Needs and Wants

Economics101 taught us that “Needs” are things that are critical for survival. So stuff like food, clothing, health, shelter etc were described as needs. “Wants” are things that are not absolutely necessary but what we wish for. So Car, mobile, Laptop etc were wants.

After years of Customer engagement and Product management, I know that the above is so generic that it is redundant when are you creating a new product/ solution.

I would have a recorded proof of a customer saying “I want XYZ feature” during VoC and when we build a prototype/ concept, he would go “eh?? I don’t need this. This doesn’t help!”. The MRD/ PRS would undergo lot of changes during the Concept stage! “Maybe”, the PMO would chip in during the monthly review, “We should go AGILE on this one. The customer is changing his requirements so much” aw Jeez!!! For a person with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Meanwhile our company’s gyan gurus are extolling the mantra “Build for the Customers’ needs. Sell for the Customers’ want.” The mantra looks really awesome on ppt, I must confess! But ask them how to distinguish between a need and a want; they go back to the Econ101 definition. And sometimes one of the gyan gurus will have a technical bent of mind. “See, the customer wants a 32bit controller with ARM processor, whereas what he actually needs is a simple 16 bit controller. So you see the difference?” Before you could politely say that the customer doesn’t even know what a controller is, the discussion will go into a vortex of arguments involving the fundamental laws of physics and then back to the Econ101 definition! I once ended up tearing my hair over comparisons between “food, clothing, shelter” and “p-n junctions”

But, there is no escaping this. Distinguishing between Needs and Wants has to be a compulsory outcome of VoCs. A product manager, who doesn’t understand this, will set the Chaos theory butterfly wings flapping into motion, which will culminate in his product being represented as a black dot in the bottom left corner of a Leadership 2by2 matrix. And Trust me; you don’t want to be associated with anything that’s in the bottom left corner of any damn 2by2 matrix. Because that’s where all the Dilbert strips are written! Anyways, I digress.

Identification of needs and wants cannot be generalized into a step by step process or guide. It will be driven by the context of the customer. It follows that you can learn this only by doing VoCs. A lot!

1.Needs can tell you the market requirements, Wants can tell you the Segment requirement.
“I need to secure my house”. “I want access control for my house”

2.Needs and Wants can be unrealistically connected.
“I need to buy a car within Rs 5 Lakhs”. “I want a Mercedes BMW within Rs 5 Lakhs”

3.Needs and wants can be unrelated.
“I need to reduce fuel theft”. “I want fuel level monitoring”.

4.Wants might be specific, needs might be ambiguous / vague
“I want the Business development role”. “I need a job role change.”

5.Wants might be complicated, needs might be simple (or vice versa).
“I want an integrated system that connects my factory systems to the back office system” “I need inventory data to be visible to Accounting team.”

6.Needs might be situation based, wants can be outcome based.
“I need to reduce my energy expenses” “I want 15% reduction in energy consumption”

And just because the customer uses the word “need” or “Want” in the sentence, it doesn’t qualify whatever he is asking as a “need” or a “want”. Most people use the words interchangeably. It probably would be wise to visit the MRD frequently to check if each requirement talks about needs or wants.


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