What’s Really Valuable About Your Product Or Service: It’s Not The Specs Or Structure

I have been scouring the internet for weeks to find a couple of kayaks to buy…

…just like every other adventure-loving human who has been denied the usual summer adventures.

I checked all of the usual (to me) places: REI, Dicks, Cabela’s, LL Bean–even Home Depot (who knew Home Depot sells kayaks?!).

No luck.

I started looking on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace… it wasn’t promising.

Then, on a whim, I simply googled, “kayaks for sale near me.”

It turns out there is a huge marine supply store just 15 minutes away from us. The next day, Sean and I hopped in the car and headed over.

Their inventory had been similarly decimated weeks ago but it was still a wonderland of options. Soon, the guy working the floor walked over asked what we were looking for.

Sean started explaining what he had in mind for himself–but the truth was, we didn’t really know what we wanted. We just wanted to get out on the water in something that would allow us to level up quickly and last for a long time.

So Dale, as the boat man was called, asked a very important question:

“What do you want to use it for?”

Sean explained that most of the time we’d be local and paddling on lakes or slow moving rivers. We’d also love to take the boats to the Delmarva peninsula for some extremely mellow saltwater excursions.

Dale walked us past some kayaks and then took us out back to the warehouse.

He led us straight to the perfect kayak for Sean.

Then he explained that there was a similar version for Lola.

(I grabbed a standup paddle board for myself.)

Ready for the lesson?

It didn’t actually matter what features, sizing, or material Sean was looking for in kayak. What mattered was how we was going to use it.

It turns out that some of the things Sean thought he wanted in a kayak were based on his experience paddling in southeast Alaska. They don’t apply to the lakes and rivers of Pennsylvania.

He could have bought a kayak that met his exact specifications for size and features but it wouldn’t have had as much value to him as a kayak that was perfectly suited for the water we were actually going to be using it in.

And what’s more, when Dale showed us the boat that was close to what Sean was asking for but perfect for how we were actually going to be using it, the value was a no-brainer.

As business owners, we spend a lot of time worrying about specs and structure:

  • How many modules should be in this online course?
  • Should I talk with my clients via email, Slack, or Voxer?
  • How do I make my video instructions fancier?
  • Should I use Google Drive or Dropbox for my deliverables?

The assumption is that the right specs and structure are going to make your offer more valuable.

And, we often start with questions of specs and structure (and get stuck) before we answer much more fundamental questions.

But specs and structure only matter in as much as they help you do the thing you want to do.

Doing the thing you want to do is what’s valuable to you.

Your customers come to you because they want to do something, too. 

Doing the thing your customers want to do is what’s valuable to them.

The specs & structure you choose for your product or service are determined by what they want to do–and the thing they really want to do is often a few steps beyond what you think they want to do.

For instance, we didn’t ​really walk into the boat store to buy a boat. We walked into the boat store because we want to spend as many hours as we can at the lake.

We didn’t create the Standout Podcast Club because business owners want to start a podcast. We started Standout Podcast Club because people want to connect with their audiences and grow their businesses.

And Merrell didn’t make these Hydro Mocs because people wanted to look like they had an alien infection on their feet. They made these wild shoes because people want to spend quality time in the water without worrying about their shoes. (And no, I won’t be purchasing them to wear with my fabulous new standup paddle board.)

If you’re considering building a new product or service…

…or you’re looking for a more effective way to talk about what you offer…

…the best thing you can focus on is what your customers want to do first.

Talk specs & structure later.

Cover of What Works book by Tara McMullin

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