving them what they want. It sounds obvious but it's not always put into practice. If we keep this principle in mind when developing our products we'll save a lot of time and money.