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Product Management

Customer Development, Product Management

5 Worksheets You Need to Build Out Your Customer Development Strategy ft. @sgblank

customer-development

If you’ve read about the Product Death Cycle – a dire consequence of letting user feedback run you ragged – you may feel that asking prospective customers to guide your product development and marketing efforts is like waltzing on a pirate ship’s plank: One wrong step and you’re sunk. Yet, even though there are a myriad of missteps possible, customer development can save you from even more by giving you the precise information you need to find product/market fit.

In The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step by Step Guide for Building a Great Company by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf, their introduction to customer discovery begins with a list of things NOT to do – which also neatly describes five common pitfalls to which founders attempting customer development often fall victim:

“It’s instructive to enumerate all things you are not going to do:

  • Understand the needs and wants of all customers
  • Make a list of all the features customers want before they buy your product
  • Hand Product Development a features list of the sum of all customer requests
  • Hand Product Development a detailed marketing-requirements document
  • Run focus groups and test customers’ reactions to your product to see if they will buy”

The “Product Death Cycle” begins with just such a recipe. This is when well-intentioned entrepreneurs gather as much qualitative data as they can from all potential customers and act on all the feedback.

All is where the danger happens. And it’s all too easy to fall into it – which is why these 5 worksheets from The Startup Owner’s Manual* come in so very handy.

*Note: We have no affiliation with this book – we just think it’s incredibly informative and hope you do too!

Read More on Inturact


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Customer Development, Customer Success, Product Management

Why the Customer Success Manager is the Product Manager’s New BFF by @NikkiElizDeMere

bff

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

In 1853, U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry (no, not the Friends actor) sailed to the shores of Japan to strongly suggest (with several gun-laden vessels) that the ruling shogunate open Japan’s ports to outside trade. For 200 years, Japan had embraced a policy of near total isolation from the West, but with the Industrial Revolution fresh out of the oven, even isolationist Japan couldn’t ignore the benefits of trade. What does this history lesson have to do with Product Managers and Customer Success?

In most companies, each department is like its own, relatively isolated shogunate. Each manager has his or her patch of office space to rule, and each kingdom is somewhat suspicious of its neighbors. Take Sales and Marketing for example – a Corporate Executive Board Survey cited in Hubspot’s “The Power of Smarketing” revealed that 87% of the terms Sales and Marketing use to describe each other are negative. I would venture to say that the feelings of Product Managers towards Customer Success Managers are neither warmer, or fuzzier.

After all, as Product Manager, you’ve developed a product that works – why should it be your problem if buyers can’t figure out how to use it?

Nobody is going to hold a 19th century Paixhan shell gun to your head (they’re far too heavy), but opening your borders to Customer Success is the only way you’ll survive and thrive. Here’s why you, as Product Manager, should embrace Success. All across the SaaS B2B industry, this new and vital discipline is being developed. CSMs are charged with optimizing customer relationships, increasing product adoption and reducing churn.

Read More on Wootric


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Product Management

How to Save Your Product from Death by Good Intentions ft. @AndrewChen

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Gathering the wrong data can spell DEATH for your product. Sounds dire, doesn’t it? Just the kind of overblown shock tactic I usually do not recommend. Andrew Chen (Uber) shed some light on the Product Death Cycle, and it is very real. If your product is inexplicably dying out from under you, there’s good news: You just might be able to bring it back to life.

The cycle begins with well-intentioned entrepreneurs gathering the kind of qualitative data that is downright toxic to businesses. We’ll give you some tips on how to avoid falling into the Product Death Cycle trap, and how to claw your way back out if you already have.

Read More on Inturact


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Product Management, SaaS, Startups

What sets you apart? It’s probably not what you think. ft. @rrhoover

what-sets-you-apart

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

When I ask clients what sets them apart, what I hear from most is a lengthy list of features.

Variations on: “Our product does this, that, and the other thing.”

I hate to shoot them down, because they’re all really proud of what they’ve accomplished. Their products are, in fact, excellent at what they do. But here’s the problem with using features as differentiators:

Features can be copied.

Android phones are copying iPhones (and vice versa).

Google Cloud Storage is copying Dropbox and Box, or is it the other way around?

Germany’s Samwer brothers made their fortunes by blatantly copying existing web companies, including Airbnb and Pinterest, and selling the businesses back to their originators or other interested parties.

If you’ve made something, someone else can and will copy it. But, what they can’t copy is you.

“Oh, but I don’t want my business to be about me; I want it to be about my [product/customers/mission trips to Zambia].”

You’re on the right track with this train of thought. This post on CopyHackers says it best, “Potential clients aren’t interested in you. They want to hear what’s in it for them.” But one of the most important benefits customers get from purchasing your product is the expertise, experience, connections, and even personality behind it – your expertise, experience, connections and personality.

Give your brand a face

Some people are deeply hesitant, if not downright suspicious or fearful, of associating their names and faces with their companies. They believe their brands should speak for themselves, which isn’t a terrible idea. It’s just hard to achieve for startups and newer companies. This mindset also misses out on an opportunity.

It is much easier for an individual to become a recognized and respected thought-leader than it is for a corporation.

Consider this:

When Sean Ellis started GrowthHackers.com, he already had a large personal following and authority. He has earned his place as a thought-leader in the field with years of freely sharing valuable insights.

If someone else had tried to start a Growth Hackers community, they could copy the website’s basic premise of up-voting and commenting – but they could never duplicate Sean Ellis.

Similarly, the vibrant Product Hunt community has a duplicable up-vote and comment system, but getting another Ryan Hoover with all of his experience and Silicon Valley buy-in to run the show is unlikely.

Breaking the mold with community

When you consider what truly sets you apart – it has to be something no one else can copy. Knowledge, personal authority, established presence in the community, insider information, in-depth knowledge earned over years, and the community of engaged followers who gravitate to you.

Hubspot, for example, is an outstanding company that makes inbound marketing, content creation, segmentation and tracking easy. But even its sophisticated system will likely generate copycats in the coming years. What these latecomers won’t be able to replicate, however, is Hubspot’s strong community of inbound true-believers at Inbound.org.

Be the first – no one can take that away

You don’t have to invent something brand new to be the unforgettable first (though it helps). Being the first to introduce (or at least vocally adopt) a trend can also establish your reputation as a leader. Buffer beat just about everyone to being a “transparent” company. They’ve become famous for their “default to transparency” values and are credited for starting the movement.

In Running Lean, author Ash Maurya calls these differentiators “unfair advantages”:

A real unfair advantage is one that cannot easily be copied or bought.

On the list are:

  • Difficult-to-achieve capabilities – think of how Google has dominated the search market by constantly making improvements to be the best.
  • Community – the people who not only follow you, but add value for each other.
  • Dream team – it doesn’t have to be all about one person; your differentiator may be how you harness the considerable talents of others.
  • Exclusive access to a segment of customers
  • Reputation
  • Experience & insider knowledge

Once you’ve identified your unfair advantage, you’ve taken the first step towards building a company that may be copied, but will never be matched.

5 fun things to do with your differentiator

Now that you’ve identified your differentiator, or “unfair advantage,” it’s time to use it. You can:

  1. Use it in your unique value proposition.
  2. Include it in your supporting copy.
  3. Add it to the “About Us” section (with a benefits-focus on the customer, of course!).
  4. Let it inspire your social media strategy.
  5. Let it be the leading voice in your content, positioning you and your company as a thought-leader in your industry.

Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.

Product Management, SaaS

Your Product Does a Lot – But Your Customers are Flummoxed by @NikkiElizDeMere

your-product-does-alot

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

Excel, the spreadsheet program from Microsoft that has become ubiquitous in businesses everywhere, does just about everything. I bet, if you knew the right formula to insert into a cell, it would even make breakfast (I don’t guarantee it would be a good breakfast).

The problem with Excel is not how much it does, but how much training it takes to learn to use it. Companies offer sit-down classes in it for goodness sake! In some circles, it’s a resume boost just to say you know how to work the thing.

Microsoft may be able to get away with that kind of rubbish, but if you’re a SaaS company in 2015, your customers expect an intuitive interface they can use in seconds. And that means, even if your product does a lot and makes breakfast too, you have to be very careful with how you introduce your customers to your product’s capabilities.

Worst Practices for Deploying “Deep” Features

Before the customer hits the “Buy” button, you should, of course, tell them about all the wonderful things your product can do – for them. Most companies list every single feature, because gosh-darnit, they’ve worked hard to put them there and they’re proud of each and every one of them. But a more effective marketing tactic is to divide your customers into segments, find out what each segment’s needs are, and emphasize the features that would solve those specific sets of problems.

Once the prospect becomes a customer, the gradual unveiling of features (original, new, and upcoming) should really begin. Here’s hownot to do it:

  • Poorly-timed email blasts – Your customer doesn’t care about data export unless they first have data. So make sure you’ve set your emails to auto-deploy when their related features are used, so the new/additional feature you’re promoting makes sense in a real-world context.
  • FAQ – Leaving the explanation and promotion of features to your FAQ page, help sections, or even customer service means that users only become aware of them when they’re already frustrated. Frustrated people aren’t receptive to new ideas, as a rule. They just want their immediate problems solved.

Much Better Practices for Deploying “Deep” Features

The most effective way to introduce features is with a gradual deployment of messages to promote features when they become the most useful. As stated above, you could do this with automated emails pre-set to send when specific actions are performed.

Or, some platforms allow you to send a different pop-up message within the app itself after a certain number of sessions. When the user logs in for his or her third time, that might be when you introduce keyboard shortcuts. After they’ve been your customer for three months, you might introduce them to how your product integrates with another solution.

If you have the choice between automated emails and in-app notifications, go with in-app – that’s when your customers will be most receptive to suggestions on how to be even more successful with your product.

Intercom reports seeing a ten-fold increase in communications from in-app messages over email announcements.

All of this is predicated on how well you’ve come to know your customers, and how well you keep track of their progress, successes, goals and failures. Yes, once again, we’re talking about customer success. Aren’t we always?


Let’s Get SaaSsy – I’m offering a limited number of SaaS consulting engagements.