If there is one thing that product managers must have is strategies for their product development.

The strategies must take into account the 3 key pillars of a product manager.

It is easy to think that famous people like Elon Musk or Richard Branson just wake up every morning and do amazing things, however this is further from the truth. You as a product manager should have one goal in mind – create amazing products that everyone would love, recommend and use.

In reality, only few product leaders will do that, this results in a loss in opportunities, new revenue channels and new market reach.

In this article, you will find out what are the main reasons which prevent product managers from creating a winning product. You will also learn valuable strategies that you can apply to make your current product even better.

First, we will start with what prevents product managers from creating amazing products.

The pitfalls of product development

Product development is hard, and it becomes harder. The competition is bigger and more vicious. In the past it was easy to create something that everyone would buy, because there weren’t many choices. Nowadays we are surrounded by so many choices that is seems overwhelming.

This leads us to the first pitfall.

Not being able to differentiate your product from the competition

Have you ever googled “Alternatives to MS Project” for example? If yes, you wouldn’t be surprised with the next statement. There are literally dozens of alternatives! From the traditional desktop applications, to more popular cloud base. One of the evidence of the “too many choices” theory is the availability of so many sites which will provide you with a detailed comparison and reviews based on customer’s feedback. One example of such website is https://alternativeto.net/

You as a product manager must always take this into account and change the strategies you use in your product development process. The goal is to distinguish yourself from the competition.

Not scalable market

There is nothing wrong in having a small market niche. There are plenty of small boutique companies which earn good money.

The definition of a success might mean this to you and your team, however in the long term many small companies which don’t grow are either acquired by bigger companies or fade away due to changes in the market and the economic situation. You have to be very careful who you serve and how you can get a bigger market share to expand and attract more loyal fans.

One example is a product I am very happy to use is TypeMatrix. It is a very compact ergonomic keyboard with a very niche market. They hadn’t released a new product in years. They have their loyal fans and they relay on them. However, the world is changing and we are looking more and more into one common standard USB-C. Their keyboard doesn’t support this feature. This conservative strategy might cost them their business if they don’t adapt to the new technologies and the new expectations. Here, the best strategy is to listen to the newbie customers and their needs and go for additional market segments to move away from the small niche and gain additional market shares.

The third pitfall is related to the customer you serve.

Making fast assumptions based on customers’ feedback

Another trap that you as a product manager could face is to build the product for the wrong audience.

It is an excellent strategy to ask your audience what they think about your product, especially if they are already using it.

Remember the old phrase:

The customer is always right

Marshall Field

This saying is dead! Or at least it is not absolutely true. Believe it or not, but that seldom is the best strategy. All of your customers won’t have the same vote in deciding what new features you should introduce next. What does this mean?

You will have different types of customer: the newbie, the impulsive one, the discount wizard and the loyal fan.

The newbie customer

The newbie customer is someone who bought your product for the first time, has a pain and is eager to solve it. They had most probably researched a few options and found out your offering to be a good match. Your strategy is to help them adopt to your product. You wouldn’t listen to them in term of new features, but they would be a good source of information on what

The impulsive customer

The impulsive customer is someone who had a pain and saw your product and bought it without thinking if it really suited them. The best example is people who go shopping or people who purchase gym membership in the beginning of the year. Many studies show that this is an unsustainable approach and there is a significant chance that your impulsive customers won’t stay as your customers for long. Your product strategy would be to motivate them to use your product in the right way. If you ask those people what they want, they could give you many ideas, but in reality those ideas will obscure your product vision and you might end up building something that no one will use.

The Discount wizards

The discount wizard is someone who is looking for the best discounted price. They would never buy the full price. A typical example is someone hunting for the best flight ticket prices. If you run frequent discounts, you might end up with plenty of discount wizards as your customers. A good example for a company attracting discount wizards is the Doodly. The downside of this approach is that you are building long lasting brand. The strategy that you should use is selling market goods using discount price strategy and constantly look for new users and markets to reach out to.

The Loyal Fan

The loyal fan is someone who had been a newbie and stick with your product for the long term. Those are the people who would provide you with a solid feedback on how your product can improve and mature. Those will be the people who would promote your product to others and promote it for free on the Internet, on Reddit, Quora and other platforms. The strategy to keep them happy is to ask them frequently for a feedback and what new features they would like to see. It is hard to obtain a happy customer, make sure once you have such to keep them informed and show them that their opinion really matter.

Infographics showing the types of customers a product would expect to have.

In the first part, we explore the type of customers we have and what strategies would work for each type of customer. Now we will explore successful strategies and how to apply them.

Strategies for product development – making your product a success

In the next part, we will explore concrete strategies for product development to help you make amazing products.

The first strategy you will learn about in depth is the Customer interviews

Customer interviews

What are your customer happy about? Would they stick or switch brands? One way to find out is by having a customer interview.

A lot of product developers are in love with their product and think they know what their customers like. This is a strategy for a disaster. You should hold regular customer interviews and check their honest opinion about your product. You can find the pitfalls and how to choose who to interview from your customer’s group in the first part of this article.

Have a plan, before you apply this product insight strategy

The first thing you need to do is to pick objectives for the customer interview strategy.

What would you like to learn after the meeting with your customer?

Examples of objectives are:

  • Are my customers using this new features?
  • Does my customers use the software as I intended?
  • How satisfy are with the current product?
  • What other features they would like to see?

Having a clear plan will help you achieve the most after the interview. Remember that their time is valuable, and you better respect it. Long meetings are generally not a good idea, always ask when is a good time to have a call or a face-to-face meeting and always double check on the day of the interview if they are still okay with it. It might happen that they got a lot of work and are under a lot of pressure. If this is the case, proposing to postpone it will bring you extra points and your customer will appreciate your empathy.

After you had prepared the customer interview plan, it’s time for the meeting. The meeting could be in person, or over phone or using other means like a video conference.

Choose the right questions to ask

What you need to be careful here is to use open-ended questions. You might be tempted to use binary questions such as “Do you like this…”, but usually this approach won’t help you to gain a deeper understanding of their point of view.

The next thing you should be careful is to not ask embarrassing questions. An example would be questions that ask for their knowledge about a feature. They might say they know it because they want to be seen as valuable and experts using your product. It is better to ask questions related to completing a particular task. An example of it is “How would you generate resource report in MS Project?” And asking your customers to show you. This is another chance to understand better the habits your customer has, and maybe you will learn that one feature you thought is valuable, might not be so for your loyal fans.

The positive side of the customer interview strategy is that you can understand better how your customers use your product.

The downside is it takes a lot of time both for you and your audience. This makes the customer interview strategy approach not scalable, and you should be careful how much time you spend on this approach and with whom. Remember the previous part and the 4 different types of customer.

Surveys

Sending a survey is another way to gain insight of what your customers think about your product and how you can improve it.

From all the strategies for product development, this is the easiest and the most scalable one.

You can see it in almost all products. Even when you call support center, there is a huge chance they will send you a survey to rate their customer service.

Many of the ideas mentioned already in the section explaining how to conduct face-to-face interviews apply in this section as well. Please keep in mind the goal of the survey and the way you ask the questions.

You can find many paid and free software to design your survey.

The two most popular, if you are on a budget, are Google Forms and Microsoft Forms.

Please keep in mind that google forms stored the data in their US based servers in the past and they weren’t GDPR compliant. GDPR is a data protection law applicable for the European Union. Other countries might have different restrictions, one example is India. I wrote more about it in this article.

User interaction test

Another strategy you could use as a part of the product management success strategies belt is user interaction testing. You need to capture your user data and interaction with the product if possible. This is very much done with all the software products.

One example is Facebook, where it tracks all the moves you made while interacting with the platform. In the past they had also introduced a metric called comments not being send. This means that every time you write a common and decided not to publish it, Facebook will know about it and might use this information. My best guess is that they need it to improve their news feed algorithms and to show you only the most relevant information.

Internal Feedback

Another strategy for creating a successful product is the internal feedback. After all, if your team is using it and your company is using your product then you will have way more feedback and way more ideas about what can be improved.

The way some companies do this is by asking their employees to use the product they develop. This is something Microsoft do. Before they introduce a new Windows version or a patch, the software goes to a multiple testing cycle. It is installed on employees machines and after that it is introduced for the Microsoft insider members. Remember the loyal fans. Those are the type of people who are rewarded with an early preview of the software and are asked for feedback.

Looking at your direct and indirect competition

Knowing what your competition is doing is another good strategy to apply in your weekly or monthly reviews. You want the best for your customers so those in your competition and most probably they would like to have your customers as well.

Analyzing the competition, what they do well and what they do poorly is another source of inspiration. Take the time to review emerging trends and expectations. This will help you to priorities features based on customers’ expectations. One good example is the company Revolut, which recently introduced a feature called “Group Bills”. The idea behind this feature is to help a group of people to split the bill. Something that is already available in indirect competitions. They had added it to their current solution, and I found it very valuable and one more reason to move further in the loyal fan zone for this company. Look for inspirations around you and see what other features out there the customers with the same needs use?

Don’t underestimate this approach and make yourself a habit to always check what your competition is doing and add this approach as part of your strategies for product development.

Market trends

The last strategy part of the strategies for product development is the Market trends. The market is constantly changing and so are the customer expectations. We now take something that might have been exotic 20 years ago for granted. You can find many examples for that having your own personal phone is one of them. Don’t miss on introducing features based on the latest market trends. Depending on your company strategy, you don’t need to be ahead of the wave, but sooner or later you will need to make the shift. Think about many companies which decided not to do that. Think about Nokia, which was a leader in the smartphones. How about Kodak? It was a leader in the analogy cameras and was a pioneer in the digital photography.

Don’t let your product to die like they did. Do experiments early on and validate if your customers are ready for this new product strategy shift.

This will help you and your company a lot.

Strategies for product development the conclusion

You had found out many strategies for product development that can be used in your work as a product manager.

Depending on the maturity of the product and the size of your team, you might want to start and apply only one, the direct customer interviews and then move on to others or apply a few of them.

The goal is to gather a lot of data that will help you make strategic decisions on what to focus your product development resources.

Time and money are a limited factor in any industry, use them wisely and with the right metrics and user data you will create amazing product and have millions of users.

Do you agree with the list above?

If you have any comments? I would be happy to read them and see your point of view.

Aleks Vladimriov is a Senior Software Developer, recognized Project Manager and Soft-skilled trainer and a coach.

Aleks Vladimirov

Solution Engineering Manager at Thales | Senior IT Professional | Startup Mentor and Product Manager

Aleks is experienced Product Manager with an engineer background and over 10 years of experience as a software developer. He works with different governments and is responsible for negotiation features and requirements, understanding the customers’ needs and supporting the senior management with regular reports and analysis. He held various positions starting as a software developer, moving to a team leader and software architect.

He strives in waterfall and agile environment alike. He is certified Scrum Master and Prince2 Practitioner and he knows how to design business processes and help teams optimize their work.
During his tenure, he had to wear many hats, prioritizing business requirements, delegating work and mentoring team members, creating mockups with Balsamiq, providing MS Project plan to the senior management.

He had worked in many international teams, located in the same city or distributed in different countries and continents. He had been a team leader of cross functional international team of 8 people.

In his current position, he is very much client focused. He has excellent presentation skills.
He delivers training sessions on presentation skills and leadership and he had helped hundred of people to improve their presentation skills.

He is also interested in creating more positive changes in the workplace by using entrepreneurship skills.
He had won startup competition where his team had validated and develop a business idea from scratch.

In his free time, he writes in his blog about effective product development.

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