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...
As a product manager, crafting a compelling value proposition will be one of the most important steps in developing your product. It’s also one of the most often overlooked — even by smart, experienced product managers.
If you’re not communicating your strategy and product roadmap in terms of your value proposition, then you’re not doing an effective job as a product manager.
Let us step back and examine what we mean by a product’s value proposition, how to craft yours the right way, why it’s necessary, and how to translate it into your roadmap.
The specific definition of a value proposition will differ from company to company, but here are some broad cues to keep in mind when crafting yours. Your value proposition should always:
Let’s look at an example of a great value proposition, from Unbounce.
“Build, publish and A/B test landing pages without IT.”
Powerful statement, right? But a powerful statement by itself wouldn’t be enough for a compelling value proposition. It also needs to satisfy the three criteria listed above. And it does:
With this statement Unbounce is clearly telling its customer persona — typically a corporate marketing professional — that they can use this tool to handle all of their own web-page development easily, without coding skills or having to involve IT.
The value and benefits to the customer are clear.
What if Unbounce instead chose a statement like, “Powerful landing page builder for marketers”?
Not bad. That statement does give us some sense of what problem the product solves, and it hints at being an easy solution for non-technical folks by including the “for marketers” message. But it doesn’t speak directly to us, the customers. Instead, this statement tells us that the product is “powerful” — and that’s not a value proposition.
The value proposition that Unbounce chose, by contrast, is a direct message to us — explaining in just one short sentence precisely what we can accomplish with their product, and why it’ll be easier than the approaches we’ve had to take previously.
What if Unbounce had gone with, “49 awesome features to build your landing page”? That would meet the customer-centric requirement. It would be speaking directly to us. But…
So what? We don’t care that there are 49 features — even though it’s an impressive number that suggests a robust product — because the statement doesn’t tell us exactly what those features will do for us, or why we should care.
“We don’t care that your product has 49 features. We care what those features will do for us.”
This is the “so what” test: It answers for your customer why they should care about your product, because it explains exactly what it will do for them.
When you’re developing your product’s value proposition, a great place to start is by answering these three questions:
If you don’t have a powerful value proposition, or can’t articulate your product’s strategy and roadmap in terms of that value proposition, then you’re not doing an effective job as a product manager.
But why is a value proposition so fundamental to a product’s success?
First of all, one legitimate way to think about a product manager’s role is as the person in the company responsible for developing her product’s value proposition and then communicating that value proposition both internally and externally. This is one of the most important aspect of a product manager’s job. If she doesn’t have a succinct, customer-centric way of articulating how her product will benefit customers, then who will?
Indeed, when you think about many of the other things a product manager does — gather market intelligence, develop customer personas, solicit user feedback — the reason behind all of these tasks is to help determine a compelling value proposition. Without that value proposition — without a clear explanation of how the product will deliver value — how will the product manager have any strategic basis for what to build?
Once you’ve arrived at an effective product value proposition, here is how it will benefit every stage of your product’s development and ultimately lead to a more successful product.
A strong value proposition will serve as a strategic guidepost for you throughout the development of your product. It’s a simple strategic reminder about your product that you can and should refer to often, particularly whenever a tough decision presents itself.
It’s also a good idea to make sure your value proposition is always visible to all of the other teams and squads who are working on your product. This includes your development team, your sales force, your marketing department, your support staff, and even your executives.
When these other groups have your product’s value proposition front and center, they are more likely to make decisions about the product that serve and supports that value proposition.
Rarely, if ever, will you enjoy a setback-free development cycle, where everyone involved in bringing your product to market is able to work uninterrupted — with no competing projects, budget issues or resource constraints to slow things down or force you to adjust course. These setbacks always pop up.
Without a value proposition close by — without a simple statement to remind you why you’re developing this product in this way — you might have to make difficult decisions about how to adjust course according to gut instinct, a coin toss or some other nonstrategic methodology.
But by having your value proposition as a handy reference, you will be in a better position to make the right strategic decisions when you course-correct in the face of these inevitable
setbacks and challenges.
If you can’t communicate your product roadmap in terms of your value proposition, then you have an ineffective product roadmap.
In fact, one of the most effective ways to think of a roadmap is as a strategic-level blueprint for converting your value proposition into a product.
“A roadmap is a strategic-level blueprint for converting your value proposition into a product.”
Yet many product managers think of their roadmaps simply as lists of planned product features, fixes and other initiatives. And yes, those features might be valuable, even necessary, to the development of the product you and your stakeholders envision. But the question you need to answer as you develop your roadmap is “why?” A feature is important only to the extent that it can create value for your customers.
You’ll want to think about your roadmap from a customer-value standpoint — not from a focus on the features that you’ll be building into the product, but why you’ll be doing so, and whether or not that answer serves your value proposition.
Here’s an illustration of how this process might work.
Let’s say your value proposition for your next software release is to make it easier for your customers to get their jobs done using your tool. For each feature competing for limited space and resources on your roadmap, you need to ask yourself whether it will serve and support that value proposition.
Okay, now you’re reviewing a list of features and stories to determine what will make it into the product roadmap, and you come to a set of patches that will allow your mobile application to run on several different devices, which it is currently incompatible with.
Intuitively you’d think that yes, you should include these initiatives on the roadmap — and perhaps even prioritize them — because they will allow for broader adoption of your application.
But first you do a few minutes of research on the data you’ve gathered on your customer personas — which includes the devices they’re commonly using. Turns out that only a few percent of them currently use unsupported mobile devices.
With this in mind, you determine you’re better off prioritizing other features and fixes, which will make it easier for a greater percentage of your customers to use your application — and to slate this for later development.
In other words, once you’ve finalized your product’s value proposition, you should use it to inform each decision about what to include on your roadmap at what priority level, and to articulate these decisions in terms of how they will bring value to the customer.
What’s your experience with value propositions? Have they helped your product development? How? What other tools or tricks have you learned to write compelling value props? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.