Categories
Design Sprint

3 Steps to Calibrate Your Product Before Liftoff

✈️

If you shift the nose of an airplane by a few degrees, a plane leaving Los Angeles for New York 🗽 will end up in Washington D.C. 🏛️

You probably won’t notice it on the runway. You might not even notice it until you’re in the air. Seemingly small mistakes early on make a big impact on the long-term.

It’s the same with product development.

If you’re not testing and validating your ideas, you’re putting your product and your business at risk. If the average development cost for a quality app ranges between $100,000 to $1,000,000 dollars, that’s a significant investment in resources. Not only that, if you consider the opportunity cost, the true cost of building the wrong product could be much higher in lost revenue.

The good news is that you have the tools to calibrate the direction of your product. It requires more upfront work but it’s better than having to course correct midway, or worse, after you’ve launched your product.

1️⃣ Identify and understand your “best-fit” customers.

If you already have raving fans, spend time with them and have them tell you why they love your product. These “best-fit” customers are who you should be building your product for.

If you don’t have an established customer base, it’s too early to commit to a big build and launch. Take the time to speak with the people you want to serve and seek to understand their challenges intimately as you get ready for the next step.

2️⃣ Prototype and test with real customers.

Spend a week to quickly prototype your idea. The prototype doesn’t have to be a finished or polished version. It just needs to look “real enough” so you can collect meaningful feedback from prospective customers.

3️⃣ Iterate until you’ve met customer needs.

Be prepared to accept that v1 of your prototype might not hit the mark. You’ll need to keep on iterating until you’re able to satisfy your customer’s needs. Make sure you have a process for iteration so you can be consistent with the way you incorporate customer feedback.

You’ve now spent your time understanding your “best-fit” customers, you’ve prototyped multiple times with real customers, you’ve incorporated feedback into your product. Now it’s time to launch with confidence.

Of course, this isn’t the end of it. The product build itself will require adjustments that will involve your product, marketing, and sales team as new information comes in. If building a product that customers love and is like building, flying, and landing a plane, we need all hands on deck.

Write to me in the comments below what challenges you’re facing with building your product, and I’ll send you some suggestions for how you can point it in the right direction.

Categories
Strategy

5 Steps to Get Your Positioning Right

Before you invest money into selling or marketing your product, take the time to figure out your positioning.

You might be thinking… well, I’ve got my messaging and branding down, I’m good to go, right?

Not quite. Positioning is very different from your messaging and branding.

Positioning done right will help inform your marketing and sales messaging downstream. It clarifies how your product is the best in the world at providing some value that a well-defined set of customers care a lot about.

Positioning expert, April Dunford, has an excellent process that I recommend checking out. Here’s a high level of it:

1️⃣ 🛠️ – Competitive Alternatives

First, understand your product’s competitive alternatives. If you didn’t exist, what would people do?

Go beyond just your competitors and include what people will continue to use if they maintain the status quo.

2️⃣ 💪 – Unique Capabilities

Second, clarify your unique capabilities. What have you got that competitors don’t have?

Think about your features and functions that make you unique.

3️⃣ 💵 – Value Generated

Third, figure out the value you create. What’s the impact that your unique capabilities create for customers?

Clarify the tangible and intangible ROI they will get from using your product.

4️⃣ ✂️ – Customer Segment

Fourth, determine the customer segment you’re going after. Who are the actual customers that are a really, really good fit for what we do?

Try to be as specific as you can based on the knowledge, experience, or research you have.

5️⃣ 🥇 – Market Category

Fifth, specify the market category you’re playing in. What is the definition of the market you intend to win?

Think about this from your customer’s perspective. If they were to buy your product under an existing “line item” in their budget, what would it be?

Whether you’re building out a new product or need to reimagine a new pathway for an existing product, take the time to establish your positioning.

Trust me, your sales and marketing team will thank you for it.

For further reading on this topic, I highly recommend April’s fantastic book, Obviously Awesome. 👌💯

Categories
Design Sprint

A Step-by-Step Process to Build Your Customer Profile

“Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.”

– Seth Godin

If you’re responsible for your company’s growth strategy, you probably already know how important it is to have a clear customer profile. When you have an intimate understanding of your customer’s wants and needs, you’re more likely to choose the right strategy to grow your business.

The constant socioeconomic shifts due to new technologies, cultural expectations, demographic changes, etc. also means customer needs are constantly evolving. Many companies have some sort of customer profile but the above shifts mean they might already be outdated.

The global pandemic is a prime example of major disruption that may have shifted your customer’s behaviours. In a very short period of time work-from-home became an employee expectation, and virtual offerings (e.g. classes, events, etc.) became the alternative for in-person activities. If a company didn’t catch onto this change in their customer profile quickly, they would’ve been left behind.

So wherever you are with your customer profile, here are three simple steps to get started:

1. Schedule Five Customer Interviews

As good as your business model may be, it cannot and will not survive forever…That means you must constantly gather information on shifts in your competitive environment, especially those that might affect the behaviour of your primary customer.

– From a Harvard Business Review article Choosing the Right Customer (2014)

That’s right. Just five interviews!

There’s research from the user experience space that shows that testing only five users reveals over 75% of usability issues. Discovering 75% of usability issues gives you a great head start on building the right solutions. You can get more insights from talking to more customers, but you’ll see diminishing levels of return on that time.

Let’s say you schedule five customer interviews for 25-minutes each. That’s slightly over two hours of time spent better understanding current issues customers are facing. It’s little upfront investment for reducing risk and clarifying your value proposition.

If you already have an existing customer base, you’ll have plenty of potential interviewees to choose from. I would suggest selecting those that you believe from your ideal customer base.

To know if a customer is ideal or not, imagine growing your business by 10x the number of customers. Would you want ten times more of that customer? If you answered yes, then you’ve identified a good ideal customer.

If you don’t have an existing customer base, you can invite people in your network for an interview. Think about people who are decision makers in their roles and the type of people you’d love to work with and provide an offering to.

If you’re a B2B company, I would suggest these five interviews to be focused on the key decision maker. If a VP of Sales is your key decision maker, focus on scheduling interviews with people with that title. Uncovering their pain points should be your priority above all else.

Step 1 is complete when you’ve identified your five customers you’re going to talk to. Once you’ve identified those folks, it’s onto Step 2.

2. Prepare Your Interview Questions

Your interview questions likely depend on your product and your relationship with the customer. However, there are some standard questions you can ask. I’ve modified these questions from Value Proposition Design by the Strategyzer group.

There are three key themes you’ll want to cover in your interview:

  1. Responsibilities
  2. Pains
  3. Gains

Responsibilities are the core jobs and tasks that the customer has. It may also include things that might not be in their job descriptions. Here are some sample questions:

  • As the [insert title], could you talk a little bit about the core responsibilities you have?
  • Outside of your expected responsibilities (i.e. your job description) what else do you have to take on? Is there anything that’s surprising you?

Pains are the main issues and challenges they face. The pains usually hinder or prevent the customer from executing a strategy or getting a job done.

  • What are some of the things that frustrate or annoy you the most?
  • What are some of the risks you’ve taken that you were worried about? Are they typically financial, social, or technical risks? Or something else?

Gains are what success looks like for the customer. They’re likely specific goals they need to achieve, or things that allow them to create an ideal environment to be successful.

  • What solutions or ideas really work for you? Why do you think those solutions work well?
  • What would make your life a lot easier? What do you wish you had right now?
  • If money or budget isn’t an issue, what do you dream about doing? What might you invest in?

The questions above should be more than enough to pull some interesting insights from your customers. It’s also important to trust your intuition. If something that your interview said piques your curiosity, you might want to ask a follow-up question to explore an underlying need or challenge that the interviewee has.

The conversation should take around 25 minutes. If you need more time and the interviewee is engaged, it may be appropriate to ask for another 5-10 minutes to wrap-up the interview.


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3. Visualize The Customer Feedback

Once you’ve run at least five customer interviews, it’s time to review and compile the information. The Customer Profile Map from Strategyzer is a good place to organize the information. In addition, in order to organize the information you collect, I suggest using a virtual whiteboard tool like Miro to visualize the map.

The Customer Profile Map from Value Proposition Design by Alex Osterwalder

For each section, I aim for about 12 sticky notes. Sometimes there’s more and sometimes there’s less. As long as you have about 8-12 data points, that should give you a good sense of the customer profile.

Once you’ve conducted five interviews, it’s time to compile the maps into one unifying map. This is where it’s helpful to use a tool like Miro. You can group the stickies into specific themes and create a holistic version of your customer profile.

Example of a completed Customer Profile Map.

Following the above steps will give you a good sense of what are your target customer’s key priorities. So go out there and interact with real customers! Here are a few more quick tips before you start the interview process:

  • Ask if the interviewee might be open to you recording the conversation. This will help you go back to the recording if you missed anything. It’ll also be an opportunity to share direct customer insights to your team.
  • Don’t spend too much time on the customer responsibilities/jobs at the start of the interview. Spend most of your time uncovering the pains and gains.
  • Have one person who is consistently at all your interviews. Ideally this is the project owner for this Customer Profiling project.
  • Wrap-up the interview by asking if they have any favourite resources that they follow or consume (e.g. books, magazines, blogs, thought leaders, etc.) on a regular basis. These are great resources for you to follow as well.

P.S. If you’re looking for help developing a customer profile, I’m happy to help. You can fill out this contact form to schedule a conversation.

Categories
Concepts

Good to Great: The Hedgehog Concept

This post is part of a series on useful business concepts to help build more resilient, innovative companies in the world.

The Hedgehog Concept comes from Jim Collins’ bestseller Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t.

In the book, Collins shares insights that his team gathered across five years of research to try to understand what are the universal distinguishing characteristics that cause a company to go from good to great?

The research led him to 28 companies that outperformed the composite index of some of the world’s greatest companies including Coca-Cola, Intel, General Electric, and Merck.

The Hedgehog Concept comes from an ancient Greek parable: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Foxes pursue many ends at the same time and see the world in all its complexity while hedgehogs simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea.

The research suggests that great companies are hedgehogs. They’re the companies that can see what is essential, simplify the mission, and ignore the rest.

How do we apply The Hedgehog Concept in our business? Collins shares the diagram below to help companies find their sweet spot:

  1. What you can be the best in the world at (and, equally important, what you cannot be the best in the world at).
  2. What drives your economic engine.
  3. What are you deeply passionate about.

It’s crucial to note that becoming the best in the world is not about willing your way to the top. Just because you had years of success with your core business, doesn’t mean you can be the best in the world. If the market has shifted and the competition pivoted years before you have, it may mean it’s time to make the difficult decision to go down a different path. Great companies were able to realize this sooner than the good comparison companies that Collins studied.

Finding the sweet spot for The Hedgehog Concept isn’t easy. According to Collins, it took four years (!!!) for the good-to-great companies to clarify their Hedgehog Concept. It’s an iterative process and one that will require dialogue, debate, testing, and analysis on what’s working and what’s not with your team.

The Hedgehog Concept is not necessarily a new concept. There are other ideas out there that are similar (The Blue Ocean Strategy, for example) but it’s an important one to bring to the table and have an honest conversation about in your organization.

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Categories
Design Sprint

Start With Fun When You’re Choosing Your Target Customer

One of the most important things you’ll do early on when you’re designing a go-to-market strategy or launching a new offering is deciding on your target customer.

It’s an important first step because the customer you choose will also dictate how you build your product or service, and the way you market it.

At the same time, I know it can be a challenge to settle down on an ideal customer profile to work with!

If you’re launching something new, you might not have enough information about potential customer needs or you might not want to pigeon hole yourself to the wrong target audience too early.

That said, it’s important to start somewhere and have a hypothesis you’re willing to test. “Spraying and praying” your sales & marketing effort doesn’t work — especially when you’re limited in time, money, and energy.

If you’re having this type of challenge, take a moment and open up your favourite writing tool. I’ve outlined four key questions below to help you get closer to finding your target audience. This activity should take about 30-60 minutes of initial reflection.

1. Who will you have the most fun working with?

You might be wondering why “fun” is at the top of this list. After all, if you’re trying to build a business, and fun really has no place for something so serious… right?

I’d argue that elements like fun, creativity, and joy should be at the top of any important project you take on. In our adult years, we’ll spend more time with our colleagues, teams, and clients than we do with our friends or family (!!!), so why spend that time working with people you don’t genuinely enjoy spending time with?

When you ask yourself this question, an interesting shift happens. Instead of focusing solely on the industry, size of the company, title, etc. of an ideal customer, your focus shifts more to the type of person and organization you’d enjoy working with. In marketing terms, we shift our focus from demographics to psychographics.

When I ask myself this question, a few follow-up questions about my ideal customer emerge:

What are they like? 

What motivates them?

Do they care about the people around them and the culture they build?

Do they value integrity and creativity?

Is the work they do more than just a “job” for them?

Obviously it’s more challenging to find people with a matching mindset than it is to look up someone with a specific title or in a certain industry or company size. 

At the same time, we have more effective tools available these days to attract like-minded people. This blog is a good example of that. If you’ve read my piece this far, it’s likely you care about the same things that I do.

So take a moment to think about the people you might enjoy working with the most. Imagine you have five open seats around a table. If you were to form an advisor panel with these five customers, who would you want in those seats?

2. Who can you create the greatest impact with?

This question is all about the value proposition of your offering.

When you think about impact, what you’re really asking is whether your product or service will solve your customer’s problem. So it’s crucial you spend time developing a solid customer profile and understanding their pains and gains.

Here are the key questions to consider when you start this process:

  1. What jobs are they trying to get done?
  2. What pains are they experiencing?
  3. What gains are they looking for?

If you asked them about their current challenges or concerns, what might they say to the following questions?

  • What are the main difficulties and challenges you encounter? Do you have difficulties getting certain things done, or meet resistance with particular jobs for specific reasons?
  • What do you find too costly for your business? What takes a lot of time, costs too much money, or requires substantial efforts?
  • What negative consequences do you encounter or fear? Are you afraid of a loss of face, power, trust, or status?

On the other side of the ledger, what might they say to things that they want or desire?

  • How do current value propositions delight your customers? Which specific features do they enjoy? What performance and quality do they expect?
  • Which savings would make your customers happy? Which savings in terms of time, money, and effort would they value?
  • What would make your customers’ jobs or lives easier? Could there be a flatter learning curve, more services, or lower costs of ownership?

By going through these questions, you’ll likely get a better picture of whether your product or service will meet the needs for your customers

(For further reading about this topic, I recommend reading Value Proposition Design by Alex Osterwalder for a step-by-step process to create a strong value proposition for your product or service.)

3. Based on your experience, which clients do you understand best?

If you have past experience working in a particular industry or segment, this is a good time to think about where you can leverage this. You already have a good sense of what the challenges look like for this group and you might be able to achieve early success by targeting this group.

One thing I think about is the Blue Ocean Strategy developed by Renee Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim. Instead of fighting for a spot in a highly competitive market (i.e. red ocean) how can you create a unique offering where you create the demand (i.e. blue ocean).

By thinking about the combination of which clients you understand best and mixing it in with a unique offering, you might be able to create a blue ocean for your business.

4. Who would it be most profitable to work with?

Finally, take a moment to think about profitability. 

Insights here could come from your past experience working with different customer segments, research that’s publicly available, conversations with colleagues & peers, or anywhere else you can think of.

Industries that are experiencing substantial change or growth might be a good group to target as they often have unmet needs or opportunities where you can create a Blue Ocean Strategy around.

Profitability doesn’t just mean how much gross revenue you can generate with a customer base. If you have a customer base that’s difficult to work with, you’ll likely be spending a lot of time providing customer support or post-sale services that will eat into your profits.

Which clients will be the most satisfied with your offering just as it is? If customization is required, what parameters can you set so that you’re not modifying every last detail?

Putting It All Together

Whether you’re a leader in Sales & Marketing collaborating with your Product team to create a new offering or you’re an business owner keeping up with new customer demands, it’s important that you nail down the target customer first. I hope the questions above sparked some ideas and thoughts for you to further explore!

Finally, it’s worth keeping in mind that all of this is a balance, and the questions above should encourage you to establish principles rather than rules with who you work with. Principles help guide your decisions and are more adaptable than rules which tend to be more rigid. Regularly working with all parts of your business to keep your ideal customer profile will be important as well as major events or shifts in the market may change the expectations and behaviours of your customer.

What was most useful for you in this article?

What has worked for your business in deciding on a target customer?

I’d love to hear your comments and thoughts below.

P.S. I’m running a workshop on Tuesday, November 10th at 12pm EST to help leaders frame any business challenge. We’ll use fun, interactive activities to help you figure out what your key obstacles are and how you can solve them. If you’re working on any BIG challenge or project, I hope you’ll join me there.

Categories
Monthly Learnings

Monthly Learnings Roundup (September, 2017)

Thanks for checking out the Monthly Learning Roundup. These bite-sized, monthly posts are designed to give you a quick hit of interesting learnings and articles I came across this month.

It’s a motley assortment of tips, resources, and links that will hopefully give you a bit of inspiration for the upcoming month. Enjoy!

What I’m reading —

Bestselling Author and Investor James Altucher on Choosing Yourself and Stoic Minimalism by The Daily Stoic

One of the biggest challenges we have as human beings is managing the gray area between what we can control and what we can’t. I love James’s perspective on handling criticism or rejection for work that we produce and deeply care about.

The Ultimate Guide to Making Smart Decisions by Farnam Street

Making decisions is difficult. Multiple variables, lack of information, and the influence of emotions can all affect the decision making process. We can, however, decide to make decisions based on principles and models that, if consistently applied, can lead us to the best decision available.

Antifragile Planning: Optimizing for Optionality (Without Chasing Shiny Objects) by Taylor Pearson

This is a meaty read but well worth it. Taylor goes into details about how he uses well planned, 90-day sprints to achieve his goals.

Books that I enjoyed last month —

So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

Every young graduate and professional should read this book. It turns the “follow your passion” career advice upside down in a convincing fashion.

Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel

Written by one of the most well-respected thinkers on relationships today this book goes into how to create and maintain intimacy. I also recommend checking out Perel’s new Audible podcast series Where Should We Begin? 

Quotes that are inspiring me —

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.

— Lao-Tzu

We are caught in the trance of fear when the emotion of fear becomes the core of our identity and constricts our capacity to live fully.

— Tara Brach

Everything you want is on the other side of fear.

— Jack Canfield

Behaviour change of the month —

Shifting my internal mindset.

In September, I started to read to myself a personal commercial to shift my internal mindset. Drawing inspiration from the book, The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz, I wrote myself a motivational commercial to read everyday.

I was a little skeptical about doing this at first but as I began to make this part of my daily routine, I started to believe the words that I was saying to myself. I walked around smiling more often at people and managing fears in my life a little better. It’s almost as if neural networks in my brain were getting re-wired in new ways.

All this to be said, it takes time to change one’s mindset and reading my personal commercial has only planted the seeds that have yet to grow. I’ll be continuing on with this behaviour change goal into October and will report back with progress.

“ah-ha!” thoughts of the month —

Expertise > Passion

Is “follow your passion” good advice for your career? Author, Cal Newport, argues that the popular advice may be lead us to choosing the wrong career. Newport suggests that we should think about how to develop rare skills that people value as the key to having a fulfilling career of impact and passion.

Quarterly Focus

We’ve all got a ton on our plate. Whether it be with our relationships, career, finances, or health. It’s a lot of balls to juggle in the air. And it’s no surprise that we sometimes fall short of our goals. Instead of trying everything at once, why not try to focus on ONE area over the course of a quarter and see how much progress you can make?

It’s something I’m interested in trying out – having ONE main focus per quarter. Of course, I’ll make sure that the other areas of my life get enough attention but how much more can I get done if I focus on one area? How much more can I get done if I concentrate my resources (i.e. money, time, and energy) into one area?

Product I’m loving —

Great Lakes Collagen Hydrolysate

Adding this hydrolyzed collagen to my supplements has been a game changer for me. I’ve dealt for years with inflammation and pain from my osteoarthritis in my left knee but adding collagen has almost completely removed all pain from day-to-day activities. There is robust research available around the effectiveness of collagen with improving knee joint comfort including this double-blind study from 2009 from the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. With this being said, there doesn’t seem to be a long-term restorative effects of collagen on joints. So if you’re planning on adding collagen to your supplements, just be aware that this isn’t going to “fix” your knee to what it was like before.

Please make sure to check with your doctor if this is the right step for you first.

Featured image by imagesthai.com

As always, thanks for checking out this Monthly Learnings Roundup. Follow me on Twitter @peternakamura to see all the articles that I share on a daily basis.