3 questions to ask about your new idea

To rigorously evaluate a new idea, business plan, sales pitch, or product feature, be sure you ask these three simple questions. They will save you.

Before you waste your time with a business case, sales pitch, or SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), put yourself in your customers' shoes. Then, answer these three simple questions:

Why do I need a product or service like this? Why do I need yours? Why do I need it now?

Seems simple? Try it. Not so easy, right? The first question, "Why do I need a product or service like this?" will help you clearly define your value proposition. If you don't have a good answer to this question, stop now, and come up with a different idea.

The second, "Why do I need yours?" will force you to define your differentiators. Why is your product or service better than others out there? Why should the customer pick you over a competitive or do-it-yourself solution? Answer these questions in bullet points, not paragraphs. Your answers need to be simple and clearly compelling.

The last question is always the toughest, "Why do I need it now?" To me, this is the most important one. What is the compelling reason, event, pain, or opportunity that is going to make someone make the choice to use your product or service right now? Not six months from now, not six months ago, but right now. This question inspires thinking about what the urgency is to get that deal closed now. People are busy and have a lot of priorities and decisions to make. Is the pain point that you're solving top of mind for your customer or user? If not, a tool or method to resolve that pain won't be either. If you don't have a clear answer, you may be too early for a market or possibly too late. You may have long acquisition cycles or a long and expensive market education path ahead of you.

Let's put it into practice. Here's a hypothetical scenario:

  • Product/Service: ABC Mobile Phone Carrier
  • Why do I need a product or service like this?
    • Business: I can be more productive on the road.
    • Personal: My family will be safe if we get a flat tire.
  • Why do I need yours?
    • Best network coverage as measured by XYZ Measurements, Inc.
    • Largest selection of business mobile devices.
    • Only network with a family plan.
  • Why do I need it now?
    • Every day that you don't have one you're...
    • ...losing out on potential revenue
      ...wasting valuable time in airports and cars
      ...taking a risk that your family may not be safe if stranded on a road

Every time I put together a business plan, vet a new product idea, or evaluate a sales presentation I always start with these three questions. I always challenge my team with these questions, too. They force us to a deeper level of thinking and generally result in a better offering. I've been using these three simple questions for over ten years religiously and they have never failed me. Try it, give yourself and your team this truth test. I promise you it's worth the exercise.

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