The Missing Feature Fallacy

If I had a dollar for every time a potential customer told me that they would buy my product if it just had this one missing feature, I’d have enough to pay rent, in a penthouse, in New York, with a view, for a year.

The assertion is that the customer would buy the product if I would implement the specified missing feature. The counterpoint assertion is that the customer perceives the product as useless without this missing feature, and the product becomes useful only because of the missing feature.

The fallacy is that they intend to buy the product at all.

Over the past 21 years, I have sweated bullets to implement these missing features to appease these customers. Rarely have any of them changed their purchase decision. Mostly, they never had an intention to purchase anyway.

People either ‘get’ the product you have designed, and purchase it, or they don’t. It either fits, or it does not.

So why do people still talk about missing features in sales calls, and why do people still expect that the sale will happen if the missing feature is implemented. I have a few theories.

Theory #1: The customer does not want to say no

In many cultures, it’s rude to say no. So instead of saying that they don’t need your product, they make up a missing feature excuse to say why they don’t need it. In a way, the worst thing you can do for them is actually implement the feature, because now they need a new excuse, or they are forced into an uncomfortable no.

Theory #2: The customer needs more time to decide

It’s also possible that the customer needs more time to make a purchase decision. They want to poke and prod more, look at competitive products, or are too busy to decide now. And its embarrassing to state that they need more time. So they make up a missing feature excuse, hoping you’ll go away and give them more time.

Theory #3: Want’s trump needs

I’ve been designing and developing software for decades and the one truth is that customers have no idea what they really need. What they do have is a laser like focus on what they think they want, with no clue as to the cost or benefits of this want. If your product does not have this want as a feature, to them it’s missing. And they will not purchase it even though the product does everything they actually need.

Theory #4: The smarter than you customer

Some people just like to play games, especially power games. Even though they have no intention to purchase, they still want to play. To prove that they are smarter than you, they invent a missing feature, and look to see if you’ll dance to their music.

Theory #5: They really do need a different product

A butter knife is no good at cutting steak. If I make a butter knife, it’s quite silly for me to try to sell it to a steak eater. To them, the ability to cut steak is a missing feature. In fact, we’re talking about different products.

Theory #6: They really do need the missing feature

In the rare cases that it happens, they really do need the missing feature, and quite rightly do not purchase a product that does not have it.

Fact or Fallacy

The issue is determining when the missing feature is a real need and when it’s a fob off. Empirically speaking, based on the odds, it’s most likely a polite fob off. Hence the fallacy that if you implement it, you’ll make the sale. In the rare cases that it is a fact, you need to detect it, but it’s still not certain that the sale will take place. Other factors, such as cost, time, attention, and changing business needs affect the purchase decision as well.

It is better to spend your time selling your product to those who need it than it is to implement the missing features for those who won’t buy it in the first place. Or better yet, commit to implementing the missing feature after they purchase. If it’s a real missing feature, real money will change hands. Until then, assume the missing feature fallacy holds.

Posted By Hilton Lipschitz · May 26, 2012 2:56 PM