If products are meant to address pains that those working in a given market or discipline face, is there a way to rank that pain? A scale—better yet, a test—of urgency? There is indeed, and using it effectively is often the difference between products that people want and those that languish. If you’re creating a product intended to solve a problem—and every product is, right?—your odds of success rest upon three things: the urgency of the problem, the pervasiveness of it, and people’s willingness to pay for your particular solution.
At SailPoint, my partner, Kevin, and I have boiled this down to what we have assigned the (unquestionably highbrow) moniker “the Advil/vitamin thing.” It goes like this: we all know we should take our vitamins, but many of us are lazy about it. If we skip a day, we don’t sweat it too much. We’ll take them tomorrow. But when we have a screaming headache, we’ll knock somebody over on the way to find some Tylenol! (Just make the pain stop!) When a customer or end-user has a pain point that needs to be stopped—they need an Advil solution. If they have another problem that’s just not very urgent compared to others, they might acknowledge it to a company that comes along looking to develop solutions, but it really isn’t all that pressing. That’s a vitamin, and the trouble a lot of companies get into is chasing markets to hock their vitamin solutions. If they’d instead spent some time uncovering the urgency of some sort of pain, they’d instantly get a pretty solid idea of the potential market for an effective solution.
So you’ve identified the urgency of the problem. But before you run off to the designers and engineers, those two other tests remain—the problem’s pervasiveness and the market’s willingness to pay for an effective solution. Let’s say you build an incredible website about the history of the first twelve presidents of the United States. There will be some set of people (mostly in academia, I’d guess) who care a lot about that. But can you build a large private or public company around it? Doubtful at best.
This is where the scale of urgency comes into focus. There’s urgent. There’s urgent and pervasive. And then there’s the trifecta: urgent, pervasive, and money is no object.
For an example, let’s look at something that is so pervasive in our society that it’s sometimes hard to escape—the internet. The advent of the internet has been wonderful in many ways, but before people figured out how to monetize it, it caused one of the biggest long-term stock market contractions in history. Among the oldest (and truest) axioms of sales is that when you begin by giving a product away, people will always expect to get it for free. The degree to which people with heads for sales had nothing to do with attempting to market the early internet is nowhere more clearly borne out than what was prioritized by its developers: it’s about eyeballs, isn’t it?
Facebook and Google figured it out, with two very different solutions to urgent, pervasive pains—respectively, communicating with friends and finding things easily in the needle-haystack world that is the internet. What’s most impressive of all is that both did so despite their solutions not meeting the third criterion: having users who were willing to pay. Both these companies were getting the eyeballs, but by definition, a business needs to makes money. So, they identified another industry’s urgent and pervasive pain—they sold to advertisers.
To recap what to remember when creating a product: (1) urgency: Find pain, and make sure it’s real and truly urgent by talking to the people experiencing it; (2) pervasiveness: Is it widespread enough to support a business? and (3) willingness to pay: Will the pain’s sufferers—or someone else—pay for an effective solution? I must credit the company that helped make identifying market pain a mantra for us—the Pragmatic Institute. I strongly recommend the company to you if you’re looking to develop your own product into a tangible business solution.
If you’re looking for tips on how to create a culture that continues to create these marketable business solutions, I’d recommend you check out my book Joy and Success at Work. I hope It’ll be an Advil solution to some of your own urgent and pervasive business pains.