Building customer-centric products
How to sharpen your product sense!
👋🏻 👋🏻 Welcome to The Product Mentors weekly newsletter by Ankita and Tamanna . As product managers in Silicon Valley (AWS, Microsoft, Yammer, Amazon Alexa) we have shipped delightful products used by millions of customers across the globe. Having mentored many aspiring and early career PMs, we now want to spread our learnings more broadly through our newsletter.
Product Managers are constantly on the lookout for the next product or feature to build for their customers. The biggest value-add as a PM is to identify and solve the biggest customer pain-points viably, both from a business and technical standpoint. Here is a quick step by step guide on how to start with customers and work backward from their needs to arrive at the right solution:
1. Customer: Identify the target customer or user personas.
2. Job To Be Done: Define the job the product/feature is expected to do.
3. Status-quo: Observe how customers are doing this today.
4. Pain-points: Understand the challenges they have to overcome.
5. Differentiators: Detail out the key differentiating capabilities offered by your product that could help customers solve #4.
6. Prioritization: Narrow down the above list to the must-have capabilities needed in the first version of the product.
We will use an example to walk you through the steps. Imagine you are a PM at a direct-to-consumer tech company focused on wellness products. With COVID creating an enhanced demand for products focused on physical and mental health, you are evaluating what to build next. Here is how you can use the above framework:
1. Customer: The trick here is to be as specific and focused on the target customer/user as possible. The broader your go, the harder it is to scale. There are multiple ways to segment users. For this specific problem space, we do it by demographics (age), as age is a determining factor to your health needs. Other options could be (1) Geographic segmentation: western vs eastern markets, (2) Domain-based: enterprise vs consumer, (3) Context-based segmentation - Targeting general health vs specific conditions like diabetes or depression.
We identified the following personas and their key characteristics. Ideally, these should be backed by research and customer interviews.
👼🏻 Kids: Needs supervision; May not be able to take care of their wellness needs independently
🧑🏻Millennial working professionals: Tech-savvy, High purchasing power
🧓🏻👵🏻 Elderly: Not as tech-savvy, Already have established religious and spiritual routines
Note, a customer or “buyer” may be different from the user at times. For example, if your target persona is ‘kids’, a parent who makes the purchasing decision is the customer, while the kid is the user.
As a PM, you will now have to narrow down your target persona (s). We rule out Kids and the Elderly as they may not be able to take care of their wellness needs independently (need supervision), and are usually not tech-savvy (remember we are a tech company). We double-down on millennial working professions, who are comfortable with technology and have high purchasing capacity.
We then explore if there is an opportunity to narrow down the segment even further. Research suggests that there is growing demand and investment towards women-centric health and wellness products. Our key hypotheses are that 1) 🤱🏻 working women professionals have a greater need for a wellness product as they constantly juggle work, family, and household responsibilities, with the latter two still primarily falling on them in the majority of households, 2) 💆🏻♀️ they tend to forget prioritizing self-care and there is an opportunity for a dedicated product targeted towards their unique health and wellness needs, 3) 💵 the existing products in the market do not address these unique needs well and these women with high purchasing power will be willing to spend on such a product.
At this point, in real life, you will conduct more market research and customer interviews to validate these hypotheses, understand the key industry trends, and estimate the size of the market. Assuming it is a big enough market, we will move to the next step in the process.
2. Job to be done: Before we define the Job To Be Done, we look for more ways to start with a leaner scope. Health can be broken down into physical and mental health. Physical health is a crowded and saturated space, both online and offline. There are multiple apps focusing on at-home workouts and nutrition. There are thousands of fitness influencers on YouTube and Instagram posting free workouts, which makes it a less interesting business proposition for us. Mental health, on the other hand, is a growing trend, with millennials, especially women, being more and more conscious about it. We choose to focus on this and explore it further to arrive at our Job to be done (JTBD).
A standard JTBD story needs to clearly outline the situation, motivation, and an expected outcome for your customers. In our case it might look like this:
Situation: Busy working women professionals do not have long windows of free time. They do not have the knowledge and tools to easily improve their mental health.
Motivation: They “want to” enhance their mental health.
Expected outcome: They want to feel calm and relaxed.
Based on these motivations and expected outcomes, our job to be done is to provide an easy, quick, and effective way to improve the mental health of working women professionals.
3. Status quo & 4. Pain-points (Note we combine steps 3 and 4 as they go hand-in-hand): Our research also suggests that women have unique stress triggers around their work-life balance, hormonal changes, pregnancy, relationships, body-image issues, among others. They seek a solution that helps them manage the specific trigger at any given point in time. Additionally, most of them battle loneliness, isolation, and minimized social interactions, exacerbated by increased workload during quarantine, and look for something that addresses these issues in some way.
Based on this information, we explore the alternatives available and map out the gaps. Here is what we arrive at:
🚶🏻♀️🚶🏻♀️Going for a walk: Requires stepping out of the house, which may be time-consuming and risky due to COVID. Especially difficult if you have a kid at home.
📚 Reading a book: Requires longer windows of free time, also may be expensive depending on the number of books you read.
🗣 Talking to someone: Requires coordination in busy schedules.
🧘🏻♂️ Self - Meditation: Hard to self-start with the right techniques. Once you do start, it is hard to stay self-motivated.
📼 Meditation using videos available on You-Tube: The free option has advertisement interruptions while the premium option is high cost.
🏞 Meditation retreats: High-cost option; requires stepping out of the house, which may be risky due to COVID.
🧘🏻♀️📱Meditation apps: Are general purpose and do not take into account the unique needs of women, making them less effective.
5. Differentiators: It’s important to be clear on how your product is superior to all the other products available in the market. For this example below is the list of these differentiating capabilities:
🙋🏻♀️ Customized: The product will have categories tailored to the unique needs of working women that came up in our research. This includes:
Mood fluctuations due to hormonal changes
Expectant women, women who have suffered childbirth loss
Managing imposter syndrome at work
Body image issues
👭 Group meditation & Community Building: Community to meditate together, share experiences, and get advice from like-minded individuals.
In addition to these differentiated capabilities, the app should also solve for table-stakes user needs that are supported by other meditation apps. These include:
The basic app features like creating and managing profiles, meditation list with categories, search and discovery
Broad selection on available meditation options based on duration (2min options to hour-long options)
Reminders and ability to track progress to help build a habit around it
Note, in real life, you will ideate on multiple solutions for customer problems to arrive at above differentiators and table stakes features.
6. Prioritization: Prioritization is crucial because there are constraints around time, budget, and headcount. You want to start with a lean product, gather feedback, and build iteratively. There are multiple prioritization frameworks and mental models that factor in inputs such as customer impact, effort estimates, feasibility, reach, etc. which we will talk about in a future article. A simple mental model to think about it is starting with a 🤩 Minimum Delightful Product, which has the must-have features, along with at least one core differentiator. In the above case, our biggest differentiator is an experience customized for working women and their unique needs. Additionally, we believe that a meditation app is not usable without basic features such as broad choice on meditation durations, reminders, and progress tracking capabilities. Hence, for the first version of the product, we will prioritize the table-stakes (basic features, selection based on duration, reminders, tracking) and our core differentiator (categories customized for working women professionals). Once the V1 is validated with the customers, the group meditation/ community features can be added in the next version.
This brings us to the end of this article. We hope you had fun building this 🧘🏻♀️ wellness product together. Note, this example is a much-simplified version of the rigor, extensive research, and collaboration when building it for real. Also, bear in mind, this is not “the” solution, and you might be able to make a case for a completely different product. Do share some of your ideas with us in the comments below! 💡
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