Nobody cares about your product (Part 1)

21 Feb, 2016
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There are so many takedown techniques in JŠ«jutsu. By the time you reach your first belt you have learned at least 4 different throws, 3 different joint-locks and a variety of hooks that you can apply to get your opponent to the mat.
At belt level exams the Sensei will ask to start with your favorite take down technique. In your comfort zone you are most likely to give a good performance. After that, you need to demonstrate the techniques outside your comfort zone. The point is that there is more way to achieve what we need than the one we favor, and if you want to survive, you better learn different approaches to achieve the desired outcome.
In fact as a Product Manager we tend to fall in love with our solution, with our product, but a good Product Manager falls in love with the problem his or her product is trying to solve.

So we are looking for a better way to find answers to questions like:

  1. Who is the customer?
  2. What problem are they trying to solve?
  3. What customer segment makes the most attractive target?
  4. What unmet customer needs should we address?
  5. Should we pursue a sustaining, disruptive or breakthrough strategy?
  6. Will customers pay more for a better solution?

Quarter inch drill or quarter inch hole?

Now imagine that you are a top notch drill maker, your is simply the best power drill in the market. Some engineer may come up to you and say: “I have this great idea for making holes using this new mechanical contraption. Okay it only works for little holes but look how small the device is and no electricity required.” The Product Manager will lean back and say “sorry we are in the market for power drills”. If the engineer persists the Product Manager will probably show a ton of market research showing what a drill should look like, what shelf space it can take, what price point is needed for which channel, but completely missing the point that a client doesn’t need a drill. He needs a hole.
This behavior is often enlarged by the “sunk cost trap”. Meaning that even when we (grudgingly) accept that the new innovation could work for some edge cases, we refuse to invest in it since we have already invested in an alternative technology in the past.
Changing technology just because there is a new way to do things is not right, but sticking to the old way because we have invested in it is also not correct. The right argument is switching cost. If the new technology is (potentially) better it must be able to compensate the investment we need to make to switch to this new technology.
In our example: drilling the big holes in massive concrete walls are probably served well with power drills. But in guitar building the raw power will damage the wood. This is why Luthiers will rely on different drills to make sensitive holes.
Back to customer needs. They are a quite elusive concept. Here’s a nice assignment: ask 5 managers in your company what customer need your product is solving. There should be a roughly 95.67% chance that you will get different answers.
What happens if we segment our customers differently and search for metrics based on the need or role that our product fulfills for them:

  1. Users
    The persons using the product or service to get a functional job done. They are the reason the market exists.
  2. Buyers
    The buyer and user are often different. The buyer engages in the buying process, not product use. Buyers apply a set of financial metrics to select which products and services they will acquire.
  3. Eco system
    Customers often need their products and services to be installed, set up, monitored, maintained, and upgraded. This is often executed by third parties.

Addressing the right pain
At one time I was responsible for a cross-mobile development platform. Our users were developers, they cared about ease of use and having no limits. Their main concern was that our product would limit their freedom. The product was bought by the IT department, usually after having been introduced by the marketing department. Where the marketing department saw an opportunity for a faster time to market, it would be reducing cost and stability for the CIO. Finally the large IT services companies wanted all their stuff to be deployable as fast as possible.
Each market segment has a different problem. Finding out what the problem is for each segment can be done in various ways, job mapping, contextual inquiry or customer journey mapping. We will cover some a simple technique in the next post.

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