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Business Principle #2: Discover what your customer really wants.

There’s another person who’s absolutely essential to your business—your customer! But how well do you know them and what they need?


This post is part of a series on ten foundational principles of being an entrepreneur.


While your business starts with you, it doesn’t exist without another crucial person–your customer. Someone has to buy what you’re offering for it to actually be a business.

Many entrepreneurs believe that in order to get customers, you have to always be selling; you have to convince them to buy. While this might have been the old way (build it, then convince people to buy it), new approaches are getting better results. 

One method you might have heard of is often referred to as the “lean startup.” One of the core tenets of this approach is called “customer discovery.” Simply put, customer discovery involves asking your customer what they want instead of telling them what they need. It’s about testing your ideas to see what you’ve gotten right and what needs to change. 

Here’s the key. If you truly listen to what your customers (or potential customers) really want and build exactly that, you shouldn’t need to do much convincing. You’re making what they wished for a reality. 

So how do you discover what they want?

Ask about the problem.

Businesses exist to solve problems for customers. Something in your customer’s life isn’t working as well as it could or some desire isn’t being met. You can learn a lot by focusing your attention on the problem itself instead of how you plan to solve it. 

For example, let’s say the business you’re planning on starting is a restaurant. Let’s speculate that your customer’s problem is that they are dissatisfied with current options for eating out. They want more variety. You can learn a lot from them by asking something as simple as “How do you feel about your current options for eating out?”

Probe into their current patterns. 

Another way to discover what they want is to ask about what they are currently doing. If they are truly experiencing a problem, they’ll be doing something about it. Even if it isn’t ideal.

Going back to the restaurant example, you could ask questions like “Where do you like to eat out? Why there?” to find out what influences their decisions. Understanding why they do what they do will provide you with valuable insights for your business.

Get them to dream. 

The magic really happens when you get them to dream about what could be. Create the space for them to share their deepest desires and wishes. If there were no limits, what would they envision? 

Asking a question like “What eating options do you wish were available locally?” opens the door for you to get some great ideas about the direction to take your restaurant. The dreams they have might spark and stoke your own. 

Your ideas are where the business starts. In order for it to thrive, you must engage your customer to find out what they want and need. When your ideas evolve your ideas based on their input, you’ll be well on your way to building a business that sells itself.  

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