4 Questions

In business there are really only 4 questions you need to ask yourself. This is especially true when you are considering launching a new product or service.

The 4 questions are;

What problem are you trying to solve?
How many people have that problem?
Why is your solution better than anyone else’s?
How do you plan to market it?

You can make it more complicated if you want, but then you’re just assassinating precious time. Once time is spent, you can’t get it back.

Any part of your product strategy can be captured by one of these questions. If you think about it, any other question or topic of discussion ends up being a subset of these four. When trying to asses the likelihood of success for your product or service, start with these basic principles.

#1 – What problem are you trying to solve?

This takes some brain-grease to get to the real core of what your product or service does for the customer. As with all four questions, the first response you come up with it likely not deep enough. You haven’t committed the time to think about it thoroughly; to really understand what you are dealing with. Is this really a problem for the customer? What does your customer do now to fulfill the need?

You can use the “What?…..so What” tool to help dig deeper. When you think you have answered the question of “What problem are you trying to solve?”…..ask yourself …

“So What?”  Is this really a problem for the customer.

Ask yourself “What……so What?” at least 5 times.

“What opportunity are you trying to capitalize on?” is another question you could ask yourself. But it is just a subset of #1.

#2 – How many people have that problem?


Somewhere out there I know he/she exits. I am looking for my first client who has spent just an inkling of thought on the subject so as not to give me such a stupid answer. I haven’t found him yet. Most people never do their homework and really understand this one.

In simple terms it’s “How big is your market?” I mean really, honestly, how big is it? Whatever number you come up with; divide by 100 or 1000 and see if the math still makes sense to go forward. Because that number is likely more realistic.

And if your like most folks, you haven’t spent the time defining what you market even is yet. You haven’t  licked the salt, slammed the shot down, and bit the lime. You jumped straight to lime biting.

# 3 – Why is your solution better than anyone else’s?

Again…think hard. Do yourself a favor and do a detailed competitive analysis. Why is yours really better? If your answer is “We have lot of IP behind it”, that’s a stupid answer and you should know it, if you can’t go any deeper than that.

Expand your thinking and don’t just look at all the “similar” products in your field, but those that may be completely different from yours, yet they satisfy the same needs of the customer. Look back at question #1 under this spotlight. Remember one of your biggest competitors may be “no thanks, I can live without it.”

#4 – How do you plan to market it?

The key word here is “PLAN.” Specific marketing ideas are a subject for a couple 100 more posts that we will cover later. But let’s stick to the basics. Most companies complain about their marketing not being effective, yet only a fraction of them have a written marketing plan.

OK…I was being generous. It’s not a fraction, it is a fractal. The harder and harder I look for a written plan the more I still can’t find one.

I don’t even care if is a bad one to start with, but create something for crying out loud!

One of the key reasons that you want have a “written plan” is the process of forcing yourself to sit down and write requires you to think about it.

The marketing plan is a dynamic thing and will evolve, but you have to start with something.

In the end…you can do a great job on Questions 1-3, but it doesn’t mean diddlysquat if no one knows about it.

# 5 – Bonus Question – How do you plan to distribute it or leverage partners?

Leverage can take your product from good to freaking awesome. So be thinking about leverage and partnerships, but get the first 4 right first.

Mark L. Fox

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Mark L. Fox is a leading authority on teaching practical creative thinking techniques for business. Mark was the youngest Chief Engineer ever on the Space Shuttle program at the age of 31. He received NASA’s highest recognition of “Launch Honoree” at the age of 23. Mark has an undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering with an MBA. Having held top management positions in Rocket Science, Aircraft Hydraulics, Engineering Services, Customer Service, Software, and e-Business, Mark has an extremely diversified background.

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