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Why So Negative? Can’t You Be Positive?
Why So Negative? Can’t You Be Positive?

Why So Negative? Can’t You Be Positive?

imageThis morning I gave a presentation related to product management. I enjoy giving this particular presentation as we explore topics like: product road maps; business plan; target markets, and managing scope (feature creep).

In discussing target markets, and knowing your customer, I use one slide in which I suggest they ask their customers, “What keeps you up at night?”

One of the reasons to ask this questions, is to help you (or your customer) really focus on the core issue(s). In general, the person you are meeting with likely has 2, 3, maybe 4 items rolling around their head in the middle of the night.

Yes, it can feel like 64,000 things tearing at you around 3:32 am, but likely boils down to just a couple core items.

One of the participants asked me a question. Paraphrasing, should put it something like this, “Everything you’re suggesting seems negative.” What are their fears? What keeps them awake? “Why can’t it be a positive?

I had to pause for a moment. Why, indeed?

My response was (is) basically this: The reason there is value in your service or product offering, is that you are solving some sort of pain, inconvenience, or problem, for the other party. If you’re a carpet cleaner, you’re called in to clean carpet the week before Thanksgiving (US Holiday), because that big spot is annoying. Or perhaps it’s going to be embarrassing when guests arrive. They’ve called you to solve their problem.

If they have no problems, they have no need of you.

FUD, Fear Uncertainty & Doubt, are perhaps the biggest marketing and sales tools ever invented. It’s hard to find an advertisement that doesn’t pull on one of those three, if not all three together. Consider some real common advertisements we encounter every day:

  • Financial Planning: Will you exhaust your savings during retirement?
  • Computing: Is there a virus on your computer? Will you survive is your hard drive dies?
  • Traveling: Are you using the right travelers cheques? What will you do if your passportis lost?
  • Insurance: Are you prepared, in case of Mayhem? (love those ads<g>)
  • Shock Absorbers: Can you stop your car in time?

Ok, so those are ads. But the crux of the issue remains, youare calling upon someone, because as the customer you have a problem.

So, might there be positives you are trying to provide a solution for?

Afterward, I spent some time on the drive back really thinking about it. There was one possible solution that came to mind: travel/tourism. This is a finely balanced item. Many people go on vacation to escape work (the problem<g>). Yet, many retirees simply travel because they can and want to. Other than possibly boredom, they’re not necessarily looking to escape.

There are also cases where individuals want to simply further themselves. As a motorcyclist, I seek out courses to improve my riding skills. Perhaps I want to go around the track faster; sweep through curves more smoothly; or, just not fall off. Are these problems I seek out solutions for, in order to proactively avoid a negative (a crash)?

This question really can fuel some discussion.I’m very interested in your thoughts. Please share. Are there non-problems for which people seek solutions? If life is grand, problem-free, how do you sell someone something?



  1. Hi JT.

    I think you’re right about B2B products; they really do exist to solve problems. It’s hard to make a business case to your CFO to buy something if it’s “nice to have.”

    B2C products, though, while they sometimes solve problems (think deodorant), often are aspirational in nature. You buy clothes not just to cover your body but to project an image. You buy video games to amuse yourself.

    The contrast between LinkedIn and Facebook might be instructive as well. You use LinkedIn to connect with people you can’t easily get to another way. You use Facebook to talk to your friends for fun.

    1. JT

      Hi Bruce,

      Good to hear from you…good comment.  Even after talking with some others in a meeting after-the-fact, I could tell we were stuck in the box.  Probably too much B2B in the room<g>.

      Thanks for opening the box lid.


  2. Don’t you love it when an audience member makes you think!? Great post JT.

    Could another approach – to be more positive – be something like imaging something better for yourself and your organization?

    Can we solve problems that will help them with something they don’t already know they need? It’s an old example but similar to the tooth whitening strips — no one lost sleep over less white teeth but when offered, that seems better than I could have hoped for.

    Guess it might depend on your product, eh?

    Thanks for sharing the post to help make us think too!


  3. JT

    Hi Kelly,

    Thank you for commenting.  And, yes, absolutely love it!  When I close with a question, it’s generally not rhetorical<g>.  I knew I was in a box, missing something, and am happy to see folks contribute (here and elsewhere).

    Some may view it as risky opening themselves up for ridicule, but we don’t learn, or get our minds (re)opened otherwise.

    Tooth whitening is a good example.  It led me to think of Apple’s iPad as an excellent example as well.  4 years ago, no one was suffering because it didn’t exist.  Now, it is a new tool enabling new areas of competitive advantage.



  4. Deb

    Ah, I think you are riffing on one of my favorite principles, Vulnerability is strength.

    I also like Kelly’s commentary.

    There are multiple perspectives to this dialog. Refreshing A question, even if it might be considered the wrong one, does provoke good thought and shifts in thinking.

    That said, I believe problem solving has its place, tho’ it is a limited view, I believe. I’ve experienced dissatisfaction and vision are much more powerful as the context for change and innovation.

    Solving a problem is limited to a possible cog in a much broader system, and can easily sub-optimize the broader system. Examples: standardized, low- cost school systems; the “No child left behind” federal initiative; federal oil subsidies; farm subsidies. The list is long.

    Pain and vision, taking a systems view, are key drivers to choosing a new path toward innovation or perhaps just plain sustainability and survival. Some industries will fade away or become nostalgia/relic industries, as need be. As Deming said, it is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.

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