Ash Maurya published an excellent post he titled, “The Different Worldviews of a Startup”1, in which he made the following astute observation:
“Different people — entrepreneurs, customers, investors, advisors, all see a startup differently.” — Ash Maurya
Spot on. He starts his post as follows:
In his book, “All Marketers
Are Liars Tell Stories”, Seth Godin defines a “worldview” as the set of rules, values, beliefs, and biases people bring to a situation. He offers a strategy of not trying to change a person’s worldview, but rather framing your story in terms of their pre-existing worldview.
Boy, I wish I had this insight when I did my first startup, and when I started out as a product manager! Because it totally applies to how product managers need to manage their stakeholders and partners with respect to their products. In other words, you need to tailor how you pitch your product strategy or business case to your audience based on the things they really care about.
And so with all due respect to Ash’s post, I will take the liberty of adapting his post to the discipline of product management and marketing. Similar to what he did in his post, I’ll illustrate this concept using the Product Canvas. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a one-page encapsulation of the most essential elements that define your product.
As Ash pointed out, different people — product managers, customers, and executives — all see your product differently. I’ll expand on Ash’s post by also discussing the different world views according to some of the different stakeholders a product manager has to deal with inside an organization.
Product Managers, particularly those from technical backgrounds, are naturally drawn to the Solution box. (Even yours truly. ) They tend to spend a disproportionate amount of time on defining the features of their solution. As Ash puts it, “they fall in love with ‘awesome’.”
That’s why, like Ash did with his version, I kept the Solution box on the Product Canvas purposely small. This is not to replace an MRD, PRD or user stories. Rather, for one, to think about what are the most important elements of your solution that satisfy the primary problems of your target customer, as captured in the Problem box. Secondly, to make clear that the other components of your product strategy are equally, if not sometimes more, important.
I want you to write this down. Ready? Here it is:
Customers don’t care about your solution.
Write it down. Read it. Read it again. Sear this into your brain. Live it. Breathe it.
Customers care about only one thing: solving their problems. So to get them to care about your product you need to convince them that you understand them (identity), and then offer them something compelling that they believe will solve their problem (your value proposition). How many times have we been told as product managers that customers don’t buy features, they buy benefits?
If you get these first two right, their next question is “What’s it going to cost me?”. What they’re evaluating here is whether the price of your proposed solution is commensurate with its perceived value. (Value as perceived by them, not you… unfortunately for you.)
VP of Marketing
Marketing folks tend to naturally think about the market and customer first. Your VP of Marketing will be thinking about who are your target customers, what’s the plan to reach them, and how the success of any marketing efforts will measured. They know customers are bombarded with lots of noise, so your Marketing VP will be keenly interested in how the value prop of your product will be messaged, and its competitive positioning. (You do know who your competition is, don’t you?)
VP of Sales or Business Development
Sales is interested in customers from the perspective of having a pipeline of hot leads. In particular, Sales will be trying to figure out who is that first named customer to whom they can take your product and quickly close a deal.
Sales folks love to talk about a product that “sells itself”. What they’re saying is they want you to have figured out who the customers are, and that you’ve built a massively appealing solution for them such that they’re thirsting for your solution.
Sales will also be keenly interested in pricing. It’s not just about their commission. (Well, it is about their commission, but stay with me here.) Many Sales folks look myopically at just price, because they’re worried about being undercut by a low-cost competitor. However, a good Sales or Business Dev exec will want to ensure your product’s price not only provides enough margin, but also communicates a value perception to the customer.
And that gets us to competition. Sales wants to be well-prepared before getting in front of customers. So be prepared to talk about what solutions customers may be using or considering, and how your product is positioned against these alternatives.
VP of Operations
Ops will want to assess the operational risk of delivering, fulfilling, distributing and supporting your product and marketing efforts. Ops will want to talk about business processes — if existing ones will be leveraged, will they need to be changed, or new ones created. And they will be looking to do these as efficiently as possible.
VP of Engineering or Product Development, or CIO
When I talk IT/Engineering folks through the Product Canvas, one of the most common questions I get is about capturing technology risk. They want to understand what it is you’re asking them to build (business/product requirements) so they can assess impacted systems and platforms, resource assignments, and architectural fit, in order to estimate the level of effort. They’ll want to understand if your product will require new technologies will need to be adopted, and if so, what that means in terms of skills sets and integration requirements. These considerations will impact the cost of developing, building and supporting your product.
Ok, saved the best for last.
Here, I’m talking about the senior execs in your organization that prioritize resources, and approve operational budgets and capital investments.
Now, I want you to write this down too. Ready?
Executives don’t care about your solution.
Ok, maybe that sounds harsh. Maybe they do care. A little. But what they’re really doing is weighing your product as an investment. In other words, ROI. Similar to startup investors, executives are weighing the risks and opportunity costs of your proposed product strategy. (Opportunity cost, because they could allocate resources to something else they deem more worthy.)
Executives do care about the customers you’re targeting, but less in terms of who they are, and more in terms of how many. In other words, market size, or more specifically, the addressable market. They also want to know how much of it can be captured — in other words, market share. They’re doing the math of multiplying those numbers against the intersection of your revenues and costs to figure out the potential ROI.
For them to believe in your proposed ROI, they’re going to be interested in metrics. How will you know you’re being successful? What milestones will you need to hit? You need to figure out what metrics have line of sight to revenue and profit.
Ash makes a great point about traction: “If you have good traction, you can almost always convince the right investor to write you a check.” True for your product too. If you can demonstrate traction, you’re more likely to get buy-in from your execs, and that means knowing how you’re defining and measuring success.
Finally, executives are often concerned about brand defensibility and differentiation. Especially in the case where the company has made heavy investments in its brand, execs will be evaluating whether your proposed solution will have a beneficial or detrimental impact on brand value.
One last point to make here. In the case where you’ve got a non-revenue “product”, the cost/benefit evaluation is different. A capital investment ask is pretty much a non-starter here. So make sure your product has Opportunity/Company Fit, and provides some clear tangible business value.Tying it to a prioritized and funded corporate strategy or initiative is a good play. Your ROI pitch is all about how your product will benefit that corporate initiative.
Each of the boxes in the Product Canvas represents a risk or objection you must overcome towards building a successful product strategy. The true job of a product innovator then is to systematically de-risk their product strategy over time. To quote Ash one last time, “It helps to appreciate the different world views other people carry with them, and frame your story accordingly.”
1“The Different Worldviews of a Startup”, Ash Maurya, Spark59