Demand-side Thinking: Creating Pull For Your Products

A great product tends to sell itself. It’s the obvious choice for the problem it solves, and it solve that problem very well. Such a product appears to have a natural pull. So how can you go about creating a product like that?

An approach that has caught my attention is what I like to call Demand-side Thinking. It’s based on Bob Moesta’s work on Demand-side Sales. In his book Moesta contrasts supply-side sales, a focus on products, features and benefits, with demand-side sale, which focuses on the buyer’s world view and what causes them to make a purchase. It flips the perspective by trying to understand the world from the buyer’s point of view.  Instead of asking a supply-side question, how can I build and push a product to the customer, we ask a demand-side question: how can we build a product that the customer pulls into their world?  It applies the “jobs to be done” theory to product development, positioning and sales.

Jobs to be done theory emphasizes that people don’t buy products, they hire them to make progress in their lives. Your product’s role is to move your customer from his or her current circumstances towards a new,  improved state. This desire for progress and associated challenges create a struggling moment for the customer.

This struggling moment is the spark that inspires a question in the mind: “is there a better way?”. This simple, yet powerful question pushes the customer to invest time in searching and learning about possible solutions.  As the late Clay Christensen had said “questions are places in your mind where answers fit”. As a product developer the questions that arise from the customer struggles are opportunities for us to explore, define and develop the right solutions  to help them make progress.

The customer is not looking for a long list of feature. A feature is no use to them if it doesn’t contribute meaningful towards making progress for them. That means, your really great AI feature, or that nifty UX concept is of no value if doesn’t resolve the customers struggles. On the other features that remove obstacles and move the customer forward towards their goals will be seen as delightful to use. This frame of thinking is complete customer centric. It will influence not just what you build, but also how you position it in the market. This is demand-side thinking.

It also changes how you interact with your customers to try and understand them. Customers usually have a hard time pin pointing the causes of their struggles. Consider the following example interaction from Moesta’s book:

“I need a drill, because I want a hole.”


“I need a hole, because I want a plug.”


“I need a plug, because I want a lamp.”

“Why do you want a lamp?”

“Because it’s hard to see, and I want to read better.”

The job to be done in this example is to read better with a lamp, not drill a hole. Perhaps the solution that helps make progress here is a battery powered lamp. In that case neither a hole, nor a drill is required. Notice that uncovering this detail requires us to dig deep and ask several “why”‘s to get the bottom of things. Otherwise we will only hear the surface level need from the customer. This also illustrates why customers are often not the best people to look to for solutions. In many cases, they may not be diagnosing their problems clearly to begin with.

Demand-side approach gives us the tools to uncover the real need, the root cause and the actual demand from the customer.

While the struggling moment is the force that pushes the customer to start looking for improvements, there are three other forces at play that need to be considered:

  1. The magnetism of your offering: Does your product clearly resolve the customers struggling moment? This is a force that pulls the customer towards your product.
  2. The anxiety of the new solution: Will your product fulfill and deliver on it’s promise? There is an anxiety that pushes a customer back to status quo.
  3. The habit of the present: People become accustomed to their struggles. There is a learned helplessness that prevents them from making progress.

These forces can be framed and tackled as a sales problem. For example money back guarantees, access to community can help with addressing anxiety of trying a new solution.  Others can be baked into the product, for example a clean onboarding experience that smoothly transitions the customer from their old habits to a new one.

Demand-side thinking takes you from asking what do I want to build, to asking what is the market craving for. It is the ultimate “blue ocean strategy” that can reveal untapped opportunities and create real pull for your products.

Further Reading:

Demand-Side Sales 101: Stop Selling and Help Your Customers Make Progress by Bob Moesta

Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice by Clayton Christensen

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