How “Putting the Kale in the Pancakes” Can Reconcile the Needs of Buyers and Users

This is Part 13/18 in the series “How to Build an Innovative New Product or Company” on the topic of figuring out how to build a product for your users that meets their needs and the buyer’s needs

The companies I’ve built have all been B2B where you sell to a buyer trying to solve a need; then you deploy your product to the users in their organization. Users typically don’t care much about the buyers’ needs and will only use a product if it meets their own needs. Solving this misalignment has always been a major pivot point in earning user adoption.
Mechanisms to drive and sustain user adoption are the subject of the following two articles.

The same discrepancy occurs in B2C products, but it’s subtle. How many things do you have in your house you bought but never used? For example, many years ago I lived near a lake and bought an inflatable kayak to paddle around it. I used it a few times, but it was a large object in my house that I hardly ever used. As a buyer, I bought it because it wasn’t expensive. As a user, I didn’t care about the price I had paid; instead, I cared about how easy it was to inflate and get to the lake. A great product would fit both needs even if they are in conflict with each other.

Resolving that disconnect is a main goal of a startup in this stage of its growth.

Startups go through these stages (B2B especially):

  1. Get a product and pilot
    • Develop a strategy. Gather a founding team. Raise money. Create a first product / prototype as efficiently as possible. Sign a pilot site and put the product in the hands of actual users.
  2. Get to “Product-Buyer Fit” (as detailed in the prior article)
    • Build a demo of the early product. Take it to buyers. Move sales leads through a funnel. Sign contracts.
  3. Get to “Product-User Fit”
    • Keep iterating on the product so it serves users in the jobs they are already trying to accomplish.
  4. Scale product delivery and sales processes

Step (3) is the hardest in my experience. In my last company, we came up with the idea of “putting kale in the pancakes” to solve it.

The origin of the idea comes from kids being notoriously unhappy when eating vegetables. A mom somewhere came up with the idea of chopping up kale (which they need but don’t like) and baking it into pancakes (which they love but may not be as good for them). In other words, this mom was reconciling a buyer-user need discrepancy.

In that company, we had an e-learning platform focused on doctors and nurses. Hospital executives needed these clinicians to learn about non-clinical topics, such as communication, awareness of bias in decision making, and how to best document a patient visit on the medical record, for example. We had tried to build courses with titles such as “Clinical communications” in the past but no clinician took them seriously. They’d scroll through as fast as possible and learned little.

On the other hand, some users loved short courses on real clinical cases. Title a course “Pediatric fever presentations in the ER” and you’d have a captive audience who’d want to learn. They were afraid of young kids coming into the hospital with a fever and not knowing what signs there are to be aware of.

So, we built a course ostensibly about pediatric fever but inside included examples of communication, bias, and documentation.

I doubt the clinicians noticed that the kale had crept in… and if they did, at least they didn’t complain about it.

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All books and other resources referenced in this article