Product management seems to start out so easily—you identify a need for a product, you build it, and you start getting customers. Then things get complicated. Current customers start asking for changes to existing features. Sales starts creating a list of “must haves” for the product that will help them close that elusive next deal.
Competitors start popping up, copying your product but also adding new features that threaten to steal your user base. Executives come up with “brilliant” ideas that they want included in the next release.
On an almost daily basis, product managers face requests for new features and product changes.
Attempting to address or even track all of them is an uphill battle that no product manager can hope to win. We are conditioned by pithy phrases like, “The customer is always right,” and mantras like, “customer focused,” to assume that everything a customer requests is reasonable, and that not reacting to it is a capital offense.
Unfortunately, this mentality just compounds the problem.
Product managers succeed when they stop responding to specific demands from individual customers and start listening to the market as a whole.
Current customers are an incredibly important constituency— though not the only one. It’s very easy to find out what they like and dislike—in fact, it’s sometimes hard to avoid hearing what they think! The only problem is that they’re already your customers, and, undoubtedly, you have more potential customers than you have current customers. How are you going to grow revenue by just serving your existing base? How are you going to expand into new markets when you’re not focusing on what those customers need?
As a product manager, I’ve always learned a lot more about what can be done to improve my product by talking to people who are not buying it, and people who are buying it and then not using it. When you ask a current customer what they don’t like about your product, they’ll likely point to things they don’t like which they think should be added or fixed—things they discovered after purchasing it and which they feel should be improved “for free.” Talk to a competitor’s customer, however, and they’ll tell you why they didn’t buy your product, and what you would have to do to your product to make it worth purchasing. Talk to a customer in a totally new market segment, and they’ll tell you what their problems are and how much they’d pay to have them resolved. That’s practically money in the bank!
When you start looking at the market as a whole, you start identifying opportunities to really identify solutions that will provide value.
Rather than just making an improvement that will address a specific pain point for a few customers, you start to find opportunities to grow your business and make you relevant to a much bigger potential customer base.
Current users will tell you where their pain points are today, though they won’t tell you where their pain points will be three years from now.
They can’t tell you about the problems facing another industry; they won’t be able to tell you about what upcoming technology innovations will change their operations; and they don’t know why people aren’t buying from you. Requests from your existing customer base are not to be ignored, especially when you are dependent on them for ongoing revenue (e.g., subscription based products, software-as-a-service). However, evaluate them in the bigger context of the market as a whole.