Know your Customer, Start with your Customer

 Strategy & Transformation

By Bryley Hull and Allen Branch

Picture it. You are the Product Manager and are gathered with your team to discuss the upcoming slate of items to be worked on in the upcoming sprint. A well-meaning member of your team proposes a feature with some enticing benefits. Examples include:

  • Our competitors do not recognize the largely untapped market in this space.
  • Customer surveys show a lot of requests for this function; therefore, we need it.
  • XYZ company has launched this space and has had tremendous growth; we need to compete.

On the surface, these are all good reasons to pursue work. Whatever the scenario, it piques the team’s interest so much that they want to work it.

The question is, “Should they?”

As the product manager, it is your job to make this determination. How will you make the decision? Largest potential revenues? Surveys from the potential customer? Cost-Benefit Analysis? Market Trends? Whatever the final decision, the process you use to make a choice is just as important as the decision itself. That process should always start with the customer.

Starting with the Customer

Luckily for you, you have spent time developing relationships with your potential customers and strive to understand their problems.

Conducting a focus group of your customers to listen to their experiences with your products enables you to dig deeper into their usage. These focus groups are a great way to understand and build areas of product focus. You can use this time to discuss the current product and potential features. Being diligent about summarizing your findings and tracking trends will help you stay aware of your customers’ greatest needs and desires.

Another powerful way to put yourself in your customers’ shoes is to shadow them. In this case, you are a diligent yet silent observer of their processes and how they use your product. With an open mind and open ears, you see first-hand what their experience reveals that you may never have understood otherwise. Without judgment or coaching in product usage, you are taking in their experiences directly.

From your usage analytics and observation data, you track how your customers are using your products. You are continually monitoring trends and understanding what they are doing in the product. This real-world data shows you which areas of the product are most used, helping you focus your energy on the most impactful potential features.

Remember that proposed feature?

Once the research is complete, revisit the proposed feature. From your customer research, does the feature and its associated benefits still hold water? Is it something that solves an issue your focus group has identified? Is it solving a problem in an area that analytics show is heavily used? Was it something the people you shadowed would see as an improvement?

Further, is the problem being addressed by the feature something a large swath of your market deems worth solving? Is the problem pervasive enough to benefit multiple customers, both potential and current? These considerations based on your research are the difference to determining if the team “should” work the feature.

The value to the customer should be clear and substantial for the feature to move forward in the development process. If you decide it does not make sense to pursue it at this time, it should be replaced with another that is more immediately valuable to your customers.

By investing the time in understanding your market and its problems, using many different tools (focus group, analytics, shadowing), you are guiding your team to solve the right things at the right time. This focus on the customer’s world will only make your solutions more viable and ultimately more profitable.