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Love the Customer, not the Problem (nor your Solution)

I'm a huge fan of Ash Maurya's Lean Canvas and the principles it teaches. If you're an entrepreneur or an intrapreneur, a product manager or a product marketing manger, you use the Lean Canvas to think holistically about the products and services you're creating for your business.  And yet...

I'm not sold on his new mantra to "Love the Problem, Not Your Solution."

Personally, I'm passionate about working with cross-functional teams of smart people to transform cutting edge technologies into products that enable and empower consumers to do things they never thought possible.  That, AND, for that consumer to place a higher value on that product than it cost to make it (profit) – well, that's what gets me out of bed every morning.

The Lean Canvas framework forces you to continually consider, test and validate (or invalidate)  all of these components, in every stage of your business – from inception to go-to-market to scale-up. It's a fantastic tool and I rely on it daily.

Back to my issue... in a recent blog post, Ash describes the most common pitfall that trips up entrepreneurs: "Falling in love with your solution."

You should go ahead and read the post if you haven't yet.  It certainly rings true to me, because I have also met with many entrepreneurs who have come to me because they've fallen in love with their solution and their business is not taking off as they had hoped.

Now, to remedy this pitfall, Ash has put forth a mantra to "Love the Problem, Not Your Solution."

While I agree that Falling in love with your solution is the top pitfall, I disagree that Loving the Problem is the ultimate answer.  

Love the Customer, Not Your Solution

Instead, I say "Love the Customer, not your Solution."

So, what's wrong with Loving the Problem? I see 3 quick challenges:

  1. You're likely to fall in love with a small problem, one that's not worth solving. Ash's post starts off with the fact that the entrepreneur must find a "big enough" problem to solve.
  2. Problems get solved, either because of your solution or a competitor's solution. What happens when the Problem you loved is no longer a problem?
  3. Customers' priorities change. The world is changing rapidly – from technology trends to consumer trends to environmental trends.  The customer's #1 problem that you're in love with today may not be their #1 problem 6 months from now.  

So, why is "Love the Customer, Not Your Solution" better?

In his post, Ash correctly states, "Start by recognizing that your true job is to create a customer (not your solution)." So, let's focus on the customer (not the problem).

As I said before, the beauty of the Lean Canvas is that it forces you to think holistically about your business.  The Customer lives in the core of your business, and plays a stronger influential role than any other component of the canvas:

  1. Problems are derived from your Customers.
  2. Solutions must satisfy your Customers.
  3. Your UVP must appeal to your Customers.
  4. You reach your Customers through your Channels.
  5. Your revenue streams align with how your Customers want to pay for your Solution.
  6. Many of your Key Metrics should measure Customer behaviors.

Your current customers are often too specific and narrow when it comes to feature requests. If you simply implement their requests as stated, you may be scratching an itch, but you may also be missing the bigger problems they want you to solve. To understand what your customers really want – and what solution you should build for them – you need to talk to them. Use the 5 Whys to get at the core of what they're after. To get good at this, you need to learn how to develop a deeper relationship with your customers.

An example of the 5 Whys technique to get to the root cause – the bigger problem the customer wants or needs solved.

An example of the 5 Whys technique to get to the root cause – the bigger problem the customer wants or needs solved.

When you love your customers, you will want to solve the biggest problems they have. 

When you love your customers, you will know the next problem they want solved after you've solved their current problem.  

When you love your customers, you understand who they are and how their world is changing around them, allowing you to adapt and change with them.

Love the Customer, not your Solution

Thank you for reading – please comment and share with others!

Alex Westner