How to Figure Out What (Products) People Want & Need

Clint Fontanella
Clint Fontanella



When you work in product development, you often talk about satisfying the customer's needs and wants. While that sounds great on paper, determining what your customers really want from your product is a lot easier said than done. Your customers aren't always sure what they want, making it your product team's responsibility to recognize those objectives for them. If successful, your new product or feature will have a much better chance of flying off the shelves when it's released.

customer evaluating what they want
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If you're having trouble discovering what customers desire from your company, this post will cover the different ways that you can determine customer wants and needs before and during product development.

Before we get into product development specifically, let's talk about wants and needs on a more general level.

What do people need?

In theory, if you can build a product that enough people need and cannot satisfy, you won't have a demand problem. But what exactly constitutes a need?

Fundamentally, a need is something that would solve a deficiency in a person's life, one that would have an adverse outcome if it wasn't addressed. With that in mind, a need is likely to spur a person to action — in other words, provide motivating behavior.

If the above sounds really broad to you, you're not alone. In order to fully understand the concept, psychologist Abraham Maslow set out to more concretely classify the most common human needs. His model, known as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, was proposed in 1943 and remains relevant to this day.

The idea behind the model is that people have basic needs that must be prioritized first (hence the hierarchy) before they seek out to satisfy their other needs. For example, one is more inclined to ensure that they have basic physiological needs (such as food or shelter) met before feeling the need to improve their status in the community by buying an expensive house or car to keep up with the Joneses.

maslow's hierarchy of needs represented in pyramid formIn theory, once someone has the first level met, they move on to the next level (and so on). While reality can be more complicated than that, this framework is a helpful tool to understand human need and motivation.

Here is a basic rundown of the types of needs in Maslow's Hierarchy model:

Physiological Needs

The needs that a human being's body requires to function (e.g. food, water, air).

Safety Needs

The needs that a human being requires to feel safe (e.g. shelter, employment, nutrition).

Love and Belonging

The needs that a human being requires to feel loved (e.g. family, friendship).


The needs that a human being requires to feel accomplished (e.g. respect, confidence, status).


The needs that a human being requires to feel their full potential, being the best they can be.

What do people want?

Wanting is a little different. Unlike a need, a want is not as likely to cause an adverse outcome, instead being simply a desire or aspiration.

Wants might include:

Ease of Use

No matter if you're creating a SaaS product or a physical one, customers love when they can easily learn how to use it. This is particularly important for products that are new to their industry as these companies may need to educate consumers as to why they're superior in their marketplace. If customers find your product too confusing or too hard to use, they'll likely lose interest and seek a simpler alternative.


Making a product too difficult to buy, continue buying, or continue using goes against people's need for convenience. As a result, too many objections, friction, or blockers can turn someone away, even if they needed and liked your product.


Everybody likes more bang for their buck. So, if you can sell a product at a competitive price without sacrificing its quality, you'll have an offer that'll be tough to refuse.

With this mind, it's important to remember your target audience. In some cases, your customers may be put off by a low price tag. For example, if your customers are looking to buy a high-quality car, they'll probably pass on the used model that's discounted. That's because they have different motivators and may rightfully have concerns as to why this one car is marked lower than the others.

Knowing your target audience can help you avoid this friction and find the right price point that fits your customer base.

Value or Flexibility

In the 1920s, George Washington Carver discovered over 300 unique uses for peanuts. It's hard to imagine that a little nut could produce so many beneficial products for its users, but that's exactly the type of flexibility that can make your product great.

Customers love when they purchase a product and find out that they can use it to solve more than one problem. And, it's even better when they find new uses for your product as they continue to travel through the customer's journey. This outsized value makes customers feel like they got a great deal by engaging with your business.


When it comes to things that customers want in a product, one of the most common answers is style. People want to buy a product that's cool and interesting to look at. This gives the customer confidence because they know that other customers want to replicate their style. While it's more important that your product works, making it stylish is a great way to have it stand out in its marketplace.

Before you investigate what your customers expect from your business, it's important to make a distinction between customer needs and wants. Understanding the difference can help you create better products, features, and messaging or positioning. Below, we'll talk about the distinction of wants vs. needs in business and then how to apply the theoretical concepts above to product development.

Customer Needs

Needs are going to be your reason for creating a product. You're attempting to address a pain or problem that consumers are motivated to solve.

The good news is since they're imperative to customer success, needs tend to be easier to identify than wants. Frustrated customers will make it clear that their needs weren't met by either leaving a bad review or asking for a refund.

Customer Wants

Customer wants are like the cherry (or hot fudge for some) on top of a sundae. These are things that customers desire from your product but aren't necessarily deal-breakers. They may be features or key differentiators that distinguish you from the competition and help win over those customers who are on the fence.

Since they're not crucial to the customer's goals, customer wants are typically harder to recognize. However, if properly identified, fulfilling these expectations can be a great way to delight your customers and disrupt your competition.

The ideal product should provide a balance that fulfills both customer needs and customer wants. Prioritize needs at the forefront of your decision-making because they're vital to achieving customer success. Then go above and beyond for your customers by also providing the elements that they want to see in your product.

If you're still stuck differentiating between needs and wants, these next sections will list out some examples of how needs and wants might manifest in product development.

What Are Examples of Wants and Needs?

Examples of Needs

If you haven't yet decided what kind of product to create, you might start with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. These are broad motivations that might help you unearth a key pain or problem to solve for your target customers.

Product development will rarely address physiological needs, though, so we'll start a little higher up on the hierarchy:

Needs Examples


Consumers are often concerned with safety, whether that's safety for their person, security in their homes and jobs, or financial in their present or future. If your customers have safety as a motivator, your goal might be to create a product that protects them. Then, you'll want to create messaging that gives them reassurance that they'll be taken care of.

For example, let's say you're selling a home alarm system. It might be tempting to discuss all the bells and whistles of the product as if it were the neatest piece of tech on the market. However, a better approach would be connecting those features to the prospective customer's safety needs, explaining how each one provides another level of safety for their home, their valuables, and most importantly their loved ones.

Love and Belonging

Speaking of loved ones, as humans, we're inclined to do all that we can for ours. And we're also inclined to seek connection. For this reason, our social needs can be powerful motivators.

Just think about how De Beers, the diamond retail company, changed how we look at engagement rings with their ads in 1947. In a time where a diamond ring might be seen as a frivolous expense, they were able to create the illusion that diamonds are rare and sought-after as well as create a sentimental attachment to them with their popular slogan, "A diamond is forever." This really positioned diamond jewelry as a token of love and affection. As a result, the diamond industry was never the same.


Some products represent who customers are as people and act as a symbol that represents their social status or personal identity. For example, BMW deems itself, "The Ultimate Driving Machine." This means that people who purchase its products care deeply about cars and how they perform. They want their peers to think that they're driving the best car available. Therefore, BMW creates and markets high-performance vehicles that are intended for luxury buyers.

The motivation for buying a BMW is much different than buying a Ford or Chevy. If BMW were to come out with a cost-effective, economic vehicle, it wouldn't be as successful as its current products. BMW's existing customers would have no interest in this type of car because it doesn't reflect who they are as people. When developing the next product for your business, be sure that it aligns with the social status or identity that your customers desire.


Self-actualization is difficult to define since everyone is different, but it ultimately comes down to the need to better oneself (and simply for the sake of it, not for another motivation such as career/finances).

The need for self-actualization is difficult to target since it looks different for everyone and because your product will not be enough to achieve it for your customers. However, self-actualization is still a powerful motivator, which means that, done right, messaging that appeals to this need can be persuasive. Consider language-learning app Duolingo's message to "make every day count" by dedicating a sliver of it to learning a language.


Additional Needs That Product Teams Should Consider

While your product or positioning will be so much stronger when you target one of the above needs from Maslow's Hierarchy, there are a few additional things you should keep in mind as you develop and market your products.

Additional Needs Examples


At the end of the day, your product has to solve the problem that you advertise. That's why customers bought it in the first place, and you can't fault them for being upset or turning to your competitors if you don't solve the problem that they're having. This is easily the most important function that your product should perform.


Once you know that your product will solve your customers' problems, that's great!

Now, you need to make sure it can continue to solve their problems moving forward. If it breaks easily, customers will be frustrated with having to return products or constantly working with your customer service team. For this reason, it's important to invest in your product's quality so that you can ensure long-term customer satisfaction.

Personal Comfort

It doesn't matter if you're selling shoes or subscription magazines, your product should make your customers comfortable. It shouldn't be exhausting or stressful to work with, but instead, customers should feel relaxed and rewarded whenever they continue to engage with your product or service. This will keep them interested in your business and more likely to return for an additional purchase.


Have you ever purchased a product only to feel regret once you took it out of the packaging? This is called buyer's remorse and it occurs when our expectations aren't met by a product we just purchased.

To prevent your customers from experiencing this phenomenon, it's important to reassure them with a strong customer service offer. Having a dedicated support team ready to solve issues is key to making customers feel confident in the purchase they just made. And, that confidence can be the deciding factor between staying with your business and switching to a competitor.

Entertainment or Stimulation

Unless the customer is required to purchase your product, most won't be jumping at the chance to buy it if they don't find it interesting. The best products are entertaining to use and keep the customer stimulated throughout the user experience.

Think about mobile-based games for this example. Some, like Snake, are very simple games that aren't complicated to master. But, they're incredibly popular because they keep users engaged in every moment of the game experience. Creating that same level of interest for your business is a great way to get customers hooked on your products.


Examples of Wants

Since needs are the purpose of your product, its core offering, wants are the things that will help you develop the features and perks that make your solution unique and more competitive. Here are examples of what customers want when they buy from you:

Wants Examples

Ease of Use

Whatever the primary function of a product, customers want the experience of using the product to be simple and easy. With that in mind, it's important to identify and eliminate friction or cumbersome roadblocks where possible. In software production specifically, that might mean reducing the number of steps to get a certain result. For example, you might implement a "duplicate" feature for repetitive tasks, making the customer's life easier when executing their routine.


Convenience is a similar want to keep in mind. Prospects want the process of buying, subscribing, receiving, implementing, and returning the product to be simple and easy. With this in mind, it's important to identify and eliminate friction in your operational models, particularly when it comes to purchasing or obtaining customer service. For example, you might implement a one-click purchase feature to reduce cumbersome steps in the buying process.


Because time and money are finite resources and are part of a person's livelihood (i.e. safety and security needs), price is understandably a factor in most purchasing decisions. If two similar products are completely equal, the more affordable option will often win out. However, the other factor here is value. If you can find a way to provide more value than competitors, you'll be able to gain an edge as prospective customers are evaluating. For this reason, you should always iterate how to deliver... and how to deliver in a way that's cost-efficient. For example, additional perks that your competitors don't have (more deliverables, a better experience, better customer service options, more durability, extra features, etc.) at the same price or a comparable one.

Value or Flexibility

In the spirit of ease of use, you should continually be iterating how your customers can get more bang for their buck out of your product. As alluded to in the previous example, customers want value in exchange for their investment, and value can often come in the form of flexibility. For example, this might manifest in the software world as integrations with other common software products your customers use so they can build a system that works for their needs (without siloing). It might also manifest in your service department as 24/7 support or being available on channels your customers prefer to communicate on.


It makes sense that people want their products to address their needs in a way that's simple, easy, and convenient. However, it also makes sense that, if two products have the same features at the same price, the customer will factor in style and aesthetics. For example, if an individual is choosing between two evenly matched software systems, it's not hard to imagine that the one with the sleeker UX will win out.

While the above are all great examples, keep in mind that the motivations, needs, and wants will vary depending on the audience and what you're providing. It's up to you to innovate solutions that will drive your target buyers wild.

How to Find out What People Want and Need in a Product

To identify your customers' wants and needs, you'll have to do research on who your buyers are. This can be done throughout the product development process.

But, if you're not sure where to start, the following are a range of metrics you can use to get insight into what matters to your customers.

First Party Data

As outlined by HubSpot's Sophia Bernazzani, first-party data is "data that your company has collected directly from your audience." It's specific to your business and can highlight interesting patterns and trends occurring with your existing customers. You can use this data to identify customer needs and wants that are specific to the people who are already interacting with your business. Some first-party data reports that we recommend are:

Customer Behavior Analysis

A customer behavior analysis is a report that describes the buying habits for different target audience segments. It uses the customer journey map to highlight how certain personas will react to different roadblocks. Using this report, you can look for consistencies between different customer segments, and then outline individual needs at different moments in the customer's journey

Product Usage Reports

Product usage reports contain interesting information about how customers are currently using your product or service. They have detailed analytics that highlight the most used aspects of your offering, as well as point out areas that are being underutilized or abandoned. The tools being used the most are features that customers need from your product. Look closer at those products and identify what the customer's goal is when they're using it.

RFM Analysis

An RFM Analysis identifies the most valuable customers engaging with your business by assessing their buying history. It measures the recency, frequency, and monetary value that a customer provides to a specific company. This information helps product personnel predict a customer's next purchase and allows them to plan their release dates in a timely manner.

Qualitative Data

When trying to determine needs and wants, qualitative data captures the voice of the customer. This data describes the customer's perspective as well as things that influence people, but can't be measured numerically. Some qualitative reports that you can analyze are:

Customer Feedback

When customers aren't happy, it's an opportunity for your business to learn. Priceless information about users surface in customer support every day, but sometimes it can be hard to sort through all of it. As a guideline, customers who are clearly angry or frustrated are communicating their needs to your business. Customers who are making suggestions typically are expressing their wants. While customer reviews may get repetitive, it's important to constantly sort through them to stay updated on the user's perspective.

Buyer Personas

For many marketing departments, developing buyer personas is the first step to understanding their target audience. This is because personas look at the influences on customer behaviors that extend beyond just their buying decisions. Product personnel can benefit from these personas as well because they segment the target audience by their wants and needs. Developers can then use this categorization to create features that are desirable to specific personas.

Customer Interviews

Holding focus groups or customer interviews is one way to directly question users about your company. You can ask them about individual aspects of your product and get immediate feedback from their responses. This allows you to isolate a specific situation observed then obtain an explanation for why it occurred. Information like this helps product managers guide their work when overseeing a new project.

Product Testing

Product testing should be carried out throughout the entire development process. These tests ensure that your new product or feature is going to be successful with your target audience. Here are some of the testing methods we recommend using during product development.

First-Click Testing

When you're working on your product or website's design, analyzing first-click tests is a great way to determine customer wants. First click tests give a participant a specific task on a website or software, then measures if and how long it takes for them to complete it. These tests indicate what customers want to do in a given situation, then highlights any obstacles in your design that prevents them from doing so. By running first-click tests throughout development, engineers can build a user-friendly interface that satisfies both customer needs and wants.

Usability Testing

In a post on HubSpot's Marketing Blog, my colleague, Clifford Chi, describes usability testing as "a method of evaluating a product or website's user experience." Engineers and developers use these tests to determine whether customers can intuitively operate their product. One way to do this is to set up a system usability scale that surveys customers about their user experience using a scale of one to 10. Product management then takes this information and can tweak their developing product to fit the needs and wants of their users.

Sequential Monadic Testing

If your product team gets stuck deciding between different features or designs, you can use sequential monadic testing to choose the customer's preferred option. This test shows participants one concept, then asks them to compare its value to your alternatives. You can then repeat this process for as many features that you need to assess. This way you can see what your customers think about your ideas, particularly minor details, prior to creating them.

Marketplace Data

While it's a bit generic, marketplace data is another source to investigate when trying to understand your customer's expectations. These second and third-party data streams can portray macro-trends affecting an entire industry. Even though the data is not specific to your business, your product teams use this information to identify emerging customer needs and wants.

Competitor Products

Begin with observing your competitors and compare your product to other successful ones in your industry. If customers are buying your competitors' products over yours, then there must be a place where your team is falling short. Comparing your current products to the best ones in your market is a great way for developers to identify opportunities for product improvement.

Trends and Legislature

Product personnel should also stay up to date on rising social and political trends occurring in their industry. Changes in your customer's environment are going to affect their buying needs, so it's important for product management to stay on top of these developments. A new social trend or legislative measure can present a valuable opportunity for products owners to create timely solutions.

Editor's note: This post was originally published in December 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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