As a product manager, you are responsible for defining the "why" and the core of the "what" when planning a product. It is vital to understand your customers in and out to connect a product that meets their needs and wants; otherwise, you are just wasting time and money.
Defining Customer Needs
What's In It For Them?
How can you define a product and the various product combinations you should offer without thoroughly understanding your target customer? You need to focus on who will be using and buying the product through market research - both industry research and your own.
You need to isolate customer pain points and develop ways to address them. You should be asking questions that get to the heart of such things as:
- Who are your customers?
- What is a day in their life like?
- What troubles them?
- What are they trying to fix?
- What have they tried?
- Where are they coming from?
- How do they want problems solved (what servicing do they need or would value)?
- What kind of budget do they have (price points matching the pain)?
- How do they want to access products (online, in-store, via apps)?
All of these considerations and subsequent planning should take place before design and engineering teams get involved. You cannot innovate products well that are designed on "cool-factor" alone. You have to focus on problem solving or value adding that will make sense to the people who will be using and buying the product.
How To Carry Out Market Research
Companies that perform well take time to carry out market research to ensure the decisions they make have the best chance of resonating with buying customers. There are fortunately several ways to go about this task, and small businesses note - they are not all expensive!
There are two types of research you'll want to tap into. 1) Primary research, 2) Secondary research. Primary research comes straight from the horse's mouth. You can conduct this type of research in-house or hire a third party. Secondary research is the statistics and reports that exist from industry or government bodies. This data can be accessed free online, at a cost, or for a subscription fee.
Start with trade associations that match your industry, and, where relevant, look into local chamber of commerce data. You can also try these resources below:
- Pew Research Center
- US Commerce Dept's Economic Indicators
- US Small Business Administration
Identify Value Propositions
After you have solid research at hand and have identified trends and possible ways to proceed, you need to identify the value propositions. The overarching goal of your product will relate to the potential for your target customers to save money, make money, save time, improve lifestyle, or obtain a professional benefit.
You also need to weigh your value props and variables with what is feasible and economically best considering the competition, financial restrictions, market expectations, and a host of other considerations.
The scale of this task can be overwhelming, even for products with a small number of configurations. Let's say you are planning for a product that is going to have 6 colors and 4 sizes and provide a selection of optional upgrades and packages. The math works out to be: 6 x 4 x n options x n packages. It is an exponential problem that quickly means the number of buildable combinations you are proposing becomes incredibly challenging to narrow down.
Product managers face a market that is very much accustomed to having choices. However, presenting too many options to the market can lead to features that do not meet the sales targets. Defining unwanted features in a product line increases the cost of design, development and engineering.
We identified a glaring need for practical tools to help product managers successfully define products. Our software provides new methods and simplified modeling for product managers to analyze all the variables and product features. We enable them to freely innovate, make better decisions, and communicate efficiently with their teams.
We also allow product managers to take their quantifiable market research data and attach it to the features they are considering, which reveals to them what product configurations are going to best meet the needs of customers. We enable them to look at the product line strategically and not just at the individual feature alone.
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