Seth Godin said, “Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.”

I’m a huge fan of this quote and have used it many times over because it summarizes nicely what I’ve preached over the years: solve problems for customers; do that, and your business will go far.

What’s the Difference?

The difference lies in the approach to business strategy and how the customer is prioritized.

“Finding products for customers” means understanding the needs, expectations, pain points, and the problems to solve for your target audience and then creating products or services that directly address those needs. This approach prioritizes customer satisfaction and aims to fulfill specific customer demands.

On the other hand, “finding customers for your products” suggests creating products first and then attempting to identify and persuade customers to buy them. This approach can be more focused on pushing products onto the market without necessarily considering if they truly meet customer needs.

In essence, the former approach is customer-centric, focusing on creating value for the customer, while the latter is product-centric, focusing more on the features of the product itself rather than the customer’s needs.

Finding Products for Customers

“Finding products for customers” involves deeply understanding the needs, expectations, preferences, pain points, and problems to solve of your target audience and then creating products or services that directly address those aspects. This approach places the customer at the center of the product development process, with the goal of delivering maximum value to them.

There are three ways to achieve this understanding: (1) listen (feedback/data), (2) characterize (personas), and (3) empathized (journey mapping/service blueprinting). By understanding what customers truly need and what problems they are trying to solve, brands can develop products that meet their needs and expectations.

Delivering value for customers includes several key principles:

  • Identify specific problems or challenges that customers face and developing products that offer solutions. By addressing pain points, businesses provide tangible value to customers and improve the overall experience.
  • Design products with the customer in mind, focusing on usability, functionality, and user experience. Products that are intuitive and easy to use tend to resonate more with customers and are perceived as valuable.
  • Offer customizable or personalized products and services that allow businesses to cater to individual customer preferences and needs. This tailored approach enhances the perceived value of the product and fosters stronger customer relationships.
  • Actively seek feedback from customers and iterate on products based on customer input. By listening to customer feedback and continuously improving products, brands ensure that they remain relevant and valuable in their customers’ minds.
  • Provide customers with information, resources, and support to help them derive maximum value from the product. Educated customers are more likely to see the benefits of the product and become loyal advocates.

Ultimately, the goal of finding products for customers is not just to sell products but to create meaningful and lasting relationships with customers by delivering products that genuinely enhance their lives or fulfill their needs. When businesses focus on delivering value to customers, they are more likely to succeed in the long term, fostering loyalty, positive word-of-mouth, and sustainable growth.

Finding Customers for Products

“Finding customers for products” doesn’t always deliver the same type of value because it prioritizes the product over the customer. Some of the reasons this approach may fall short in delivering the same level of value:

  • Products developed without a deep understanding of customer needs may not effectively address the specific pain points or desires of the target audience. As a result, customers may not perceive as much value in these products compared to ones that are tailored to their needs.
  • When the focus is solely on pushing products onto customers, there is typically limited or no engagement with customers throughout the product development process. Without meaningful interaction and feedback from customers, brands miss opportunities to refine and improve their products to better meet customer needs.
  • In a market where competitors are also vying for your customers, products developed without a customer-centric approach may struggle to differentiate themselves. Without a clear understanding of what sets their product apart and why it’s valuable to customers, brands may find it challenging to compete effectively.
  • Customers are more likely to be satisfied with products that directly address their needs and preferences. When products are developed without considering these factors, customers feel less satisfied not only with their purchase but also with the brand, leading to lower levels of repeat business and negative word-of-mouth.
  • Products developed without sufficient market research and understanding of customer needs are at a higher risk of being rejected by the market. Even if a product has innovative features or functionalities, if it doesn’t resonate with the target audience, it may fail to gain traction and achieve success in the market.
  • While businesses may be able to achieve short-term gains by pushing products onto customers, sustainable long-term success often requires building strong customer relationships and delivering consistent value over time. Without a customer-centric approach, businesses may struggle to maintain customer loyalty and drive sustainable growth.

While “finding customers for products” may result in short-term sales/growth, it falls short in delivering the same type of value and fostering long-term success compared to approaches that prioritize understanding and addressing customer needs.

Pros and Cons of Finding Products for Customers

What are the benefits of finding products for customers?

  • Customer satisfaction: By doing the work to understand and address customer needs, you’re more likely to create products that solve problems for them, leading to higher levels of satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Market relevance: Products developed with a customer-centric approach are more likely to be relevant and aligned with market demands, increasing their chances of success.
  • Competitive advantage: A deep understanding of customer needs can help differentiate your products from competitors’, giving you a competitive edge.
  • Innovation: This approach drives innovation as you continuously seek to improve and innovate based on customer feedback and changing needs and preferences.

What are the downsides?

  • Resource intensive: It may require significant resources, time, and effort to thoroughly research and understand customer needs and preferences.
  • Uncertain demand: Despite efforts to address customer needs, there’s still a risk of uncertainty regarding market demand, as customer needs and preferences change over time.
  • Potential for narrow focus: There’s a risk of focusing too narrowly on existing customer needs and missing out on opportunities for disruptive innovation.

The upsides far outweigh the downsides. And there are solutions for overcoming the downsides. If you’re constantly keeping your fingers on the pulse of your customers, including their emerging needs, you’ll be that much closer to the perfect business approach.

Pros and Cons of Finding Customers for Products

Are there benefits to finding customers for your products?

  • Speed to market: This approach can allow for quicker product development and market entry since the focus is on the product rather than extensive customer research. (But it could fail because it’s not solving problems for customers.)
  • Control over product features: You have more control over the features and characteristics of the product since you’re not solely dependent on customer feedback. (But is that really what you want? Wouldn’t you rather sell a product that offers what customers needs?)
  • Leveraging brand loyalty: If you have an established brand and loyal customer base, you may be able to introduce new products to them successfully, even without extensive customer research. (But that may only go so far; they may buy because of brand and stop using because the product doesn’t deliver the value they were expecting.)

What are the downsides?

  • Limited market fit: There’s a risk of developing products that don’t fully meet customer needs or solve problems for them, leading to lower sales and market acceptance.
  • Higher risk of failure: Without a clear understanding of customer needs, there’s a higher risk of product failure or market rejection.
  • Reduced customer satisfaction: Products developed without considering customer needs may result in lower levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty because they don’t do what customers need or expect, leading to negative brand perception and reduced repeat business.

The downsides far outweigh the upsides in this approach. The negative outcomes of this approach make me question why anyone would want to build a product or run a business in this manner. Bring customers into your discussions, decisions, and designs. You won’t regret it.

In Closing

Adopting a customer-centric approach yields better long-term results in terms of customer satisfaction, market relevance, and competitive advantage than the product-centric approach. Finding the right balance between customer prioritization and product innovation is key to success in any business strategy, but know that without customers you have no business! Put the people first, and the products will sell. Put the people first, and the numbers will come.

When you serve the customer better, they always return on your investment. ~ Kara Parlin


Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. In 2019, she published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. In 2022, she published her second book, Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture That Drives Value for Your Business [Advantage|ForbesBooks], which is available to purchase on Amazon, Books A Million!, Target, Barnes & Noble, and thousands of other outlets around the world! Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your EX and CX game.

Image courtesy of Jon Tyson on Unsplash.