Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Leveraging User Ecosystem for New Products

Here is a collection of opportunities that I have leveraged while trying to build a product that catered to target user requirements. Each project included leveraging one or more of these opportunities.
  • While getting started:
    • Build target personas - for a new product, you may not have existing customers whose input can validate feature sets, but what you do have as a product manager is the business goal which would illustrate the market segment. The users who comprise the target market segment can be developed into target personas around which workflows and features can be built.
    • Research analyst reports and domain publications - to understand trends and players and   details on the facts and figures based on which you could understand the market in which you want to play.
    • Network with field agents - Talk with colleagues who are Solution Consultants, Sales Engineers, Professional Services for input on what the market is asking especially if you are building a product that is related to the existing product portfolio. Strike up a chat, even one at the water cooler could be quite informative.
    • Contact target users - Interview or survey target users to understand how they are currently meeting the requirement that your product aims to resolve. Use this input to align  product workflows with mental maps to shorten the learning curve for users and increase product acceptance. 
  • During product development:
    • Regular live demos - Build the product incrementally and demo the increments to channel partners, Solution Consultants and thought leaders to elicit feedback. Build a feedback loop into the development process so the team can incorporate the feedback with minimum disruptions and the provider of feedback feels heard and valued.
    • Host recorded demos - with a short, crisp narrative and a simple way to provide feedback - perfect for target users who prefer to watch demos on their time.  
    • Visible requirements - Publish the requirements gathered in a selective access portal that is visible to customers, partners, and target users so they can confirm your understanding of their requirement and can also be updated when the requirement moves up to be implemented
  • Towards the end of a product development cycle
    • Access to a sandbox - Provide access to a stable build through a sandbox so target users or their proxies get a feel for the real product. Such a provision at a Beta stage can be a source of confidence for prospects to know what they would be getting into and for the development team to know what prospects are looking for.
    • Conduct usability tests - Specify a set of tasks that the user needs to accomplish using the product. watch how the works her way through the product to complete the tasks, areas that confuse, and areas that delight. The results can be a mine of information for feature design tweaks.
    • Speak at user conferences - A perfect opportunity for cross-selling or up-selling the new product. Being able to pitch to multiple prospects while enabling prospects to leverage on each others' understanding of the products selling points could pave the way for a shortened sales pitch.

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