Tuned In Process

Six simple, yet powerful steps to create products, services or ideas that resonate.

Anyone can create hits that resonate if they stop guessing what people need and start spending time building real and deep connections to what buyers value most.


Step 1: Find Unresolved Problems

How do you know which product and market to focus on?

Step 1 - Find Unresolved Problems

When you look for a new market opportunity, who do you talk to?

How do you look for your next great product idea?

When looking for new opportunities, do you call your best customer, ask your salespeople what they need or talk to people currently shopping for a product like yours? If so, it is unlikely you will produce an extraordinary opportunity!

Finding unresolved market problems is the key to developing products that are Resonators? You know, the ones that are back-ordered for six months after launch, the products that command a premium price, with customers camping out at midnight to have the chance to buy one when the store opens. Products that seem to "sell themselves".

Was your last product a resonator? Or did it require "clever messaging" "sexy slogans" or a sales contest with a price discount?

Only 10% of products become resonator. Why? Because most companies build products from the inside out, rather than from the outside in. Inside out products come from the R&D Lab, Engineering, Product Development, the board room, or inside the shower as someone prepares for work. Outside in products are developed to solve market problems.

Our research over the last 15 years, working with more than 3,500 companies, found 70% or more of new products or new product decisions were made without market data. That's right, nearly 3 out of 4 products are the result of guessing or assuming!

Where should you be looking for market data? The answer may surprise you, but asking your current customers is the last place you should go. Here's why.

Your market is comprised of three distinct buyer types:

Market Size

Potential Customers
People who have problems your product could solve, but are not shopping for solutions.

People who know they have a problem and are actively shopping, may have asked you for a proposal, but have not bought anything from you.

People who have problems your distinctive competence solves, have shopped and engaged with you by purchasing your solution.

As you can see, focusing on the total market, beginning with potential customers, represents the greatest opportunity. And, you'll receive some of the best unresolved problems from this group (with some additional information from the Evaluators group).

Why not current customers? Your existing customers do play a role in finding unresolved problems, but they have already defined you for what they perceive you can and cannot provide and therefore will filter their comments and concerns in relation to this experience.

How do you know if your team is building/launching products from the inside out?

If you see or hear any of the following, you may be tuned out to finding unresolved market problems:

We need to create a need in the minds of our buyers…”
We need better sell sheets that educate our customers
Our customers need training to understand the value our product (service) provides
Our sales team just needs to learn how to overcome objections to our product
Our new products are incremental improvements to existing products so no learning is involved
We need to run a sale on our new product because we have excess inventory

If you are nodding your head here, rest assured you're not alone! Over 90% of companies observe this at some point.

What can you do to get Tuned In?

  1. Interview your market with an open mind
  2. Treat buyers like market experts
  3. Remember, you are asking and listening NOT SELLING!
  4. Meet buyers on their own turf (whenever possible)
  5. Don’t talk about your company , products or services, just listen
  6. Align team member and performance objectives to understanding unresolved market problems
  7. Use open ended questions

Open-ended questions require elaboration and often uncover the "golden nugget" problems that can become resonators. To get you started, here are a few suggestions.

  1. What was your biggest challenge last week?
  2. What is your most important priority this week?
  3. What do you think about on your commute to work each day?
  4. What do you think about on your commute home from work?
  5. If there was a product or service that could help you the most, what would it do?
  6. Is there a current process or a product that adds difficulty to your job?
  7. What do you see as your biggest challenge over the next 12 months?
  8. If we could take away your biggest headache, what would it be?
  9. What do your internal and or external customers complain about?
  10. If you owned a company that designs product solutions, what would you want me to invent for you?

Once you find possible unresolved problems, some drill-down questions include:

  1. How does that make you feel?
  2. What do you see as next steps to resolve this?
  3. Can you tell me more about…
  4. Why?
  5. Why?

Words of caution
If a buyer cannot answer your open-ended questions, either they don't understand what you are asking or don’t really want to answer. Try giving a little explanation, or reframing the question. If the answer is still vague, you may want to ask yourself why? It may be personal or a topic your subject doesn't want to explore, or they may not have adequate training or experience to answer. Some organizations implement policies that forbid the disclosure of data perceived to be proprietary, is this the problem here? You could also try framing your question in relation to the market and not the organization of the person you are interviewing.

Step 2: Understand Buyer Personas

How do we identify who will buy our offering?

Step 2 - Understand Buyer Personas

When you build and market your products, do you have a targeted buyer you know intimately?

Do you speak directly to customers in all your communication?

Do you have "catchy jingles" and "sexy messaging" targeted to "anyone with money"?

Tuned in organizations understand the best way to develop and launch products or services that resonate is to identify the unresolved problems of a particular group of people; a buyer persona.

A persona is a short biography of the typical customer; not just a job description but a person description. It typically notes the buyer’s background, daily activities, and how they deal with their current set of problems. The more experience you have in your market, the more obvious the personas become.

By grouping buyers into distinct groups, by understanding the problems these groups have and how you can solve them, and then documenting everything you know about each buyer persona, your hard work to create just the right message becomes much easier.

But many companies do not create buyer personas. Instead, without a targeted group of buyers with specific unresolved needs, they flounder. They see everyone as a possible customer and their marketing expenditures, as a percentage of total revenue, are much higher than tuned in organizations. Some do segment their market, but unfortunately it’s often based on their own egotistical view from inside the organization, not looking from the outside in.

How do you get started building buyer personas? Try the following:

  1. Get out of the office and interview your market
  2. Put yourself into your buyer's world as much as possible
  3. Name your buyer persona(s)
  4. Develop a written document on each persona
  5. Share persona documents across your organization

Still not sure you need to develop buyer personas? If you are developing and launching products without a specific buyer group in mind, what happens when you ask/observe the following:

  1. What group of buyers is this the perfect solution for? If the answer  is "I don't know" or some vague category like "small businesses" there's no need to ask any more questions!
  2. Can you show me the description of the typical buyer this product was designed to help?
  3. Do you hear "if our product just had ________, it  would sell better”?
  4. Are Marketing and Product Management arguing about who, and/or how, to write the marketing message for the product or service?
  5. Do your marketing materials communicate simple answers to the questions buyers are asking in the words they use when describing their problems?
  6. Is the necessary information to design or launch a product written down or just in someone’s head?
  7. Do you know who else influences the buying decision of this product?

If you receive blank stares, “I’m not sure” or  “no” we recommend you focus on developing buyer personas.

Step 3: Quantify the Impact

How do we know when we have a potential winner?

Step 3 - Quantify the Impact

Do you have a process to determine if an idea will become a breakthrough product?

Do you leave success to luck, hope or chance?

When you have a new product idea do you ask friends, family members, buddies on the golf course or current customers if they think it will be a hit?

There are three important criteria to consider when you measure the potential market for your product. Is this problem urgent? Is the problem pervasive? Are buyers willing to pay to have this problem solved (and if so how much)?

Quantifying this information is a critical and often overlooked step that should be performed before you develop any product or service. Or, go ahead and roll the dice... about 10% of the time, companies are "lucky" and launch a product that connects.

Once you have found an unresolved problem and created buyer personas, it’s time to conduct qualitative research. Quantifying the impact will help build a business case for your new product and it is critical not to skip this step (as many people do).

How do you know if your team has quantified the opportunity and not just jumped into development? Show me the data!

  • Is this problem urgent or “not a big deal”?
  • Is there a large enough number of buyers who have the unresolved problem your product solves?
  • Are they willing to pay for your solution?

"Show me the data, and show me the money!" Be extra careful here as people have all kinds of problems but this doesn't mean they are willing to pay to have them solved.

Where can you get this information?

  1. Your market: first, your potential customers, then people who are evaluating your current product, and last, your current customers
  2. Public information sources
  3. Specialist research reports
  4. Surveys
  5. Telemarketers

You should also conduct an acid test prior to moving forward to ensure you completely solved the problem. An acid test simply requires you to show a prototype of your product to potential buyers (on paper is fine). Do this one-on-one, not in a focus group and just describe what it does (don't tell them the benefits). Ask what problem they think it solves, how would they benefit from using it and what impact would it have on them, their family or their company.

Next, ask them to place existing products from other companies that solve a similar problem on an Impact Continuum Scale (below). Then have them put your new product on the scale.


Low Impact                         High Impact

This information gives you a good idea of how potential buyers see your product's value, which in turn gives you information about pricing.

The common mistake companies make in pricing the perfect solution to a buyer's unresolved problem is undervaluing that solution. Review the other product solutions your buyers mentioned. Focus on the perceived value of your solution (as market leading organizations do), not a cost plus model that adds little, if anything, to shareholder value. How high an impact did your product score on the Impact Continuum Scale?

Should I write a business proposal?

Research shows 70% of new businesses and products are introduced without a business proposal. It should not surprise anyone on the board of directors at these organizations to learn that 3 out of 4 new products launched are gone from the market within 12 months.

What should a business proposal include?

  • Detailed explanation of the problem you are solving
  • Who are your buyer personas and how many of them are out there?
  • What product or service will you create to solve their problem?
  • How does your product or service impact buyers?
  • How will buyers quantify the value?
  • What will it take to convert prospects into customers?

Step 4: Create Breakthrough Experiences

How do we build a competitive advantage?

Step 4 - Create Breakthrough Experiences
Have you ever tried to buy your own product?

Do you know what it is like to use your product?

Have you ever called your own customer service line?

There are five common parts to the overall product experience someone has with your product or service.

Do buyers eagerly consume your marketing material or is it created using hype and "spin" (full of flexible, scalable, and other gobbledygook phrases)?

Is your product intuitive and easy to use?

Is your after-sale service a positive referral source for your organization and or is it out-sourced to uninformed third-parties who report meaningless metrics of satisfaction like tickets closed per hour per customer service representative.

Does the packaging compliment the total experience or hinder it?

Is the product easy to buy?

Total Product Experience

How do you know if your team is focused on the total experience?

Listen carefully to the conversations around the office about customers. Do you hear:

"Our customers are such a pain; they call instead of reading the manual."

"Customer satisfaction surveys? Why? We know our customers are happy."

"The freight company is so brutal; our products often arrive broken or incomplete."

"Our salespeople sell on price, don't we offer more than the lowest price?"

"Our sales order form is so hard to read, the customers call me to place orders."

"Our billing did not match what the salesperson entered on the invoice."

How do you get focused on the total customer experience?

  1. Measure what matters to the customer, not the Finance Department
  2. Conduct customer satisfaction surveys and post results in all departments
  3. Develop action plans to improve the 5 lowest scores
  4. Tie survey results to cross-functional goals and compensation

Step 5: Articulate Powerful Ideas

How do we establish memorable concepts that speak to the problems buyers have?

Step 5 - Articulate Powerful IdeasHow do you clearly speak to your buyers in a way they immediately "get it"?

What are your buyers looking for?

What do you want your buyers to believe?

Articulating powerful ideas is not about creating a "catchy slogan" or hiring an expensive ad agency to "make it sexy". It is knowing what you want your buyers to believe. And, knowing what your buyers are looking for.

How do organization know if they are articulating powerful ideas? They ask questions and analyze the answers.

  1. Do potential buyers see your product as a solution that solves their problem?
  2. Can you describe what your product does in one or two sentences (in terms of problem and solution)?
  3. Can your Sales, Marketing, Product Management and Customer Service, independently, describe the product in the same way?

Unlike most advertising, articulating powerful ideas starts with your buyer's problems (not your goals for the product). For example:

“1,000 songs in your pocket” Apple iPod

“When it absolutely, positively, has to get there overnight” FedEx

Step 6: Establish Authentic Connections

How do we tell our buyers that we solved their problems so they buy from us?

Step 6 - Establish Authentic Connections

I have created a great new product, now what?

How do I not waste money on "marketing"?

Authenticity beats “messages” every time! By living in your buyer’s world you create deep connections; empathy for them as people and not just as an account number in some database.

Leaders should start by asking their internal teams or departments if there is a consistent, powerful voice out to the market. One method your customers will use to gauge authenticity is to ask the same question about your product to their salesperson, customer service representative, technical support person and others. If they do not hear a consistent message there is an interruption. If the interruption is large enough, you have potentially severed the most important part of the business relationship, which is trust.

You have to communicate with buyers that you have the perfect solution to their problems. We often hear “well, isn’t that what we are already doing with our ads, website, and sales brochures?” The answer is both yes and no. While establishing an authentic connection is a form of marketing communications, it's not the same as the command-and-control, one-way advertising approach most organizations practice.

Tuned out companies have to buy their way in with expensive marketing campaigns or beg their way in with large PR retainers.

How do you know if your organization is tuned out when telling buyers about the perfect solution to their problems? Ask the following questions:

  1. Is my organization currently participating in a PR campaign?
  2. As a percentage of the overall advertising budget, is the print ad budget the largest item?
  3. Does our website speak to a specific buyer persona, or is everyone a potential customer?
  4. Does our marketing communications use the words “we”, “us” and “our” more than “you”, “your” or words that speak to specific buyer personas?
  5. Does our marketing focus on what we want to say rather than what buyers want to hear?

At this point, we often hear comments like “we have always advertised in the XXXX trade journal, we would be conspicuously absent if we pulled our ad” Or “we have always attended the YYYY trade show, it’s a key opportunity to sell new products to our market” To these comments, think about the following:

  1. In the last ninety days how many times have you seen a print ad in a trade journal and acted on it because it was a perfect solution to a problem you had?
  2. In the last year, how many times have you attended a trade show trying to find a solution to a problem you had?
  3. In the last 30 days, how many times have you, or someone who works for you, done a Google search to find a solution to a problem you had?

If you are like the vast majority of people we know, your answer to questions 1 & 2 is “I have not.”

In recent surveys, we found between 5% - 20% use print ads and trade shows to solve problems. However, 80% - 100% said they use web search engines like Google to find solutions to problems.

If you are spending big dollars on print ads, trade shows and direct mail, while your potential buyers are searching for you on the web, how's that working for you?

Create a Resonator

res - o - na - tor [rez-uh-ney-ter]
- noun

  1. the perfect solution to a specific problem
  2. a product or service so powerful it sells itself
  3. an offering that connects to what your market values most
  4. an idea people immediately understand has value to them


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