There are pain points you can identify in an initial sales discussion, and then there are the pain points that are hidden in plain sight. I believe these are the ones that matter, precisely because they have gone unquestioned for a long time.
How do you find them? Easy, by questioning the status quo.
Whenever I give one of my innovation workshops, the part about questioning assumptions always draws the most attention. This past Saturday, was such a day. You see, questioning (which is one of the five key innovation skills) is perceived as being irritating. Because when you question common practices and opinions, said one my guests, you get into trouble.
Yes, very true. Nobody likes their beliefs to be questioned. But, this is also a big reason why companies fail: their belief of future success is anchored in their past success.
Case in point, Blackberry. They believed that the pain points they were eliminating when they started, were still relevant. This made them an easy target for irrelevance since they never adapted.
The essence of strategy is choosing to perform activities differently than rivals do; and the most vital competitive weapon is not lower price, but new ideas. And, it is such a common occurrence, when you question assumptions about how things are done, you arrive at seemingly new ideas you’ve never thought about.
Here is a small sample of questions I used in my workshop to help this particular company find hidden pain points:
- What best practices are we still following that haven’t changed in a while?
- What is the real purpose of _________ practice?
- Is it fulfilling its purpose?
- Why do these practices matter?
- How do we know customers care?
- What outcomes are we denying our customers of achieving by following industry best practices?
- What practices exist in your industry that drive customers crazy?
- If we were to eliminate these practices, how would customers benefit?
- What if we let customers decide how they’d like to be served?
- In what ways might we change/reset customer expectations by changing/eliminating/adding/increasing/decreasing ___________.
- How are we not helping our customers be/do ______________.
- How are we getting in their way?
- In what ways are we being a pain in the ass?
These questions are aimed at questioning the overall customer experience and identifying pain points. But, we can also develop questions aimed at specific practices that also contain hidden pain points, such as how you market and sell your products, how you hire and develop talent, how you get work done, etc.
The point of doing this exercise is to identify ways where you are denying value, as well as how you can add new value. It is always an eye opening experience for business owners and leaders because it is like seeing things anew. We can all agree that pain points, are hot buttons for innovation!
Bottom line: To question the dominant logic about how things are done, is to push against something. Leave no stones unturned. The insights that you can identify by questioning current practices are priceless. This is how you start thinking about how to create difference that matters.
Update: added three more questions.