The risks of lead user analysis: The limitations of listening to lead users

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Lead users can be a great source of input – but there are some limits to lead user analysis. This article explores some of the risks associated with listening to your most advanced users.

Risk 1: Their needs may not align with what most people want

This first limitation with lead user analysis is that the preference of lead users may not align with the larger population of customers that you are targetting. They may expect more advanced features that go above and beyond what a lot of users would expect. Lead users by their nature may be interested in pushing the latest advancements, and these could be unnecessary or costly features to add for most customers. 

Risk 2: They may willing to access certain bugs and complexity that the mass market may not

Another limitation with listening to lead users is that they may be willing to overlook certain omissions that most users would care about. How simple the product is to use for example may be something that your most advanced technical user may not be interested in. Similarly, the instructions or compatibility with legacy equipment may be areas where your advanced users may not care about, but may still be important for other people. 

Risk 3: They may over-state their confidence in a particular situation

A final risk of listening to lead users is that they may overstate their certainty about future events. Such experts may have strong opinions, potentially based on their own experiences and a limited number of others who have similar outlooks to them. They may be so caught up in technological advances that they may not see the more limited needs that others have. 

Final thoughts: Make your own assessment of the input that you recieve

There can be a lot to learn from lead users – but their input may also get you overly focused on the needs and wishes of a small subset of the most technologically advanced users. When listening to their input think critically about the extent to which it applies – how does it align with the broader customer feedback that you are receiving. Your ultimate aim should not be to just satisfy the most technically advanced individuals, but also the broader set of customers that you are targeting. 

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