Looking for the relationship between what the customer needs and what your solution offers may seem like a novel idea, but it is pretty basic business.

Unfortunately, we too often get so wrapped in the complexity of our business that we overlook the obvious benefits of comparing our product/service to the needs/wants of our desired customers.

A simple matrix can be drawn with six to 10 key wants or needs listed down the left side and six to 10 key performance characteristics of the product/service listed across the top.

The most important needs and/or wants are not always known, and market research is usually required. Sometimes we do not know which features are most important, and sometimes the customer does not know what their true needs are, so in-depth study and soul-searching is usually needed. Once we believe that we know the key characteristics of the needs and features offered, we can analyze our data.

By comparing our offerings to what we perceive to be the customers needs, we search for unanswered needs and wasted offerings. Symbols show the degree of relationship of each characteristic. Typically, a circle with a dot in the middle is used to depict a strong relationship, a circle only for a moderate relationship, a triangle for a weak relationship and a blank where there is no relationship.

The symbols are useful because, at a glance, you can tell where a customer want/need contains little more than blanks and triangles; then you must address that unmet need with a possible redesign.

Also, if a column under a performance characteristic contains little more than blanks and triangles then the question is obvious, why are you offering it when the customer does not care?

It is a wonderful tool if kept simple. A problem often encountered, as people get experienced with using this tool, is that they tend to add things such as a competitor’s performance characteristics, weighting factors, technical difficulties, etc. The danger is the chart may become too complex and time-consuming, so people stop using it. Often overlooked is the value of simplicity.

This process once helped me out of a predicament. Many years ago I spoke at a conference in Eastern Europe. At the conclusion, the host asked me if I would speak for a half day the next morning to a training class on performance improvement. I had nothing prepared, no time to prepare, and no help to prepare.

The class was at a “resort” some distance away. I started with a brainstorming session to identify the needs of the class during their stay at the resort. I put these responses on flip chart pages and put them on a wall, where we then prioritized and selected the key needs.

We repeated the process for the resort’s offerings, as promoted in their brochure and as the students experienced.

Then, I drew this matrix on a flip chart page and we did our analysis. The trainees were involved and saw the benefits of the process. The morning passed quickly. Everyone seemed engaged in the experience.

I think the resort’s staff became interested because, while we were at lunch, employees scooped up the flip chart pages and took them away.

I have felt indebted to this process ever since.

Lou Schultz is a Certified SCORE Mentor and can be reached by email at cabinlou@mac.com.