February 24, 2018

Archives for January 2013

Mistake #5 – A Market Message for Everyone is No Message at All

One of the challenges a company of any size (but especially start-ups and early stage companies) faces as they launch  a new product is to communicate a clear consistent message to the market.   The following are a couple of scenarios that I have seen where companies fail to do this.

  • As a start-up, you are trying to close those early sales and your desperate to find anyone that will listen to you and so you change your story based upon what you think they want to hear, so that each person has a unique perspective of what your company does and nobody in the market really knows what you do.
  • You know that your product can meet the needs of multiple markets, so to make things simple, you create a story and messages that you think apply to all markets.   When you do this, you end up with a message that doesn’t resonate with anyone.
  • Senior level executives have not been properly briefed on the right story and message (or they have been briefed, but they’re the founder and can say what they want), so when speaking in the market, they might make statements the that imply that your products do things they really don’t do or can be sold into markets for which they are not ready, and then the marketing team has to play spin-master to cleanup the mess.

So the end result is that your try to be everything to everyone, but in reality, you have no message at all.

The starting point for correcting this problem is defining a clear messaging platform.

  1. Target Markets & Positioning:  The number one set of decisions is choosing your target market segments and determining how you will position your product in each market segment.  As a start-up, you have limited resources and you can not afford to pursue all market segments, so you must focus on the 1 or 2 market segments that give you the best chance of success.   As your grow, you can expand into additional market segments, but you must still proactively choose those market segments.
  2. Buyers & Influencers:  The second set of decisions is clearly defining the buyer and influencer roles in each target market.  Define who is the economic buyer, technical buyer, influencers and users.
  3. Targeted Messages:  Finally, you want to create messages that are specific to each buyer role in each target market.  This is important because it is much more powerful when you communicate a message that is specific to your target buyer v. trying to communicate a generic message that might fit all (which it doesn’t).   You market messages must support and defend your positioning in the market (Point #1).
  4. Consistency of Message:  Make sure that all market facing personnel understand these messages and their target audiences to that they use them appropriately and consistently.

For more on creating compelling messages, please see my presentation below.


Mistake #4 – Everyone Owns The Product, No One Owns the Product

Ad hoc requirements lead to products that try to serve all, but serve no one at all.  But too many companies from start-ups and early stage to established companies develop inferior products because the products are defined via an ad hoc structure and process.   Just a few of the examples that I have seen include:

  • A salesperson or executive returns from a meeting with a prospect or client and directs an engineer or developer to work on a specific (and urgent) feature to meet the prospect’s or client’s need.
  • An executive walks by a developer and suggests an idea they thought about over the weekend.  In one company at which I worked, we called these “drive-by” requirements.
  • Developers sit around discussing “cool” features that they could put into the product and pick the coolest ones to include.

In any of these cases, the engineer ends up working on the suggested feature or capability as they have no clearer guidance.   This ad hoc approach to defining products leads to a number of problems that result in ineffective and unsuccessful products.  These include:

  • Features get partially done and then the dev team is off working on the most recent urgent request.
  • Feature creep occurs and the product release continuously gets pushed out to a later date.
  • No one has a clear vision of what features are being developed and therefore not everything gets properly tested, resulting in defects and poorly functioning features.
  • Conflict occurs amongst team members as each person thinks their idea for a future should have a higher priority.
  • New features only get partially defined, so what gets developed is incomplete and does really meet the market need.

The end result is a product that does not adequately meets the needs of the market place and diminishes its chances of success.

This problem occurs because everyone thinks they have the right to guide the direction of the product, but in reality no one really owns the product.   And this occurs because there is no structure and process in place to receive, vet and prioritize market requirements and then communicate these as clearly defined requirements to the development team.

In a start-up environment with a very small team, you can often get by with shared responsibility as long as there are regular discussions around product development, but even then, your small team needs to agree upon how requirements will be managed, prioritized and communicated as you receive them from the market.   As the company grows, you need to establish a clear owner (typically a product manager) that has decision authority on the direction of the product.

All companies will benefit from having a clearly defined requirements management process and designating an owner for each product that is responsible for ensuring this process is followed.