If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re likely to end up somewhere else.

     

If you’re a new product manager in a high-tech business, you’ve probably realized by now that your role is a very demanding one. While you may be held accountable for strategy, planning, development and marketing, you very rarely have the direct authority to implement any of your decisions. So how do you stay cool, calm and collected while delivering the maximum value for your company?

In this circumstance, having a ‘red thread’ can be hugely helpful – the most useful one being a clear understanding of who your customers are, and what kind of contribution you can make towards their user experience. It’s this exact topic that was discussed at the recent Product Manager Essentials course at Tolpagorni, along with various approaches and tools to develop this particular understanding. It was eventually decided that finding an appropriate solution would depend on the answers to two important questions, namely: ‘Who (will buy my product)?’ and ‘Why (will they buy it)?’.

Who?

In order to define your customer, start first by characterizing them – remembering to think about the actual people who will use or buy your product, not the companies they work for. Ask yourself:

  • Where do they work, and what is their environment like?
  • What is the essential task that they are expected to complete, and how do they prioritize and measure success?
  • What will help them achieve the goals they aspire to? What are the challenges that they face along the way? What would improve by removing these obstacles?
  • On a personal level, why do they go to work? What makes them feel proud and gives them a sense of achievement?
  • Who do they connect with? Who do they go to for advice or to test new ideas? Which other stakeholders need to be on board when they make a purchase decision?
  • What keeps them up at night?
  • What are the difficulties they are experiencing with their current solution and what are the successes they hope to enjoy with a different one?

Summarize your findings in a persona – this is an archetype of a customer, and one of the tools we reviewed in training.Personas-Description

You will need to develop several personas if you have different kinds of customers you need to connect with. This is particularly relevant if your job requires you to address multiple market segments.

Why?

People who decide to buy your product will justify the decision to themselves (and most likely to others as well). Why is this the preferred solution to a problem or to completing a task? In other words, of what value is your product to them? This can best be answered with a value proposition: a clear statement outlining why the customer would be better off choosing your product than any other potential solutions. In order to craft this statement, you will need to have clear insights into your product, your customer, and your competition as well, so as to offer value in a different way, or at a lower cost.

When it comes to technical products, as product managers we tend to focus on functional specifications, such as processing speed or camera megapixels. Customers, however, will often look for value of a different kind, such as on a financial, emotional, or even social level (for a more in-depth look at this, visit https://hbr.org/2018/03/the-b2b-elements-of-value#comment-section).

In order to deepen your understanding of the value that your customers look for, and how your product can help meet these needs, try using a Value Tree – yet another tool looked at in our recent training.

Test your thinking!

It’s worth bearing in mind that your personas and your value proposition should always be validated thoroughly. In the early development stages, however, there are two simple ways of verifying whether or not you are on the right track:

  • Share one of your customer personas with an experienced salesperson. If they can easily name real people who fit that persona, then you probably have a good understanding of your customer.
  • Imagine a customer who has bought your product being asked by a colleague why they chose yours over the alternatives, and responding with “I chose it because…”. If you can finish the sentence distinctly and simply, in the type of language your customer would use, then you understand your value proposition clearly. I like to call this the ‘Unique Buying Reason’, because, in contrast with the more traditional USP (Unique Sales Proposition), it forces you to think in the same way as your customers, ultimately helping you to better connect with them.

Having a clearly defined ‘who’ and ‘why’ is critical to implementing a good go-to-market strategy in order to create awareness and leads for your product, and help your sales channel work effectively with customers as they make their buying decisions. However, as an informed product manager you can do much more than this. Use these simple tools of personas and value propositions to bring your next business case to life at the product board when proposing an investment, to structure and prioritize requirements, and to give your development team a richer understanding of customers and their needs so that engineers can focus their efforts on what really matters.

And of course as a bonus, your life as a product manager will become far less stressful as a result!

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About The Author

As a Senior Catalyst, I help improving the efficiency of marketing and product management organizations through education programs, customer-focused processes and decision support tools, always with the customer in focus.