One of the most challenging aspects of any product organization is knowing what products to build or services to provide. There are so many ‘voices’ and distractions vying for your attention that make it difficult to know where you should put your time and efforts. Ultimately, every product leader wants to create products their customers will buy, so cutting through the clutter is a critical to your success.
For most products (especially technology), there are two general processes or ways of acquiring market data: proactive and reactive. Both have their place. One will happen on it’s own, and if not managed could sink your products’ success.
Proactive processes happen when you make a plan to go out and get data for your market. Here are some of the activities on which proactive product leaders focus:
- Customer interviews: getting out of the office and talking to customers gives you the insight into how they are using your products. These visits help you see what you can do to improve the utility of your products.
- Potential customers evaluation: who are your potential customers that aren’t yet using your products? As you attend trade shows and other events, talk to everyone you come across. Do everything you can to get new information—that will lead to new opportunities.
- Win/loss analysis: look back at past launches, find out what worked and what didn’t. Make it interactive, talk with the people who were involved (who bought, or who did not).
The reactive processes are never as fun. You need to have a plan in place to deal with them, or (as you probably guessed) they can sink your efforts to create great products. Here are some of the things to watch out for:
- Development-generated requirements: sometimes developers, almost always with good intentions, will come up with ideas of how your products should work. If you’re not keeping an eye on the development efforts you may find a new feature you were not expecting. This doesn’t happen often in my experience, but you’ll want to keep an eye out for it.
- Promises from sales: sales people should spend their time closing deals. Unfortunately, they occasionally make promises (about the products) that are not quite accurate. As a product leader you need to educate your sales team about what they can say, and more importantly how they work with you to get the features they’re looking for.
- CEO epiphanies: if your boss says, “The CEO had a great idea on the way to the office,” respectfully ask if the idea is founded on market evidence. It’s important to keep company executives in check when it comes to new products.
If developing your products—to be the leader in their industries—is your goal, take an active approach to acquiring knowledge. With planning and work you will find what you need to develop winning products.
The Product Management Perspective: Check out this podcast I did with Steve Johnson, one of the top thought leaders in product management. We discuss the tactical vs. strategic role of product managers, win/loss analysis, the voice of the market and other important product topics.