Every small business wants to sell big. The desire to earn a lot of customers is deeply ingrained into business culture. However, to do so, you need to create products and services that people are really enthusiastic about. Dedicated readers of this blog know that we refer to this as product-market fit. What we have not yet talked about is exactly how you can do that.

The art of creating perfect products or perfect services is not merely a question of manufacturing or finding the right employees. It’s not even just about understanding your customers’ needs deeply, although that’s a very important part! Fundamentally, creating the perfect product requires following a rigorous, repeatable process to inch your way toward perfection using iteration and observation. In short, it’s a science.

With that in mind, here is a brief outline of the article you’re about to peruse:

6 Steps to Crafting the Perfect Products and Services

  1. Identify Your Target Customer
  2. Know Your Customers Better Than They Know Themselves
  3. Assess Your Capabilities
  4. Make Imperfect Products to Make the Perfect Products (Minimum Viable Products)
  5. Test Your Prototype
  6. Collect Real Data & Analyze it With Clear Eyes

6 Steps to Crafting the Perfect Products and Services

Identify Your Target Customer

Deep down, all businesses must be built to address a need. To convince someone to spend their hard-earned money requires a sufficiently strong incentive, and only addressing needs can provide that. Even when money is no object, you still need to move people from a default state of “no action” to a state of “taking action.” This is not always easy to do, and it’s why we keep saying to focus on product-market fit!

As we had discussed in Consumer Behavior 101, needs are not always what you think they are. Needs are often emotional. They are very heavily dependent upon the nature of your audience. Some people have very basic needs at the moment you come into contact with them – food, water, sleep. Other times, people have far more abstract needs such as a chance to express their creativity or to find love and belonging.

This is where we circle back to finding the right audience. Once you identify an audience your business would like to serve, you can figure out their needs. Upon figuring out their needs, you can find a way to meet those needs. When you’re able to meet those needs, you can find a way to signal your ability to meet those needs in your marketing materials. This is what compels people to make the decision to go with your company. It must happen in that order!

Know Your Customers Better Than They Know Themselves

Great marketers are great listeners. Great listeners don’t just listen to what is said, though. They also listen to what is not said. Listeners pay attention to online behavior and body language. I would argue that in our strange century, great data analysts and researchers are among the greatest listeners of all.

Once you identify an unaddressed or under-addressed need that your target audience has, think deeply about the nature of the need. One way you can do this is to map the need to its place on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This hierarchy is an old psychological concept that has stuck around for a while because it allows us to understand complicated emotional experiences in a simpler way. This allows you to say things like “their need for more Twitter followers is actually a desire for self-esteem.” Alternatively, you may say “our friendly customer service fills a need for friendship, at least for a little while.”

Once you’ve thought about the nature of the need you’ve found in the market, consider another question. Can you meet this need in a way people have not yet described? Henry Ford supposedly (but probably never) said, “[i]f I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Whether he said this sentence or not, the moral of the story is simple: people aren’t always best at describing ways to solve their problems. That’s where you come in.

At this point, you’ll want to determine whether it is better to innovate with a new process or continue along a well-established path. Neither answer is necessarily wrong in the abstract. Yet you must look at your business environment and make a determination for yourself. This is how you find your unique value proposition. Once you do that, you can think about how best to pitch your products or services to your intended audience.

Assess Your Capabilities

Naturally, before you promise customers certain products or services, you want to make sure that you are able to provide them. This is especially true when you’re aiming to create perfect products or services. Remember that your ability here is not gauged simply in operational competency. Your ability to meet customer needs is ultimately judged by the customers. Your customers’ perceptions are your reality.

Before you commit to meeting needs in any one way or another, consider performing a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. These analyses allow you to weigh both internal and external factors that could help or hinder your ability to please your customers.

Take off the rose-colored glasses and be very, very honest about what you can and can’t do. This is critical!

Make Imperfect Products to Make the Perfect Products (Minimum Viable Products)

In the early 2000s, a new term arose from Silicon Valley: minimum viable product. No matter what industry you’re in, including service industries, this concept is immensely useful. The core concept couldn’t be simpler. You make the simplest, most straightforward, perhaps even stripped-down version of a product. The idea is to quickly, inexpensively create something that you can show to your target audience.

Removing the stress of focusing on perfection is immensely freeing. Feedback from early adopters is likely to send you off into all sorts of directions you could not have predicted. That’s not a bad thing, either. You should actively encourage people to correct your course!

There is an important caveat here, though. While it’s usually appropriate to create a minimum viable product, it’s not always appropriate to release one to the public. Sometimes, it’s very difficult to overcome bad first impressions that come with a slipshod product. If you’re in an industry where this rule applies, you should keep your minimum viable product within the confines of focus groups and other tight-knit communities. This will keep from sullying your name before you’re able to show people what you are truly capable of.

Test Your Prototype

Once you have created a minimum viable product, it’s time to test. You’re testing for functionality, yes, but for the purposes of this blog, let’s focus on marketing. Before you ever begin a test, you want to have a clear idea of which emotions you are trying to encourage in your audience. When it’s time to test your prototype, you want to see if your product truly works on that level.

A lot of techies know that when you’re testing software, you need test scripts. The purpose of these test scripts is to push you to use the system in ways with the intention of breaking it. You perform all the usual and unusual transactions in the hope that nothing goes wrong.

In marketing, you don’t hand test scripts to your potential customers. Nobody’s stopping you, but it’s certainly not expected behavior. What you do instead is let people use your product and service with the specific intention of watching how certain scenarios play out. Here is what that could look like:

  • Do customers have any trouble finding the place?
  • How do customers act when they walk in the door?
  • Are customers satisfied with the product?
  • Are customers bringing friends over to see the product?
  • Do any particular aspects of the product cause customers trouble?

The specific scenarios are heavily dependent upon the nature of your product or service. No matter what you plan to sell, though, you should have some questions in mind that you’d like answered before you start testing and before you start gathering real data. This is, after all, the scientific method.

Collect Real Data & Analyze it With Clear Eyes

One of the most important things to do during testing is to collect data. In the heat of the moment, you cannot possibly capture and analyze everything you see and hear. That’s why you record it for future use. But what should you record in the first place?

First, realize the limits of gathering data. Marketing deals with the complex and intangible thoughts and emotions of unpredictable human beings. For that reason, most of the data that you will gather as part of the market testing process will be qualitative. One way you can gather qualitative data through open-ended / essay questions on surveys. Another way you can gather qualitative data is through behavioral observations and simply listening to what people say.

It’s folly to focus purely on qualitative data, though. You need to make sure you’re gathering hard numbers, too. You can do this by surveys with numeric or categorical questions. Another way to gather qualitative data is through web traffic, email sign-ups, advertising performance, social media sentiment analysis, and more. Quantitative data gathering in marketing could be an entirely separate blog post!

You need qualitative and quantitative marketing data to tell you the whole truth. The ultimate goal should be to create products that serve people’s needs. A product can seem fantastic in person, but when put on an e-commerce site, that means nothing if sales consistently underperform. Similarly, everything can look great on paper, but if you see no smiles, no enthusiasm, no passion, you’re probably missing a key ingredient in your product or service. No calculator or computer yet devised is smart enough to catch that.

Final Thoughts

Creating perfect products and services is well within the grasp of any small business. It will take trial and error to achieve perfection, but this six-step method serves as a great guideline.

Once again, to summarize, the steps are:

  1. Identify Your Target Customer
  2. Know Your Customers Better Than They Know Themselves
  3. Assess Your Capabilities
  4. Make Imperfect Products to Make the Perfect Products (Minimum Viable Products)
  5. Test Your Prototype
  6. Collect Real Data & Analyze it With Clear Eyes

Are you pursuing perfection with your products or services? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love hear from you 🙂