Rethink your product focus

That’s Not Your Customer.

Written By:
Bart Lorang
@bartlorang

A few days ago at the FullContact offices our team had an in-depth, knock down, drag out discussion about our roadmap.

We call this weekly meeting Thunderdome because we chant in the beginning:

Two Men Enter

Two features enter! One feature leaves!

Over the past few Thunderdomes our roadmap had been increasing with features, but nothing had been removed! The schedule remained fixed.

If you know software development, you know that we were simply setting ourselves up for failure.

There’s an old rule in Software:

Quality. Schedule. Feature Set. You Only Get to Pick Two.

Features kept multiplying like rabbits. There was no way the engineering team could deliver the features with high quality. And even if they did, there was no way marketing and sales could sell all the products and its features to different segments simultaneously.

But still, no features were getting killed.

As a result we jokingly started calling it “Thunderless Dome.”

Time to Kill Some Features

So, I decided to present the team with a modest proposal: to focus on a single customer segment for the near term and absolutely nail the experience. This customer segment was a rather large segment but uses a broad swatch of technology platforms, so it’d require a handful of technology platform integrations.

The team countered with: let’s stick to one technology platform, and then go after one type of customer, absolutely nail it, and then go after a larger type of customer, but on the same technology platform.

There were pros and con to each approach, but we concluded the latter approach was likely a larger and quicker driver of revenue.

Afterwards, we were able to gut the roadmap and remove a whole bunch of items by saying “that doesn’t serve our target customer”.

Thunderdome was back, baby!

Entrepreneurs: Crazy and Insecure

As entrepreneurs, often there exists a temptation to please a customer – ANY and ALL customers. Especially all those people who AREN’T your customers and don’t QUALIFY as a customer in your target market.

Love Me

Entrepreneurs think: “If only I had this one feature/capability/release, I could attract all THOSE customers, too.”

This is classic ‘grass is greener’ thinking and its a common pitfall for entrepreneurs (trust me, I’ve fallen into the trap more than once).

As entrepreneurs, we naturally want customers to love us! Perhaps it’s insecurity. Perhaps it’s the desire to please people. It’s probably a multitude of things. But the same crazy obsession that drives us to serve customers can also hurt us when it comes to selecting a narrow target market.

When Steve Jobs rolled out the first Mac in the 1980s, he mistakenly thought it was a mass market consumer product. After the first 100 days in market, it was obvious it wasn’t. The Mac turned out to be for artists, designers, and creative types – a segment that loved the Mac AND was willing to pay him a huge premium.

Jobs eventually embraced this new reality, and the Mac really began to hit its stride with its core market.

So, instead of stretching to serve customers you can’t serve yet, you should repeat the following phrase over, and over and over:

That Is Not My Customer. That Is Not My Customer. That Is Not My Customer.

Then, once you’ve convinced yourself that it’s not your customer, ask the question:

“How do I serve my existing customers better and capture more like them?”

This focuses your product development effort drastically.

This also focuses your marketing effort by giving you a very specific group to prospect and qualify. Yes, it’s harder to find these people, but when you do, they’re more likely to become a paying customer.

A lead or prospect doesn’t fall in your target segment? Just move on.

You can get always get them down the road when your product is able to serve them.

Take the time to really try to narrow your focus. I know – it’s painful. For entrepreneurs, it’s like losing a limb.

But trust me: the VP of Engineering will be happier. The VP of Marketing will be happier. The VP of Product will be happier.

And most importantly your actual customers will be happier.

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