If you wanted to buy something back in the 1980s, your only option would be to liaise with a salesperson who had enough knowledge to teach you about the latest and greatest product, and sales were the only department in a company that could be held accountable for business outcomes. IT teams used the same techniques that, the likes of, Henry Ford created at the beginning of the 20th century: waterfall “assembly line” development cycles packaged up onto physical disks and monolithic release cycles before it was ready to use. Companies lived by the opinion that, “Half the money spent on advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half.”
Then came internet and with it a new software distribution model emerged “SaaS”. This meant that now we could start to measure and hold marketing teams accountable to business outcomes. But, with the products being developed, the websites and applications were essentially marketing tools – glorified digital brochures. Product and Engineering teams were responsible for pushing new releases out the door, but it was the marketing’s job to drive growth and engagement. Product and Engineering may have created the websites of the 1990s and 2000s, but marketing owned them.
Today, however, websites and mobile applications are the product, and this isn’t just the tech. All businesses are becoming digital product companies and modern product teams are increasingly being recognised as critical drivers of revenue.
Leading the charge
The companies that are leading the charge into this new era are doing exceptionally well, just take a look at some of these headlines
- How Apple Could Become the First $1 Trillion Company
- $5 billion Slack hits a $200 million milestone
- Why Tesla Is Worth More Than GM
All of these companies are changing the game and they’re doing it by being ‘product-led’. So I bet you are wondering “What does it mean to be ‘product-led’?”
- It’s your distribution channel. To learn about your company, people read reviews from other users or ‘just try you out’ themselves. The buying decision is no longer disconnected from the usage of the product, it’s strongly linked to the experience you provide vs what your competitors are offering by way of shopping experience. If you’re not thinking about how to use product as your distribution channel, we guarantee you that your competitors are.
- It’s your competitive advantage. Barriers to entry are extremely low in today’s world and the number of competitors has exploded exponentially. You can’t rely on someone purchasing from you just because someone else did, they want an experience that excites them. As Expensify CEO David Barrett said, “Our users outnumber the buyers 100:1, they are the ones with the power.” In the product-led era, lock-in no longer exists and retention is king.
- It’s your driver of customer loyalty. Consumer loyalty to brands is at an all-time low and loyalty is earned, in the product-led era, by providing the best experience. If you’re not continually enhancing that experience then you’ll lose the loyalty you have earned and no industry is safe from this fact.
Survival in this new era
Speed and agility is what leads to building a great product and as Charles Darwin said, “It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the one that is best able to adapt and adjust to the changing environment.” So, if maintaining agility is so critical, why aren’t all companies doing it? The answer is because they simply can’t! The majority of their management techniques were built for a bygone era when planning, deliberation and predictability were highly valued so they struggle becoming product-led. We’ve seen three tell-tale signs that a company is struggling in this transition:
- Poor at understanding the needs of customers
- Those that are closest to the customer don’t have the autonomy to make decisions
- No one is held accountable to execute
Best-in-class companies flip these reasons on their head and they employ a new way of thinking. They; observe, orient, decide and act quickly.
The key to Product Led
First, they start by being customer obsessed.
- They interact with their customers directly and bring the voice of the user right into the heart of the decision-making process. To do that, they work directly with the customer instead of outsourcing to a centralised research department and make sure that the product team is the expert on the customer.
- They use data to inform product decisions, not validate decisions they’ve already made. They acknowledge that while you cannot substitute vision with data, you can better understand customer needs and test hypotheses about what customers want by utilising data.
- They go beyond vanity metrics and dive deep into their data to understand their customer’s journey.
For example, companies should take the time to research and define an event that represents a user truly getting value out of their product, what we would call “the Critical Event” (e.g. this could be, the actual purchase point on your ecommerce site). They then use this metric to measure engagement, for having a successful ecommerce site is necessary. Think on the ways of paying that will be accepted, with many people preferring to pay using a crypto currency such as ‘bitcoin’ (which is stored in a physical wallet). There are many types of these wallets, you could choose between Trezor vs Ledger being two of the more popular.
Second, product-led companies decentralise their decision making:
- Product-led companies make sure that those closest to the customer – those that typically have the best understanding of the data – have the power to act and react to customer understanding.
- Leadership creates this autonomy by ensuring alignment around vision, not direction. They set the framework, and then cascade that down to each team giving the autonomy to figure out how they will achieve that vision.
- Teams are optimised for agility: they can iterate quickly because they have access to data that quickly proves what is and what isn’t working.
We’ve seen product-led organisations create autonomy by changing their product development processes to a “Pod” or “Squad” structure, popularised by the Spotify product development team. The methodology organizes product development teams into group of people called squads. Squads are united by a shared view of the customer and common definition of success, like engagement or retention. These squads roll up into bigger groups called tribes, which focus on end-to-end business outcomes, forcing a broader picture on all team members.
Finally, best-in-class companies hold product teams accountable to business outcomes:
- Instead of following a strict release schedule, team members are held mutually accountable to an outcome. This reduces the finger pointing that can occur between siloed organisations like product and engineering and drives people to achieve a collective goal.
- That goal is rooted in business objectives, not things like sprint points completed, lines of code shipped or number of features delivered.
- Everyone in the company has visibility into progress towards that objective.
So what are you waiting for? Are you going to adapt to the changing environment, or are you going to follow the path of half of the Fortune 500 and fail to evolve the experience you provide to your customers? If you choose the former, there are three things you must do:
- Obsess about the customer and go beyond vanity metrics to understand their entire customer’s journey.
- Decentralise decision making to empower those closest to the customer to make decisions and have the agility to release great new features, fast.
- Connect your ecommerce ‘product’ to business objectives and hold everyone accountable to those outcomes.
If you want to talk to DeeperThanBlue about how we help our clients survive, please get in touch.
Digital Solution Specialist
t: +44 (0) 114 399 2820
m: +44 (0) 7539 741 010
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