B2B Organic Growth Series: Chapter #18

Avoid the faster horse fallacy

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Henry Ford’s famous quote discourages asking customers what they want. (“They’d say a faster horse.”) But this overlooks two key factors: 1) B2B vs. B2C, and 2) Outcomes vs. Solutions.
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Transcript of Chapter 18

When Steve Jobs was asked why Apple computer didn’t conduct more customer interviews, he quoted Henry Ford: “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me a faster horse.” Or maybe you’ve heard this: “Customers can’t tell you what they want.”

But this is flawed thinking given two distinctions: B2B vs. B2C… and outcomes vs. solutions. In many B2C cases, customers cannot tell you much until they see a prototype. If you ask me what I want in a video game, men’s suit, or snack food… I’ll need to play with it, try it on, or taste it.

If you’re Apple Computer, it’s not a big deal that consumers cannot articulate their needs. You’ve got hundreds of engineers who are end-consumers themselves, and have a good idea of what the market wants. In contrast, B2B customers can articulate their needs because they have high knowledge, interest, objectivity, and foresight.

Beyond B2B vs. B2C, here’s the bigger issue: outcomes vs. solutions. Your interviews should only focus on customer outcomes… their desired end-results. Don’t talk about solutions, because you won’t know who owns the intellectual property later.

Customers understand their outcomes. Suppliers understand their solutions. You must enter the customers’ world to learn about their outcomes… not the other way around.

Imagine this: You’re Apple Computer and you interview customers to create the first iPod. Customers say, “I want to take my music wherever I go. Share my music with others. Organize it. Purchase one song at a time. Listen to music while exercising” … and so on.

These are outcomes. They are the “what”… not the “how.” If you knew which were most important and unsatisfied, you’d know exactly what to target in your solution.

The solutions keep coming: record players, transistor radios, Sony Walkmans, CD’s, iPods and so on. And that faster horse and Model T? Those were just solutions too.

If you develop your solutions without knowing which outcomes customers care about, you might get lucky every now and then. Or you can turn this into a science. More on that in coming chapters.