How to Build the Best IoT Products - You Need to Ask the Right Questions

In last week’s post, we explored why, to build the best IoT products, it’s critical that we make an effort to stop telling and start asking in IoT (Internet of Things). But asking the right questions isn’t easy. Today we’ll explore four ways in which you can improve your approach and gain a deeper understanding of consumer’s needs…

1) Use open-ended questions.

“Don’t we all know how to ask questions? Of course we think we know how to ask, but we fail to notice how often even our questions are just another form of telling — rhetorical or just testing whether what we think is right.”

— Edgar Schein, Humble Inquiry.

It’s difficult to ask the right kinds of questions. At best, poor questions give you limited information. At worst, poor questions give you misleading information. Each question you ask should provide an opportunity to learn from the consumer without introducing bias; to gain true insight into the way they think and feel.

Instead of asking a question like, “Would you want an iron that tracks how long you’re ironing?”, you should instead ask an open-ended question like,“What do you think of ironing?”.

Maybe they tell you that they hate ironing.

Great! By following up with more open-ended questions you might find a huge pain point of theirs that you can address with your product.

Maybe they tell you that they love ironing.

Great! Asking more open-ended questions will let you find out exactly what they love about ironing to make sure your product enhances these positive experiences.

Either way…

2) Listen, and be curious.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

— Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

The consumer may begin to ramble, and it can be strongly tempting to cut them off or to “get them back on track”. It’s critical to resist this urge and remain curious. You don’t know what you don’t know. Take this to heart. Listen with the intent to understand. Be curious and continue asking why. You can’t know what gems might be uncovered as they continue to talk.

But to make sure you don’t miss those hidden gems…

3) Bring a teammate.

Have at least one other person with you while engaging with the consumer. Asking the right questions and continuing to facilitate the discussion takes effort and concentration. If you attempt to do it all alone, you risk either asking bad questions or failing to listen effectively.

Assign one person to facilitate the discussion and one person to listen and record what they observe during the conversation.

Speaking of observing…

4) Be creative in your approach.

Sometimes it may be difficult to find a good person to ask. Sometimes asking might not be the best approach.

Be creative in how you gain insights into the minds of your consumers.

A great example comes from Proctor & Gamble, owner of the Tide brand. P&G wanted to update their packaging for the Tide powdered laundry detergent, so they began by asking their customers.

The feedback was positive, “we love the packaging, nothing needs to change.” Though P&G could have stopped there, they took it a step further and asked if they could observe some customers using Tide in their homes.

As they observed a woman doing laundry in her home, they watched her pull out a knife and stab into the cardboard box to create a hole for the powder to be poured out.

“But we thought you loved the packaging!”, they exclaimed in shock. Confused, she replied that she did.

Had P&G only asked their customers, their packaging might have remained the same. Instead, this insight helped inspire P&G to develop liquid laundry detergent which is more easily poured.

Observation can reveal critical information that questioning might not.

So be creative in your approach. Go out and observe people using your product. Observe them acting in environments related to your product. Immerse yourself in the process. Go through the complete experience yourself. Do everything you can to get into the mind of the consumer and find out what they need.

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”

Attributed to Albert Einstein (perhaps mistakenly), this quote is nonetheless an excellent distillation of the lesson that should be taken from this post.

IoT is still in an early stage of development and has thus been built primarily by engineers for engineers. The best IoT products will be built by people and companies who first seek to understand the consumer and their needs.