You Need to Make “Wanting” No Longer Free

Last week, I wrote a blog post in which I said,

The answer to any question that starts with “do you want” or “are you concerned about” will always be “yes”.

I wanted to expand on that a little bit more, because most product managers will need to understand whether their customers really do value a certain feature or value, and they’ll need to understand the obstacles that potentially prevent someone from becoming a customer.

The reason for this phenomenon is that “wanting” is free. It doesn’t cost your prospective customer anything to “want” feature X, customization Y, added security, privacy, or fiber.

To change this dynamic, you need to make “wanting” no longer free. (A more sophisticated version of this is conjoint analysis; but I’m just going to talk about the simplest level.)

How do you put a cost on customers “wanting” things?

  • Stop asking yes/no questions. It’s way too easy to say “yes”.
  • Insist upon details. This doesn’t mean asking for customers to define the features they want (99% of them won’t be able to anyways), but ask how they would use it, in what situations it would be beneficial, how their life is worse without it.*
  • “Think out loud” a cost. “So, if this would regularly save you 2 hours a week, and your time is worth at least $20 an hour, then you’d be gaining $40…?” (Note: this is not asking people what they’re willing to pay, which they won’t answer anyways, but it gives you some insight into order-of-magnitude — if someone goggles at this question, it probably means they were thinking they’d pay $4, max.)

* This caught me out just the other day: someone had me on the phone for a customer development interview and I said I was interested in some feature. Well-trained, the interviewer asked me to tell him more about how it would make my life better… and I totally drew a blank. You caught me, I said, theoretically it sounds interesting but I can’t tell you why, which means I probably wouldn’t pay money or change my behavior to get it.

One of my favorite anecdotes around “wanting” dates back several years, to when I was working with a client on usability tests. My team had produced the prototypes and handled all of the administration around getting and compensating participants; the client’s user researcher was on hand to ask additional questions (and spy on us because she was clearly suspicious that we’d managed to set up in 1 week the type of testing sessions that typically took her team months.)

The app we were testing was in personal finance, so the user researcher insisted that we ask about privacy.

Despite my objections that constructing a yes/no question would get biased data, the user researcher asked each participant, “Are you concerned about privacy when it comes to your financial information and identity?” Of course, they all said “yes!”

As the final person said yes, I jumped in: “Thanks for participating in our test. We have your $50 check ready for you — here an evil little glint appears in my eyes — you just need to write down your social security number and mother’s maiden name for our records.”

I waved the check; the guy said “OK,” and reached for the sheet of paper and pen.

(I didn’t actually let him write it down! But here he was, “very concerned about privacy…”— but not concerned enough to give up $50 for it!)