Why customer needs don’t always matter
There’s a great presentation by Brainmates entitled What is Product Management? In it, they say the following:
Product Managers spend time understanding what customers need and want…then develop solutions that solve these problems and satisfy needs and want.
There is nothing wrong with that description, and as a general statement, it is correct. That is where many Product Managers spend their time. But the fact is, Product Management is not about satisfying customer needs and wants. And that’s a big distinction that needs to be understood.
I’ll say it again.
Product Management is not about satisfying customer needs and wants. Product Management is about ensuring business goals are met and business success delivered.
Now don’t get me wrong. I certainly believe in addressing market needs and driving customer satisfaction. That is definitely a great way to achieve business goals. But keep in mind that addressing customer needs etc. are a MEANS of achieving an END, not an END unto themselves.
This is something that gets lost in a lot of the discussion that happens about Product Management.
Strategy, Investment and Objectives
When it comes to building new products, it’s nice to think that every product is supposed to be a winner and market leader. But of course that cannot always be the case. Some products will never be market leaders, despite people’s best intentions, and some products are never even intended to be market leaders.
Consider all the tablet manufacturers who are releasing products to chase the iPad. And there are a lot of them!
What strategies do they have to gain market share? Do all (or any) of them think they can overtake Apple anytime soon? Given the lack of differentiation amongst them, are they really thinking about customers needs first, or are they looking at the overall market and their own business objectives?
Look at any company with a portfolio of products and you’ll see a few products that drive the vast majority of revenue and the remainder which are significantly smaller or are also-rans.
And if you could see into the decision making process of those companies, you’d see that the issue isn’t necessarily inability to address customer needs for those also-rans, it’s business objectives and investment. It’s portfolio management at work.
The questions come down to where to invest — i.e. which customers problems to address, which to ignore or postpone (and how to handle the fallout) — to best achieve the business goals of the company.
As Product Managers, as people responsible for “product success”, that’s ultimately where we have to focus.
It’s something I remind myself of regularly.
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