Build a Business Around Customer Pain

An entrepreneur I met recently demonstrated a product to me that she was having trouble selling.  For the sake of anonymity, we’ll call her Sharon, and let’s say she was selling orange pens.

Sharon kept telling me about the power of the color orange, and how it’s a cool color.  She kept talking about how it’s a unique shade of orange unlike any other orange color out there.  Sharon went on and on about things that are orange, and how orange things are good for your general well being.  She would go and on about how ALL kids love bright colors.  Sharon also described how a pen was the perfect vehicle for distributing the awesomeness of orange to the masses.

At best, her product was a novelty. But I didn’t tell her that.

So I asked her, “Why do I need an orange pen?  Better yet, why do I need YOUR orange pen? What pain is your orange pen solving?”

Sharon said, “Well, I guess no one really ‘needs’ an orange pen. In fact, no one ‘needs’ pens actually. It’s just something cool to have.”

Well, first of all, all sorts of people need pens. People who still write paper checks for example. People who still sign paper based contracts for another.  How about students who can’t afford a compute or laptop?  Plenty of people need pens.

Sharon still didn’t understand how a pen could fulfill a need.

I suggested to her that in order for her orange pen to sell, it needed to fix/solve/relieve a specific “pain” that a customer is experiencing.

“You mean like make it ergonomic?” asked Sharon.

“That would be helpful,” I thought.

Pens come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.  I explained to her how a pen with a highlighter solves the pain of having to constantly switch between two different writing implements.  Having a pen that has security ink prevents the pain of check fraud.  A cartridge-based fountain pen solves the pain of messy refills.  Ergonomic pens solve the literal pain of hands cramping up from extensive writing.

“What pain does your orange pen solve?” I asked.

“Well, my pen solves the pain of wanting to have a cool orange pen,” Sharon said.

She wasn’t getting it.

Saying an orange pen solves the pain of not having an orange pen is like saying gloves solves the pain of not having gloves.

Gloves solve the pain of cold hands. Gloves can protect your hands, or keep your hands clean.  Those are the reason WHY I need gloves.

“Why do I need an orange pen? Why do I need our orange pen?” I asked again.

“Because they’re cool!” Sharon said.

She still wasn’t getting it.

Sharon didn’t create her product to solve a specific pain, which also meant she didn’t have a specific audience in mind when she created.  She went with the trite and cliché “build-it-and-they-will-come” model of building a product.  That rarely works.

With so many distractions in the market today, it’s backwards to build a product first, and THEN try to figure out what pain it MIGHT solve.  You could, but you’d waste a lot of money on marketing, and you may end up with stockpile of useless product.

Start with the customer and figure out their pain points first.  Then build a product, service, or business around solving that pain.

Trust me, it’ll be less painful.

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