A Brief History of Product Management: Starts With a Spark
Product management was originally seated in marketing but has evolved. It's still misunderstood but it's now getting the recognition it deserves with product people...
Who are your product’s target customers? At first glance, this question might be easy to answer. As a seasoned product manager, you likely know your personas inside and out. But here’s the question: Which personas? Who is your user persona? Who is your buyer persona?
Many product managers would answer the “Who are my customers?” question by describing the end-users of the products they’re developing. Which is a good answer. But is that answer complete?
If we can assume that you oversee the development of business-to-business rather than consumer products and that you are marketing those products to companies as opposed to individuals, then answering the “Who are my customers?” question accurately might be a bit more complicated.
Let’s begin with a brief overview of these two primary, but distinct, categories of target customers for your products — user and buyer personas. Then I’ll offer a simple example to illustrate why it can be so important to address multiple personas in your product strategy, and not fall into the trap of focusing on just one.
Think of a user persona as a composite biography (or series of biographies) you draft based on your market research and experience to describe the relevant characteristics, needs, and goals of the people who will be using your product. The key distinction for our purposes here is that these will be the product’s end-users — but not necessarily the ones deciding to buy it from you.
A buyer persona will be a broader composite biography of your target customer than the bio you draft for your user because it can include a wide range of influencers and decision-makers across your customer’s organization. It’s also important to note that the buyer persona will not necessarily be the person using your products, which means the goals and needs you draft for this persona will likely differ from those of your user persona.
For example, who’s the customer for a children’s book? Is it the child reading the book or the parent?
In many cases, the child will be the reader. This means we can think of the child as the user persona for the book. The parent will be the buyer persona, the decision-maker who ultimately buys (or doesn’t buy) the book for the child.
So… who is the customer? If you were the product manager for this book, working for the children’s publishing company, you would need to consider both your user persona and your buyer persona in developing your strategy for the book.
For your user persona, the child, your priority might be to make the book’s spine and cover eye-catching, and the illustrations throughout the book big and colorful. These “features” will help the child act as your remote salesperson in the bookstore, asking Mom or Dad to buy it.
At the same time, however, you need to consider your buyer persona, the parents, in developing the book’s strategy. For them, you might want to prioritize making sure the lessons and values contained in the book are aligned with those of a parent.
You might also want to prioritize that the book’s text contrast sharply with the background of each page. If the parents will be reading the book to their child at bedtime, they will likely want to make the bedroom dimly lit while they read.
One product. Two distinct personas. Two very different sets of strategies, priorities, and features needed to develop a product that will appeal to them both.
And that was just for a children’s book! Chances are the products you’re overseeing are much more complicated and need to address the goals and requirements of many different personas.
Let’s assume that you are selling a piece of business-to-business software and that your target customer organization is a large corporation. Here is just a partial list of the different types of personas that might play a role in the decision to buy your product.
This is your user persona, the individual at the company who will ultimately use your product to perform their job.
This person might be empowered to purchase your product directly, or they might merely have varying degrees of influence with the company’s decision-makers. In some cases, in fact, they might have no influence over which product the company buys.
Whatever the case, though, obviously you will be developing your product with this person in mind — because their improved efficiency and productivity using it will play a major role in whether the company continues using your product.
Key selling points: When you envision talking to your end-user about the product, you will want to focus on details such as ease of use, how it will eliminate the more tedious or complex aspects of what they do day-to-day, or how it will generally make their lives easier.
This is another key persona whose needs and goals should play a role in how you develop and prioritize your product. But it’s important to remember that the manager of your end-user has different goals and needs than the end-user herself.
For this persona, your priorities will likely be centered around making sure your product improves efficiency and output, making each user more productive, and as a result, more valuable to the company.
Often another priority for managers is gaining better visibility into what their team is actually doing and being able to measure their progress. If you’re developing a piece of business software, including a management dashboard can be a smart strategy. Doing so increases your ability to demonstrate how your product aligns with management’s own goals.
Key selling points: For the person managing your product’s end users, you will want to convince them that implementing your product will help improve their team’s overall productivity or save the company money. Furthermore, you will want to be able to show them how these benefits will make them — the managers — look like heroes to their bosses.
Here you’ll encounter another set of goals, demands, and priorities when developing and marketing your product. The executive team whose company you are selling to will want to know how your product will give the company a competitive advantage, cut costs or boost output.
As the product manager, your focus will be on more than just building the product. It will also include how you market and sell the product. To align your product with the goals of a customer organization’s executive team, for example, you might want to develop an ROI calculator — so your customers can easily see for themselves how your product can save or make their company money.
Key selling points: For the executives, you’re selling to, you will want to focus on how your product can help achieve their high-level goals.
This is another persona at your customer’s organization whom you will want to keep in mind as you develop your product and create its key selling points.
IT teams may judge your product against competitors (or against a different solution entirely) based largely on issues like security and integrity, ease of installation and management — and other issues that have little in common with the product’s key selling points for its end-users or their managers.
Because in most organizations, particularly large corporations, the IT department has significant influence and decision-making authority over technology purchases, you will need to prioritize in your product development the goals and demands of the IT personnel at your target customer’s business. Eventually, the IT team may be in the room with your sales reps, and they will need to know how your product affects their ability to do their jobs.
When considering your team’s eventual pitch to IT at a customer organization, you might want to prioritize a simple top sheet to your installation or technical documentation — something that quickly communicates to an IT Director or CTO that rolling out your product will be fast, painless and trouble-free.
Key selling points: For the IT team at your customer’s organization, you will want to be able to demonstrate that your product will be simple to deploy, requires little oversight, and will require only minimal IT resources for staff training and troubleshooting. You will also need to demonstrate that your product is secure and won’t jeopardize the company’s data security or regulatory compliance.
And just when you thought you had taken into account all of the differing agendas and needs of the many personas across your customer’s company, you remember that an employee in that company — a dedicated procurement specialist, if the business is large enough — will be processing the actual purchase. That professional has his own goals and needs.
In some large businesses, procurement teams are actually incentivized with commissions on how much they save on equipment, services, licenses, and other purchases. These professional buyers, in other words, earn percentages on the money they save their company with vendors.
With this in mind, if you’re selling to large businesses, you might want to create more price points or other ways of selling and licensing your products that make it easier for the procurement staff to find a solution that brings your product into their company and puts money in their pockets.
You probably also want to ensure that your purchasing or licensing experience is smooth and painless. If your product meets the demands of the other key personas across the customer organization, but the procurement process is complicated or frustrating for the company’s buyers, that alone could delay or even torpedo the sale.
Key selling points: For the customer company’s procurement staff, you might want to include in your product strategy a focus on more flexible pricing options and streamlining the procurement process.
As I’ve tried to illustrate above, when you’re developing products that affect multiple people across a team or organization, it’s important to learn what your product will mean to all of them. Any of the personas described above could become your product’s biggest champions in their company if you take their needs and goals into account, or they could become your most vocal opponents if you don’t.
So perhaps the answer to the “Who are my product’s customers?” question is anyone and everyone whose job or life your product will affect. This means it pays to strategize and prioritize your product’s development will all of them in mind.