We were recently with the cross-functional team of a leading industrial manufacturer working on the go-to-market strategy for one of their new products. As we watched the team create their offering value proposition, we realized the extent to which the product features were driving the discussion, rather than the customer needs. Reflecting on this later, we identified what drives this all-too-common tendency. They were developing a value proposition for a product that was ready to be launched after several years and millions of dollars of NPI investments. At this stage in the product launch, they were not starting with customer needs. They were starting with what the product could do and working backwards to find customer needs that would match those abilities.
Unfortunately we see this all time — thinking about customer value after the product is readied. It has many effects:
- The product is already “baked,” and changing product features at that stage is extremely hard, if not impossible, even if the product does not quite match the current needs of customers.
- Many products may have been conceptualized to solve a customer issue or to meet a customer need. By the time the product is ready, that issue or need may have evolved. Trying to write a value proposition at this stage is like trying to prove that a hammer is the best tool to manipulate a screw.
- Once the product is ready, the pressure is on to sell as much of it as quickly as possible to recover the NPI investments. The inclination, therefore, is to write a value proposition with the broadest appeal. This often leads to highly diluted value propositions that try to appeal to every customer rather than a crisply defined value proposition targeted at a specific target segment of the market.
Alternatively, thinking about customer value earlier in the process can make a substantial difference. A major software company with a poor new product success rate realized that it was building products that engineers wanted to build, but not necessarily ones that customers wanted to buy. It decided that a critical change required was to define its customer value proposition before the product specifications were frozen. It put in place a process that required a market-validated customer value proposition as an essential item for approval of product specifications and release of engineering resources to go build the product. Other check-points were built into the process to ensure that the value proposition was still addressing relevant customer needs and that the feature capabilities being built were truly unique. By the time a product was ready; the value proposition was not only well-defined but had also been tested and readied for commercial activation.
Customer value should be a driving force for a product’s go-to-market strategy and not an after-thought once the product is built. Making a change in when you insert the customer value discussion may just be the thing you need to get products successfully to market.