Contributed by John Mansour
Most B2B organizations view “customer” and “user” as one in the same. But the fact is, even though products are built for users and marketed to buyers, they ultimately have to deliver value that meets the customer organization’s strategic business goals overall. With this in mind, redefining your target customer is an essential but often missed first step to successful product management, product marketing and sales enablement. When you redefine the customer to encompass the entire organization, you’ll more effectively identify needs that are critical to their success, deliver higher- value solutions that support their strategic goals, and drive profitable growth for your organization.
What’s Wrong With Buyer and User Personas?
Understanding what drives your buyers and users is instrumental to the success of any product or service. But the typical implementation of those target personas reveals two fundamental flaws:
- Buyer personas are too generic. For example, “CFOs want greater cash flow and higher margins.” While that may be a true statement, this broad-brush buyer persona has no real value to product teams, marketing or sales. Why? CFOs in healthcare are driven by distinctly different business dynamics than CFOs in retail, telecom or banking. Bottom line: buyer personas have to be industry specific to provide useful context.
- They’re disconnected. There’s a direct correlation between customer goals at the executive level – your buyers – and the day-to-day activities of people doing the work in the trenches – your users. Understanding which of those “in-the-trenches” activities have the biggest impact on the top-level executive goals and strategies is critical to delivering solutions with strategic value. Establishing stronger associations between buyer (executive) goals and user activities yields greater insights and ultimately results in higher-value products and services.
Aren’t All Customers Are the Same?
From a product perspective, it’s easy to make the argument that all customers are the same. Users with similar job roles – i.e., customer service reps or accountants – perform similar tasks regardless of organization or industry. But the difference is the extent to which those duties impact their organization’s strategic goals and the unique requirements of its industry.
For example, data security is important in every industry, but a data breach has very different ramifications for a global manufacturer versus a financial services organization. IT security administrators in a manufacturing environment have business requirements for protecting intellectual property that’s distributed across a global supply chain. Those requirements may be vastly different for IT security administrators at large banks tasked with protecting customer assets and meeting regulatory compliance.
A one-size-fits-all data security solution may satisfy 80% of customer needs across all industries – but the industry-specific 20% of needs and requirements is where the high-value solutions are formed. If you view all IT administrators the same, it’s impossible to gain those top-down industry insights and deliver high-impact solutions that sell for a premium, especially with commodity products.
A Top-Down Approach Brings Equal Value to Product Teams, Marketing and Sales
Redefining the customer and uncovering needs from the top down offers as much value to marketing and sales as it does product management. The only difference is how the information is used in practice.
- Product management uses the information to identify solutions their target markets need.
- Marketing and Sales use it to position, market and sell solutions they have.
Successful Products Are The Result of Successful Customers
Products (and services) are the lifeblood of every organization, so it’s only logical that successful products are the ultimate goal internally. But striving to make each product successful creates a tug- of-war for engineering and marketing resources and usually results in nothing more than a few low- value incremental product enhancements because resources are constantly spread too thin. The problem only worsens as the product portfolio grows.
When your mindset revolves around making customers successful, it changes everything. Product, marketing and sales teams are aligned by a common understanding of what customer organizations in each market are trying to accomplish, why those goals are critical at all levels, the obstacles standing in their way, and finally, how the existing or proposed product and service solutions eliminate those obstacles.
Make Customers Successful
The market-facing side of product management is first and foremost about understanding what target customers do, why they do it and their plans for achieving success. The business side of product management is determining how to use your portfolio of products and services to grow profitably while making those customers successful.
Feature photo by NEC Corporation of America
John Mansour is the founder and managing partner at Proficientz, a training and consulting firm that specializes in product portfolio management. John brings 20-years of experience in product management, marketing and sales in manager, director and VP roles. As the managing partner of Proficientz, John has worked with more than 2000 organizations that span high technology, business services, telecom, healthcare, financial services, manufacturing and many others. John served as the chairman for the Technology Association of Georgia’s Product Management Society from 2006 – 2010. Proficientz proudly sponsors ProductCamp conferences worldwide.