By Beth Moriarty, Principal, TechTurn Consulting
Published: March 14, 2016
When is the last time you turned to the market to get a pulse on the success of your product?
I can’t emphasize enough how critical setting a repeatable market input cadence is for your product and company success. Gathering market input will:
Align your organization
Create a product that meets your prospects and clients’ needs
Influence your product strategy and decision making process
Enable sales to meet their goals
There are five steps to creating a market-driven product:
1. Recognize the problem
As they say, “the first step to solving any problem is to recognize there is one.”
Early and growth stage tech companies sometimes inadvertently ignore the market, putting themselves into common, undesirable scenarios. A company may have a flagship client that drives over 75% of the functionality and priorities or it may practice an internal “ivory tower” approach with a few stakeholders responsible for all product ideas and priorities.
This is a problem. You need to listen to the market in order to succeed.
Answer the following questions honestly:
Do your product deficiencies impact sales goals?
Is your organization misaligned on product priorities and drivers?
Is jumping at client or prospect complaints impacting your team’s ability to deliver critical functionality?
Is your team frustrated because great ideas and needs are continuing to be neglected?
Does your team question why they are working on prioritized functionality?
If you answered yes to any or all of these questions you need to improve your market input cadence and product strategy process. Products that lack market input can break a company; don’t let it break yours.
2. Identify your market inputs
Once you have acknowledged there is a problem, you’ll need to determine the types of market inputs that are best for your organization. (You won’t be able to address all market inputs, as we’ll discuss in the next section.)
Here are some examples of market inputs:
Client Advisory Boards (CAB) — Client input is critical, and setting up an advisory board with a variety of clients will allow for subjectivity. These in-person meetings can contribute valuable long-term strategy but can be costly to execute.
Client Collaboration Groups — You can involve clients in an easier and more informal way through user testing or feature reviews. This provides input to UX/design, short-term roadmap and backlog prioritization. It’s important to gather client needs not functionality requirements.
Prospect and Sales input — Gather regular input from sales to understand the product impact on wins and losses. Make sure you understand the details of specific clients in question and consider all cases; don’t latch on to the latest or loudest complaint.
Internal inputs — Don’t forget to listen to your own company, as well. Product experts or leaders of new initiatives have great ideas and solutions to industry challenges. Setting up a regular and structured process to gather internal input ensures that employees of your company have an equal voice in the product strategy.
Client/Industry surveys and analysis — Send out surveys to clients, prospects and the industry at large. Analyze the data to identify trends, client pain points and where your differentiators provide value.
3. Prioritize your inputs
Don’t get intimidated by your long and daunting list of market inputs. All of the market input initiatives take varying efforts — and range in expense from negligible to significant. The reality is most early to growth-stage tech companies don’t have the resources, budget or time to ensure all types of market inputs are gathered.
Instead, each company should prioritize and force rank their market inputs — resulting in 3-5 market inputs to focus on in the future
To do this, you first need to understand the type of information you need to either build or validate your product strategy. Has your company just started or is it an established business? Does your product impact your clients significantly, and do your clients have a vested interested in spending time and guiding you? Do you have senior- or junior-level contacts and will their feedback be strategic/tactical or short/long term? Do you have a completely new concept/product to the market?
Create a checklist of everything you’ll need to do to gather these inputs: Who will reach out to the individual or group? How often will it occur? Do you have the skill set and resources to do this review internally or will you need assistance? What is the estimated annual cost?
Then, force rank the market input opportunities. Executing the top 3 to 5 inputs will make a huge impact on the creation of a market driven product.
4. Set up and measure a cadence of market inputs
It is easy to neglect your market inputs. Once you have prioritized your top 3 to 5 market inputs, identify who is responsible for each input. Then, set a regular and predictable cadence to gather the market input. It’s important they are defined and executed correctly to ensure the information can and will be used in your product strategy.
While the inputs are used in your product strategy and roadmap, other departments may be better suited to gather and share the market information. Spread the responsibility out to ensure it will get completed.
In the end all stakeholders should agree to goals and KPIs for each prioritized market input in advance to ensure it is being gathered and shared throughout the organization. For example, Client Advisory Boards (CABs) usually meet in person two to three times per year and should include open, transparent and thoughtful dialog on your top challenges and industry trends.
5. Let market inputs influence product strategy and roadmap planning
Gathering input is important but where the rubber meets the road is integrating the market input into your product strategy and roadmap. This is a complex but essential task; companies sometimes bring in external help to help them execute correctly. Tracking and ranking the market input to drive prioritization helps to align the stakeholders and often helps reduce purely emotional decision making.
Determining what’s in the product strategy and what’s out can be complicated. Often gaining clarity on what you’re not going to do with the product investment is an overlooked but powerful tool; it provides organizational alignment and clarity by allowing your team to stop churning on these product areas.
Changes in product strategy and roadmap will happen — especially if you’re listening to your market input. Build a process to create a strategy and maintain it with a solid methodology.
How do you get started? When should you begin gathering market input? Market input is critical regardless of the stage of your company, so it’s key to start as soon as possible. It’s worth the effort to determine your organization's priorities and ensure a regular cadence of gathering that information. So how do you go about creating a product strategy? Market input is not intended to replace gut feel and innovative ideas in your product strategy — but rather a way to augment and validate market need. The market wasn’t asking for the iPhone directly but consumers certainly wanted it once it was available. All of these inputs need to be brought together to create a complete product strategy. Each early and growth stage company is different; there isn’t a magic answer of when to create a cohesive product strategy or when to hire a product executive to lead you through the process. CEOs and founders can get guidance and assistance without pulling the trigger on finding and hiring a fulltime Product Executive. Some options include:
Get a 3rd-party assessment on the current product strategy and processes.
Highlight and prioritize changes that are needed.
Get assistance defining the most important market inputs, setting up the market input cadence, KPIs and Goals
Create a repeatable process to “care and feed” your strategy with solid and repeatable product methodology.
Establish a repeatable process to gather market inputs and stick with it; don’t let the calls of the wild distract you from your main goals. TechTurn Consulting is focused on helping early and growth phase companies with executive and product mentoring and services. In a future blog we will discuss elements and requirements of a product strategy and when is the right time to hire executive product leadership.