Many firms developing products are perplexed about knowing if their product is ready for the mass-market. I’ve found a good test for this is to ask the question, ‘does this product meet substantially all of the client’s needs?’ Another way to ask the question, according to Brian Giese, is “what is the single, obvious benefit your product provides to improve or replace an existing expense that is already in your buyer’s budget?” Whether your product goes direct or through channels will hang on the answer to the above question. If your product doesn’t fix ‘substantially all’ of the client’s needs, only OEM’s, rather than end-users, will tend to buy it. But if you’ve figured out the client’s full set of needs, you’ll be able to bypass OEMs and sell to end-users. Sure you may need to integrate your product with other components, but you’ll make that up in higher margins you can make by selling a ‘substantially all’ solution.

Be diligent when asking how your product is used; it can reveal insights into what ‘substantially all’ means. Suppose you make an application that processes and records some type of transaction. To determine how it’s used, you watch your client for days on end, but all you ever see is it being used to process transactions. However, at the end of the month, you notice that they export the whole month’s data into a spreadsheet, run a series of pivot tables, reformulate the results and import that into another system that uses the data to set their pricing. They haven’t done substantially all of their job until this monthend exercise is done. That means that your application hasn’t met ‘substantially all’ of their need until you incorporate an embedded reporting tool that can do the data extraction, translation and loading for the client. Once this piece is integrated, clients will consider your solution something worth buying.

One of the best symptoms of falling short of people’s needs is when users make modifications (or mods) to the product. Companies must pay attention to this, for it gives clues about what’s missing from the ‘substantially all’ formula. This is especially true with technology. A famous example of using an add-on product came from Sergey Brin & Larry Page, who back in their Stanford days needed to link many computers together while keeping them cool. They used Lego blocks to stack their servers – the contraption is now on display in the Google museum. Maybe this is where computer makers learned to sell their servers complete with rack-mounted cabinets.

Strategies for making the whole product

How do you know what prospects and clients consider your Minimum Viable Product (MVP)? You ask them. Chris Brogan, co-author of the book Trust Agents, points out that customers are listing their Skype, Twitter and LinkedIn coordinates on their business cards. They are listing their social media usernames to connect with peers and swap helpful intelligence, maybe even share their opinion of your product. You should at the very least use web 2.0 to listen to what they have to say. You can even approach them with up-front questions about how your product could do a better job of solving their problem (without trying to sell them something).mvp

As your clients’ needs change over time, so the ‘substantially all’ definition changes. Failing to understand how clients use your technology is risky, because if you’re not developing towards these emerging needs, clients will abandon your offering to products that do. This shouldn’t be left to guesswork, because in very real dollar terms, a miss is as good as a mile. So be vigilant in collecting user requirements, then work them into your roadmap and share the roadmap with them.

Not all products are made to meet ‘Substantially all’ client needs

Note that not every industry is structured to solve ‘substantially all’ a customer’s needs. Cars can’t work without tires, but tires are such a matter of individual choice, they are sold separately, through aftermarket channels. Typically, where subjective tastes largely influence the buyer’s actions, they tend to fall outside the ‘substantially all’ definition. As well, if you’re in a B2B setting, The tendency is to think that user is the authority on product requirements. Know that the one making the purchase decision is the one who chooses what features you must have to say you meet ‘substantially all’ of their needs.

Another strategy to use is to look for products with large user bases and create accessory products that address deficiencies. Many software programs like Net Nanny and anti-virus utilities were built to help the large Windows OS user base do things that Windows didn’t do. There are many examples from outside of the technology arena that have add-on products, including: automotive aftermarket parts, fabric sprays like ScotchGuard, Cartop cargo carriers and clip-on sunglasses.