“This is the essence of being market driven—being driven by the needs of the market rather than the capabilities of the company. Being market driven means identifying what dishes to serve based on what patrons want to eat rather than what foodstuffs are in the pantry. A market-driven company defines itself by the customers it wishes to serve rather than the capabilities it wishes to sell.” ~ Barbara Nelson
Simple question, right? It’s actually difficult for many companies to answer. You’d be surprised at how many companies lack clarity around this.
I recently read an article in Venture Beat that suggested if you can’t answer this type of question in 10 seconds and have someone understand in another 10 seconds you are likely missing an key player in your organization.
An experienced product manager.
A great product manager can not only help you answer this question, they also ensure that your company is not just throwing together a bunch of features but is actually solving a real market task. This role helps you execute on company purpose, vision and makes it hard for people to imagine a world without your product.
So, why don’t all companies have one?
In many cases your company’s founder initially took on this role but has become more and more distanced from the market with the operation of the business. And this created a gap. It’s no one’s fault really – it’s growing pains – but if the gap doesn’t get filled it leaves your company in a vulnerable position. You are in a zone where the market gets overlooked. Sometimes product experts within the company try to fill the gap, however their expertise and time is focused on the solution and the customer is often neglected. What your leadership team needs is someone to be listening to the market again, on their behalf.
The following are indicators that your company needs a product manager:
1) Your team is confused about who has final authority. Is your product development team taking direction from multiple departments or people, each with a different perspective? One department might be asking the product development team to build something that harms another department’s interest. Without one lead who owns product decisions, can weigh stakeholders interests and make balanced decisions with the customer front-of-mind, the loudest voice is the only one that gets heard. Not the voice asking for product changes that represent the best business case.
2) Your company is strong on tactics but weak on vision. You don’t have a particular person responsible for ensuring you are building the right product for the right market at the right price with the right marketing message and right promotional methods. No single person has the time to guide and manage day-to-day product development. Perhaps they have been asked to manage this in addition to another set of roles and responsibilities.
3) You have a Project Manager in charge of product vision and development. No offence to Project Managers, who are critical to product development, but they should not be in charge of product vision. They are rarely informed about what customers want, the competitive landscape or market conditions, and are not necessarily thinking about the long-term success of the company. It’s simply not their job.
4) Your company is often in firefighting mode. Your attention goes to what’s urgent instead of what’s important. Your sales team consistently makes promises for new product features but you miss deadlines or don’t deliver. Your current product development progress is unpredictable. No one, not even the product development group, can tell you with any certainty when a new product or changes to existing products will be available. It feels like priorities are always changing.
5) Your product development team is guessing what your customers want. You don’t have a process for determining what should be built and for whom. And you don’t know how much the company should invest in building it. If you ask the team what the vision is or who the customer is — you get a different answer from everyone. Your product development team is reactive often improvises and makes decisions on their own as to what they think customers want. You risk ending up with a product tailored to the preferences of your developers and not your customer!
6) You’ve hit a business plateau and you aren’t sure why. Your company was doing well and your current customers are happy. But lately business has flattened off. You release your new product only to find it is drowning in a sea of strong competitors. Feature wars ensue. It feels like you are always playing catch-up and never truly innovating.
This is by no means an exhaustive list but a cautionary one. If you are brave enough to admit you recognize your company in this list, you might just find the missing piece – a product manager – to grow beyond your initial product vision and take your company to the next level.
So, who is your market and what problem are you solving for them? Your 10 seconds are almost up!
For more on listening to the market, check out Customer Discovery 101
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