Hit the Market Bullseye with Product Management

StrategyThe Challenge

As someone who has helped startups with their business plans I understand that to capture the interest of the investor community it is hugely important to articulate your value proposition right from the start. Clearly representing the problem or need you address for your target market, listening to your target customers and understanding how you will drive revenue growth is essential to ensure you get the kick-start of investment you need to scale your business.

Strategy is based on a differentiated customer value proposition. Satisfying customers is the source of sustainable value creation.” Robert Kaplan and David Norton (Strategy Maps)

Business plans typically only get shared with a targeted group – generally the leadership stakeholders and potential investors. The continued articulation of the value proposition within the company, especially as the number of new employees grows, can be ad-hoc at best.

A company that has captured initial investment through a clearly defined business plan will move quickly to focus on the execution of this plan – hiring engineers, marketers and sales personnel. As time progresses and they learn more about their target market they may change their initial corporate strategy and re-evaluate their initial hypotheses of what the customer needs. Somewhere along the line their “internal” value proposition changes but often this is not captured or re-communicated clearly to everyone in the organization.

Once the company begins to execute the business plan different dynamics can occur across the organization.

  • The background and focus of the engineering team means that they will generally position the product from a technical standpoint, often failing to understand or demonstrate the “business value” of what they are creating.
  • Marketing will battle to understand the technical complexities of the product and might fail to create compelling positioning material.
  • Sales will struggle without a clear view of the target market, the value the company brings or the product’s unique selling points.

Without a defined value proposition the company will struggle to position the product and potential opportunities will be missed. Articulating your value proposition across the organization allows you to:

  • Create an aligned and collaborative organization that shares a common understanding of how the business will create value
  • Ensure the organization remains focused on corporate strategic objectives
  • Maximize ROI for corporate resources and ensure all resources are delivering effectively
  • Support decision making for all employees
  • Enable Sales and Marketing to clearly position the products and solutions to the target market and thereby drive revenue growth

The Solution

Whether you are a startup or SME you should take the time to ensure that your“Internal” Value Proposition is clearly articulated inside your business so that everyone can clearly represent it outside your business.

Product development, sales and marketing teams are often too busy delivering current project priorities to focus on the company’s value proposition and it can be beneficial to bring the team together under a moderator to focus efforts in this area.

I have recently spent time running “internal” value proposition workshops with technology companies and the exercise has been enlightening for everyone – particularly those companies that have spent a lot of time focusing on the “execution” rather than the “strategic” part of product management.


5 Steps to Deeper Customer Insight

RespectFor many companies “voice of the customer” can simply involve letting their existing customers dictate what they would like to see in the product. Sometimes, more influential customers (those with a strong contribution to overall revenue) can drive product strategy.  However, just because one large company wants something does not mean that there are lots of customers with this same need.  Individual customers generally have little concern for the needs of other customers.

In this scenario, it is often easy to lose sight of the market demand  – if your corporate strategy is to deliver a broad-based market-driven offering then focusing on individual customer demands may not help you to achieve this – it is more likely to drive you down a services route.

Customers can provide lots of useful insights related to their use of the  product and what they would like to see in our product. However, there are steps you can follow to proactively capture deeper customer insight, enabling you to focus on the broader market.

 Step 1: Understand Customer “Jobs to be Done”

Customer Insight Steps

Identify the type of customer segment that you are targeting and describe the potential customer’s role as best you can. What jobs do they need to complete?  What responsibilities do they have? Think like the customer – not like yourself!

Step 2: Document Customer’s Problems/Needs

What problems might customer’s in this segment have in performing their job or in fulfilling their role? What tasks are they finding it difficult to complete? What issues might they have with an existing product? Is there something that they would love to do differently? Use the “voice of the customer” to articulate these problems or needs.

Step 3: Prioritize Customer’s Problems/Needs

Make sure you prioritize the problems or needs identified for this segment – ask real live customers to help you. Understand the urgency of the problem/need from the point of view of the customer – is it a passive, latent or urgent problem? Are they motivated to solve it? How will it benefit them if the problem or need is addressed?

Step 4: Define your Solution

Once you completely understand the problem or need then you need to define a solution to address these problems/needs? How might this solution be architected? Are there any dependencies on 3rd party components?

Step 5: Validate with the Market

Get out and talk to customers (lots of them) to validate your hypothesis about how they operate and to begin to discuss your solution with them – you can do this before you write a line of code. Be careful though – you need to approach this in the right way – listen carefully and represent their voice as accurately as you can. Sales meetings are not good places to validate as you are typically in broadcast mode not listening mode – find another opportunity to talk to the potential or existing customer about their job, needs, priorities and objectives. Feed this information back into your definition of the customer and review your solution as appropriate.

Remember: “The customer rarely buys what the company thinks it is selling him. Companies need to take a customer-first perspective to succeed…”

Peter Druker, Innovation and Entrepreneurship
What Next for your Company?

See how IntegratedThinking can support your organization through our Customer Insight workshop.

Articulating your Value Proposition – Not Just for Startups

The Challenge

As someone who has helped startups with their business plans I understand that to capture the interest of the investor Strategy2acommunity it is hugely important to articulate your value proposition. Clearly representing the problem or need you address for your target market, listening to your target customers and understanding how you will drive revenue growth is essential to ensure you get the kick-start of investment you need to scale your business.

Strategy is based on a differentiated customer value proposition. Satisfying customers is the source of sustainable value creation.” Robert Kaplan and David Norton (Strategy Maps)

Business plans typically only get shared with a targeted group – generally the CEO and potential investors. The continued articulation of the value proposition within the company, especially as the number of new employees grows, can be ad-hoc at best.

A company that has captured initial investment through a clearly defined business plan will move quickly to focus on the execution of this plan – hiring engineers, marketers and sales personnel. As time progresses and they learn more about their target market they may change their initial corporate strategy and re-evaluate their initial hypotheses of what the customer needs. Somewhere along the line their value proposition changes but often this is not captured or re-communicated clearly to everyone in the organization.

Once the company begins to execute the business plan different dynamics will occur across the organization. The background and focus of the engineering team will mean that they will generally position the product from a technical standpoint, often failing to understand or demonstrate the “business value” of what they are creating. Marketing will battle to understand the technical complexities of the product and will fail to create compelling positioning material. Sales will struggle without a clear view of the target market, the value the company brings or the product’s unique selling points. Without a defined value proposition the company will struggle to position the product and potential opportunities will be missed.

Articulating your value proposition and articulating across the organization allows you to:

  • Create an aligned and collaborative organization that shares a common understanding of how the business will create value
  • Ensure the organization remains focused on corporate strategic objectives
  • Maximize ROI for corporate resources and ensure all resources are delivering effectively
  • Support decision making for all employees
  • Enable Sales and Marketing to clearly position the products and solutions to the target market and thereby drive revenue growth
The Solution

Whether you are a startup or SME you should take the time to ensure that your Value Proposition is clearly articulated inside your business so that everyone can clearly represent it outside your business.

Product development, sales and marketing teams are often too busy delivering current project objectives to focus on the company’s value proposition and ensure that everyone is aligned around a common message.

Undertaking this exercise takes time and focus.

IntegratedThinking can help through a short-term engagement that will provide tools and methodologies to support your teams to:

  • Understand the market segment you are addressing
  • Review and define the value proposition for each of your target customer segments
  • Articulate this value proposition to the wider team with clarity
  • Validate this value proposition with your target market
  • Support the marketing team to articulate this value proposition through corporate messaging

“Working with Siobhan enabled us to really understand the market we are addressing and the problems and needs of our customers – we learned to recognize the huge benefits that can be achieved from an “outside in” approach to product management. As a result, we have strengthened our value proposition”
Bill Walsh, CEO Aspire

The Approach

We will provide an initial free consultation to ascertain your requirements. We will then provide a project proposal for review and approval that will articulate what needs to be done, how long it will take and how much it will cost.  In a busy environment, where the time of your key resources is precious, you need someone who has done this before and can drive the project to completion.

Please feel free to give me a call or contact me via email and I will be happy to discuss this further.

Contact: email siobhan@integratedthinking.ie for more details

Siobhan is the founder of IntegratedThinking and has over 20 years experience in the software industry. As Vice President of Product Management at Openet, Siobhan was responsible for the entire portfolio of Openet’s products. She was directly responsible for building a team to manage product strategic direction reflecting both external market needs and Openet’s corporate strategy. Siobhan has clearly demonstrated the ability and focus to drive and manage significant organizational change within a large, distributed software company and was key to the evolution of Product Management within Openet.
Siobhan chaired the Irish Software Association’s Product Management Working Group – established to promote the development of the product management discipline within the indigenous software industry in Ireland. She is also a founding member of the ISA Product Management Forum – a collaborative assembly of Product Management industry peers.
Siobhan’s proven technical expertise has allowed her to gain the respect of engineering teams across a number of companies and to bridge the gap between technical, commercial and marketing disciplines.

Since the establishment of her consultancy business in October 2013 Siobhan has been providing in-house mentoring to scaling companies.

Innovating to Stay Ahead

Innovation2

Research has indicated that potentially six in every seven new product ideas will fail. To innovate successfully companies need a strong ideation process in place. Without ideas you will have nothing new to sell – but too many ideas will lead to a lack of focus.

Ideas don’t always have to be ground-breaking. A winning idea could simply be a new twist on what you do already – it could be a better way of addressing an existing problem; a new approach which will encourage new business or a feature that ensures that your current users remain loyal.

There are many reasons that new product ideas will fail – the timing may not be right – you may not clearly understand or address the customer’s key need or problem or you may not have the right business partners. In a fiercely competitive market where the margins between success and failure are tight you need a strong process and culture of innovation management to ensure you have a strong portfolio of ideas, and that you focus on the ones with the best chance of success.

Innovation Management is key to the progression of ideas that will evolve your core strategic objectives. As a start-up entrepreneur or established company you cannot afford to chase every new idea – and “gut feel” is an often used but ultimately poor litmus test of an idea’s potential. So where do you place your bets? Which ideas are worth investing in? What criteria do you use to rank new ideas and pick the ones that will yield the best ROI.

There are tools and methodologies that your company can use to:

  • Foster a culture of innovation – encourage people to think outside the box.
  • Manage a portfolio of generated ideas – only invest in the ideas that are likely to deliver the best return.
  • Ensure you have the right balance in your portfolio to mitigate against exposing the company to only “high risk” projects and ensuring you don’t forget about the “bread and butter” projects that keep the lights on!
  • Validating your ideas with the market – ensuring you have a compelling problem to solve that customers will be willing to pay for?

Having a more structured approach to innovation management can only increase your chances of success –so seek to apply methodologies that will give you a fighting chance of being the 1 idea out of 7 that will succeed!

Understanding your Value Proposition

ValuePropHow many start-ups (or possibly even established companies) can really claim that they clearly understand the problem or need they are addressing for their target market? How many actually know who their target customer is and what makes them tick? How many companies really understand the “value” that they will add to the world by existing at all?

Often companies start with the “inside-out” approach where they have some clearly bright people who have created a whiz-bang new technology that they really believe everyone is going to need. They take this whiz-bang concept and invest heavily in engineering, marketing and sales to bring this idea to the market. It is only at this stage that they discover that nobody really cares! They fall into a hole where 6 out of 7 new ideas end up – and it is a very black place! This is often a costly mistake and one that could have been avoided.

There are many reasons why a new product concept just does not hit the mark in terms of revenue generation. In my view one of the stand-out reasons is a lack of understanding of the value proposition for the product or service.

When someone comes to me with a new idea I start by asking what problem or need it addresses – more often than not the person (certainly in the technology industry) starts by telling me how great the product will be, how many cool features it will have, what a fantastic, real-time, highly-performant engine it is built on… what they cannot articulate without some help is the “why will anybody care about this?”

Clearly, defining the problem is an art – it takes a whole new way of thinking and a little coaching to put yourself in the “mind” of the customer but everyone can do it with a little training – and everyone in your company should be able to think like the end customer – everyone should be able to articulate your “value proposition”.

Of course, once you think you know what your “value proposition” is then you need to validate your hypothesis with your target customers – apply the “outside-in” approach. You do this before you invest anything in engineering, sales or marketing. Talking to the customer in the right way is critical – these are not “sales calls” – they are “validation calls”. You simply need to validate that your customer is “excited” by what you have to offer and they believe you have identified an “urgent” problem to solve.  Put simply, you need to validate that your hypotheses about your target customer are correct?

I have been pleasantly surprised over the years at how target customers will open up to you when you approach them in the right way and talk to them in a language that helps them to understand the value that you bring.