Companies are now turning to technology and software to help them at a rate we've never seen before. It can be a way to deliver a better service to your existing customers, or an opportunity to capture a new target market. It’s not a solution to every problem, but it can help you to reach people in new ways.
As the vast number of technology options increase by the day, it can be hard to know which route to take. Should you develop an app for your customers, or add an onling booking system to your website? How about developing a dashboard to help make better internal decisions?
In this article, we look at how to think about your goals, and your customers, to navigate the software options available.
What are your business goals?
The first step in figuring out the right software is setting your business goals. To do this, you need to consider where your business is today and where you want it to be. One reliable way to do this is by creating a roadmap for how your company will grow over time, with specific milestones along the way.
The best kind of goal has five characteristics: SMART - specific, measurable, achievable/achievable within a set time frame (usually no more than six months), relevant or related to other goals, and time-bound.
A SWOT analysis is also another useful tool here. When applied with a focus on technology it can help to draw out what the opportunities for technology could be, and what other tech-first companies are doing in your industry.
Focus on the customer
A fantastic quote that we often point companies to is "Instead of focusing on the competition, focus on the customer", by Scott Cook.
All good software solutions stem from a real understanding of the target customers (users). Understanding your customer is essential. It is the guiding light for finding your way through the vast amount of options that software can bring about.
Learning about what they want, and how to solve their problems, is critical to success. Good software stems from solving the right problem for the right people.
Instead of focusing on the competition, focus on the customer.
Define a persona.
A persona is a tool to help understand target customers (users) in more detail. Personas are fictional but representative of your target market, so they capture a snapshot of your target market, that we can use to hold in front of decisions that we make about any solution.
A persona is a description of a typical user or customer for whom you need to develop products, services or marketing messages. This allows us to define who we are designing for and helps us empathise with them better by understanding what their needs might be. It also gives us an insight into how they behave so that we can make good decisions when creating our product or service offering with them in mind.
When creating a persona, it's important not only to think carefully about who you want your product aimed at but also why they need it and how their lives will be improved by using it (or not). Once you have identified these characteristics then you need somewhere where they can be stored so that everyone working on the project has access at all times. A persona canvas is a useful tool for this, which has elements for each part of a good persona profile.
Again, focusing on technology here can be useful. How "tech literate" is your audience, and what is their appetite for software-based products or services? This will be useful information when evaluating options.
Find your persona’s pain points.
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of software products and tools, but we encourage you to take a step back and look at the big picture. What pain points do your target customers have that could be solved with software?
A good way to identify pain points is by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Ask yourself, “How would I solve this problem if I were my customer? What questions would I ask myself as they were going through their day-to-day lives? What advice would I give them if they came to me with this issue?” These are all great ways of getting inside your customers' heads.
Map out your assumptions.
Assumptions are the things that you think are true, but may not be. They're an important part of any project plan and should be identified early on. Assumptions can help shape your solution and guide what problem you're solving for your customers. They can also be used to test whether or not a solution is working or failing to meet expectations in its intended market.
Companies often build up a lot of assumptions about either their current, or a new, target market—these can include:
- The size of the market (how many people need this product?)
- How much they will pay for it (pricing model)
- How many customers there will be (growth rate)
Assumption mapping is a useful exercise to perform. Gather all relevant assumptions from across the business and key stakeholders, and place them on a map which has two axes - importance (how vital is this assumption being true to the outcome of the project), and difficulty (how hard will it be to prove this assumption). This helps to identify which assumptions are important to look at first, and which can be easily proven (or not!).
Get input from your customers.
When it comes to identifying opportunities, it's important to get input from your customers.
Ask them what they like and don't like about your current products and services, as well as how they really use those products or services. Ask them what they would like to see in your company, and what they see others doing in the industry.
Then ask them what their biggest pain points are—this will help you identify where there is a need for improvement in their lives that you can fulfil with software.
Get good at asking questions which don't suggest a solution that you have in mind already. We want to unearth the root problems that we need to solve, rather than just discuss an idea that you or they have had - why is that idea interesting in the first place, and what does it change?
Once you have a business goal defined and an idea of your target market, you can begin to capture the requirements of what you're doing.
At this stage, a value proposition is a useful thing to start thinking about—it'll help clarify what problem needs solving and how it can be solved in the best way possible. A good value proposition will talk directly about the pain points that you've already investigated and identified.
SMART goals can be a great way to frame a software project, with specific measurable business goals that will help keep everyone on track as they work towards thinking about the solution.
Discover opportunities for software.
As a business owner, you want to make sure that the software you develop is meeting the needs of your customers. The best way to do this is by researching existing solutions available on the market. By comparing any existing solutions that you find with your own idea, you can begin to understand why your customers aren't using them at the moment and how they could be made better.
You'll likely find a number of ways in which existing solutions are lacking or don't fit with user needs—this is where it's important for you to apply your understanding of the target audience (e.g., what do they value? What problems do they face?).
Consider how a customer might currently solve their problem - will they "google" for it, for example? Try doing the same, and see what solutions (or opportunities) you find.
How might software get us there?
Now that we understand the problem, goal and landscape, you're now well placed to start thinking about how software might help us more specifically. In a later blog post, we’ll look at ways to plan the next steps of actually putting the project into place.
As you talk through your ideas with colleagues and customers - and begin exploring options for using technology in your business - remember: “the more imaginative you are with what technology can enable or do better than humans alone – the faster you will see opportunities emerge.”
Through good research and understanding of your customers, you will be well-placed to think about where technology may start to solve problems and open up doors. Software can be the plumbing required to deliver an amazing experience to your customers - and solve problems along the way!
I hope this article has helped you understand the importance of engaging and understanding users throughout your early software discovery process. By getting their input and addressing their pain points, you can make sure that any new features or products will be useful for everyone involved. By understanding customer needs, you’ll be better equipped to develop a product that actually helps them reach their goals—and yours!