6 steps to a clear, unifying product strategy
This piece is an excerpt from “The Product Strategy Playbook.”
Ask each member of your product team what they could work on next and you’ll probably get a wide range of answers. Talk to sales, customer success, marketing, and the wider business about what your team should build and you’ll hear even more suggestions.
Finding things for product teams to do is never the problem. You’ll always have ideas for new features, performance upgrades, and experience enhancements, not to mention that technical debt you know you need to keep paying off.
The real question for product leaders is which of the many ideas, requests, and suggestions to focus on. The answer should always be found in a clear product strategy that your product team and the entire business can rally around. Here are six steps to get started.
1. Define your product vision
Why does your product exist? Think about how it contributes to the overall company mission and what it needs to become in order to achieve your business goals. You should have an ambitious but attainable vision of what the product will be by a specific time in the future, with a particular focus on how it helps customers.
Your product vision must be short and simple enough for everyone on your team to understand, repeat, and share. It should also be backed by data that supports your vision and demonstrates that you have a market opportunity worth pursuing.
2. Identify your target market
Who is your product for? You might have an aspiration that your product will be used one day by everybody, but before you get there, you need to find your first group of customers and expand from there.
Once you have a vision for how your product helps customers, you need to specify that audience. If your product is for individuals, figure out which income levels, occupations, or personality types you’re targeting. For B2B companies, you may want to focus on certain industries, geographies, or company sizes.
Begin your product strategy by identifying a narrow customer segment you intend to target, along with 1-3 specific needs your product will address for that segment. That will allow you to stay focused in product development and prioritize building specific features that both target needs and drive revenue. With Productboard’s Salesforce integration and dynamic customer segmentation, product teams can import customer and prospect data from Salesforce or another CRM, saying goodbye to manual segmentation efforts.
Shawna Wolverton, Zendesk’s EVP of Product explains that Productboard’s segmentation “Gives us clarity on where our sweet spots are for product fit and guides product strategy. Using these segments, we can prioritize features and build the right products that accurately reflect those specific customers’ needs.”
3. Decide what problems you’re solving
What are the main needs of your target audience? You’ll need to talk to them and understand the problems they face, why they’re important, their expectations of any solution, and where existing solutions fall short. It can help to divide product needs into three buckets:
- Performance – the more performance needs you can meet, the better.
- Must-haves – these are “table stakes” or “cost of entry” — boxes that must be checked for customers to be satisfied with your product.
- Delighters – provide unexpected benefits that exceed expectations
You should think about all three buckets when selecting which needs your product will address first. You want to come up with a product that is so much better than existing alternatives that people will want to switch to you.
4. Pinpoint your competitive differentiators
How does your product stand out? Unless you’re creating a completely new market, your target customers may already be using other products. Your solution will not only need to be on a par with those offered by competitors but also provide something new and delightful that will persuade people to switch services.
Examples of competitive differentiators include:
- Ease of use
Once you’ve written down your competitive differentiators, discuss your findings with your team. Putting this on paper will help make sure everyone understands why your product is better and teach them how to communicate benefits to customers and stakeholders.
5. Develop your high-level strategic roadmap
Which are your main areas of focus? Your strategic roadmap should consist of a set of clear objectives and key results. These are informed by your target customer segments and prioritized according to customer impact.
Strategic product goals should be set by product leadership and listed as part of the product strategy. Each goal should be sufficiently ambitious that they provide multiple avenues for success without dictating direction (that decision should be left to the product team).
As you come up with new strategic objectives, note them in your strategy document along with the key results you’ll use to measure success over a specified time period.
6. Outline your go-to-market approach
The final section of your product strategy document should provide an overview of how you’ll bring your product to your chosen market. For example, you could start by targeting a small segment of customers who have the most experience with the problem then expand to others later. Or you could aim for a larger audience with a free solution to a smaller problem then monetize later with premium features.
Why list your go-to-market approach in your product strategy? Speed is crucial for the survival of a new product and you can’t afford to waste time arguing about priorities. A clear outline for how you’ll distribute your product will help you achieve organizational alignment on what you’ll build next.