A guide to product strategy

For many of your customers, your product will come to define your brand.

It’s no use having a beautiful website with stunning UX, a clever slogan, or a gorgeous logo if your products fail to make an impression on your target audience. You have the technical proficiency, the team, the resources, and the spark of creative inspiration. Everything you need to make a great product. But how can you be sure that this product will resonate with your customer base?

Our product strategy and product roadmap pro forma can help you to cover all the bases necessary to create a winning product. The kind of product upon which you can build a strong brand.

Inspiration can be the magic ingredient that leads to the development of an exceptional product. But inspiration is a capricious business partner, and you can’t rely on it to guide your hand through every step of a product’s development.

Our guide aims to assist new businesses to formalise the development of new products and help to ensure that they remain fit for purpose.

The customer problem

Your product is a great showcase for your knowledge, expertise and creative flair. But in order for your product to be helpful, useful and relevant to your customers, it needs to be built around their needs.

Take a look at your customer personas:

  • Address specific pain points that they’ll encounter in their personal and / or professional lives
  • Why isn’t this need adequately met by your competitors’ products?

Carrying out competitor analysis can help you to identify areas in which your competitors’ products succeed, and ways in which they fall short. This will help you to identify opportunities for your product to meet the unmet needs of your customers.

Actively solicit the opinions of customers and prospects

Gut instinct can be a useful guide, but make sure that your instinctive choices are justified with data mined from your existing customers and prospects. You may be able to lean on your customer personas for the broad strokes. But more granular data from your customers and prospects can form a much stronger foundation for a reliable product.

Don’t be afraid to actively solicit customer or prospect feedback. Exit surveys, lead capture forms and other forms of qualitative data can provide a clearer idea of what your customers want and need.

Having trouble getting prospects to volunteer data or fill out surveys? 

Try using a lead magnet. This can have the added advantage of increasing your value proposition in the eyes of the customer by giving them something useful in exchange for the data they provide.

High-level product vision

Now that you’ve identified a quantifiable customer need, it’s time to get conceptual.

Work with your executive team to establish a high-level vision for your product. You don’t need to get into the specifics or the technical aspects of product development just yet. It’s all about what you want your product to represent to both your customers and the overall market.

👉How do you want your product to make your customer feel?

👉Under what circumstances do you want them to be able to rely on your product?

👉In what way will your product differentiate itself from others like it?

👉How does it provide them something that similar products do not?

👉How will this vision be communicated in your marketing efforts? How will it influence your sales team’s pitch?

A strong high-level product vision is at the core of every other step of the development process. As well as helping to define your strategy for the product, it will also make it easier to communicate about your product with your team. It will enable them to share in your passion and enthusiasm, and feed into the development of the product’s features and specifications.

Product goals

Having established a high-level vision for your product, it’s time to get a little more granular. Now, it’s time to think about some specific goals for your product to achieve. These will form the framework upon which you will judge the product’s success.

Try not to think in broad conceptual terms. “Delight our customer” for instance, while a worthy goal, is not specific, tangible, or quantifiable enough to be of use here. That said, try to think outside of selling X amount of units by Y date.

SMART goals may be something of a business cliche, but they’re worth keeping in mind when deciding upon product goals. That is to say that they should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-based

Tangible objectives with trackable metrics are much more likely to inform your ongoing strategy for the product and ensure that it continues to meet your customers’ needs.

For each product goal, you should have a series of milestones and Key Performance Indicators. These will ensure that your product is on the way to achieving its goals, and help you to devise a strategy to right the ship when it is not on track.

Example product goals

Common product goals could  include:

  • Improve user retention by the end of Q4
  • Implement a referral scheme to increase customer base by 25% within 6 months
  • Reduce churn rate by 30% within 6 months
  • Increase customer satisfaction by reducing complaint instances by 40% within a year

There are no right or wrong answers here. As long as your goals are specific, measurable, time-based and aligned with your broader product vision, they’re worth including. Keep in mind, however, that your goals may change over time.

Product features

Your product features will define your product in the eyes of many customers. Just don’t make the mistake of assuming that packing your product with features will make it inherently better.

In fact, a product that is bloated with features that are not directly relevant to the user and their goals can actually lack in value. Especially when providing those features comes at a cost that will need to be folded into the retail price.

Product themes are useful to keep in mind here. These are features (or groups of features) that are specifically connected to the product’s goals. Thinking in terms of product themes will ensure that features facilitate, rather than distract from your product goals and your high-level vision for your product.

How will your features help to differentiate the product from others like it in their shared market? In what way will they deliver greater value to the customer or meet their needs more efficiently? Aligning your product features with the customer’s needs can ensure that they add value rather than potentially causing frustrations or teething problems.

Product roadmaps

Developing a product is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires an overarching strategy that trickles down from the executive level to the manufacturing / engineering level to the sales and marketing level.

The vision and direction for the product need to be mapped out in order to track changing goals and milestones over time. This is why many businesses will develop a product roadmap when developing a new product. In fact, they may well develop several roadmaps to guide the product through different stages of its lifecycle from initial conception to development right the way through to marketing and sales.

Putting product roadmaps together can be tricky and time-consuming. However, they’re also integral in ensuring that your product themes are realised, and specific product goals are met.

A product roadmap has several goals, including:

  • Describing the overall vision and strategy for the product at every level of the business
  • Serving as a reference document to guide executive strategy
  • Helping to ensure that all internal stakeholders are aligned in their vision for the product
  • Providing a framework for scenario planning
  • Helping to communicate the product’s virtues to customers and other external stakeholders (e.g. outside investors)
  • Supporting outcome-driven planning and ensuring that product themes are consistent

Your product roadmap should communicate your strategic vision for your product and tie into your greater business strategy. It is used to ensure that your whole team is working towards the same common goals (albeit at different levels of production).

The creation of a product roadmap is a collaborative affair, yet each department and individual employee plays a role in guiding the product down the roadmap. As time goes by and your product matures, your roadmap will inevitably become more complicated.

However, here we’ll look at what you’ll need to create a roadmap that guides a product through its initial inception.

Executive / investor roadmap

Each roadmap has a slightly different emphasis and facilitates a slightly different set of functions. Let’s start at the executive level roadmap.

At this level, the roadmap is much more conceptual. Its function is to ensure that all relevant parties are sold on the high-level product vision, and to maintain enthusiasm and support for the product as it advances through its development. It will need to use storytelling techniques to communicate proposed customer journeys and tie them into product themes.

This part of the roadmap should focus on overarching strategic concepts like:

  • Achieving a desired position in the market
  • Market penetration
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Driving growth

Similar roadmaps may also be used to secure support for board members and / or outside investors.

Engineering / manufacturing roadmap

Internal roadmaps for engineering teams and outsourced manufacturers will have a different emphasis. These are focused more on product features, goals / sprints and milestones.

When compared to executive-level roadmaps, they are likely to be much more granular, although they should be built from the product themes upwards. This will ensure that features, capabilities and user experiences are aligned with the broader product goals and vision.

Because the devil is in the details, these roadmaps will need to be much more specific, dealing in iterations and timeframes rather than vision.

Nonetheless, it’s still important to be able to trace goals and milestones back to the overarching high-level vision for the product so that development teams understand the “why” as well as the “how”.

Sales / marketing roadmap

Sales and marketing teams will have their own roadmaps. These will be focused on aligning the goals of the sales team with the goals of the customer.

After all, sales teams will want to be able to sell as many units as possible, without having to translate the product’s various features into tangible benefits for the customer. As such, the focus here should be on communicating the product’s benefits to the customer. It should go back to where we started— the customer’s problems and pain points.

This will lend a focus to marketing teams, and should lead into more granular marketing goals such as generating ideas for ad copy, carrying out test marketing, and utilising A/B testing to ensure that paid marketing campaigns are optimised.

It’s also important to focus on how the product will make the lives of sales teams easier, and outline the ways in which the product will “sell itself” once the benefits have been successfully communicated to the customer.

In their zeal, sales teams may sometimes share internal roadmaps with customers. However, this should be strongly discouraged. If reps need additional documentation to keep a lead warm, generate enthusiasm for the product, or close a deal, it may be worth generating customer-facing roadmaps. These can be much more visually appealing and light on specifics than their internal counterparts, serving as a quick-reference guide for prospects and customers.

Checking in

Follow the steps above and you’ll have all the infrastructure you need to bring a great product to market. You’ll have a compelling high-level vision that can be easily communicated to teams within your business at any level. You’ll have a set of tangible goals for your product that are directly tied to your product vision. They’re tangible, quantifiable, and you have a series of milestones and KPIs to help you track your progress.

All of this has been distilled into a clear product roadmap that ensures that all within your organisation understand their own personal and departmental contribution to your product’s goals.

However, even the strongest plans can be derailed by unpredictable market forces, the emergence of new technologies, or the behaviours of direct competitors. As such, you’ll need to check in with your team periodically to ensure that your product is on track to achieve its goals. Or whether the goalposts need to be shifted. Or even obliterated entirely and replaced with new, more relevant goalposts.

It’s up to you how often you check in, and who will be involved in the process. However, it’s important that your strategy is fluid and agile, taking into account the impact of competitors, availability / scarcity of resources, and the broader economy on your strategy.

For instance, in times of economic recession, you may want to pivot and adjust your strategy to make your product more affordable and accessible if your target faces a reduced propensity to consume.

For more guides, see our guide to proof of concept.

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