A New Feature’s Commercial Plan: Steps 1 and 2

Understanding the business goal helps me figure out the core value of the feature I need to highlight.

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(7m reading time)

In the first post in this series I talked about the under-appreciated power of good feature launch announcements. I also put money on an interview with the upcoming feature’s owner as the best place to get information for those announcements. Finally, I touched upon the Big Picture Framework for constructing a go-to-market strategy. In this post we dive into how the Big Picture Framework drives a killer feature-owner interview.

For reference, here’s the Big Picture Framework (from now on just “the framework”) in all its glory:

FrameworkOverview
The Big Picture Framework, courtesy of The Big Picture Partners.

How does the framework guide me through a fast and effective feature-owner interview?

Work the Framework

We move through the framework from left to right, starting in the “Business Objectives” zone and ending in the “Integration” zone. The business objectives illuminate the right marketing strategy. The marketing strategy dictates the components of the value proposition. The value proposition guides the execution components–the marketing mix, often called “the four Ps.” We then put the marketing mix to work, and we evaluate its success.

I’ll illustrate how the framework guides a feature-owner interview with the help of an example case. Let’s assume the following “real” (those are scare quotes, folks) scenario, which I’ll highlight in lavender throughout the rest of this post:

  1. I’m a product marketer working with an enterprise software product.
  2. I need to figure out the commercial plan for a new feature.
  3. The product team has scheduled the new feature for release in the next quarter.
  4. The new feature is the product can accept a new file type (XML) via upload.
  5. I’ve wrangled a meeting with the feature’s owner.
  6. I’ve discovered the feature has two owners:
    • The product manager who managed building the feature, and
    • The VP of Client Services, who acted as the feature’s executive sponsor.
  7. I’ve got my trusty Cornell Notes-ruled paper by my side.

Bored yet? I promise these details are helpful. It’s worth reading the lavender parts. Really. Still with me? Great. And we’re away!

Step 1: Start the Interview with Business Objectives

Framework Business
The “Business Objective” zone of the Big Picture Framework.

I sit down with my feature owner. (Remember, face-to-face > phone > email. Only terrible interviews happen via email.) We talk about the new feature. I ask my first question:

Why did we build this feature?

If I can only ask my feature owner one question, this is it. It’s the first question to ask about any new feature, even if the answer seems obvious. Why? Because the answer to this question points to the business goals motivating the feature. I must understand the core business purpose of the feature before I can promote it correctly.

My feature owner may tell me we built this new feature to …

  • help us keep up with the competition,
  • respond to an important client’s request,
  • break into a new market,
  • lay the groundwork for future technical improvements,
  • who-knows-what.

Sometimes people need help to get started, however. If my feature owner has trouble giving a clear answer to the big question, I follow with more concrete questions:

  1. Is this feature meant to help drive profits for our company?
  2. Is it meant to drive revenues?
  3. Is it meant to drive market share?
  4. Is it meant to drive greater usage of the product?

If the feature owner needs more help, I dig to fundamentals:

  1. Will this feature drive efficiency for one or several of our teams (in terms of time, effort, or frustration savings)? Which ones and why?
  2. Will this feature help us close more sales? With which prospects?
  3. Will this feature change the way users interact with the product? How? Why do we want this change?

The answers I receive give me a crucial starting point from which to conduct the rest of the interview. Some questions down-the-line become irrelevant, while others become critical.

Why did we build this feature?

In the example case, let’s say I got these answers from my feature owners:

  1. Product Manager: “We built this feature so clients could do XML file uploads themselves.”
  2. VP of Client Services: “We built this feature to save time and energy for our Client Services team. It will reduce costs and therefore drive our profits.”

The answers above turn into the following valuable instructions on how to introduce the feature:

  1. The feature impacts those customers who need XML file uploads, either now or in the future. Therefore, my message must reach customers who need XML file uploads, or who might need them in the future.
    • If we think ahead in the framework, the Product Manager has provided two big clues. They’ve pointed to possible customer Segments for this feature as well as which one I might Target for my announcement.
  2. The feature introduces a new action customers can choose to do themselves. Therefore, I must encourage them to use it in lieu of contacting our Client Services team.
    • If we think ahead in the framework, the VP of Client Services has provided a big clue about the Promotion.

I want to understand the feature’s business goal so I can verify my launch announcement supports it.

Step 2: Move on to Strategy

Framework Strategy - Marketing
The “Strategy” zone of the Big Picture Framework.

Once I feel clear about the business goal of the feature, I can drive the conversation forward. Next I ask questions about how we want this feature to connect with the customer-base, both current and prospective.

Marketers want to do three big activities with customers:

  1. Acquire: Get more customers.
  2. Retain: Keep the customers we have.
  3. Develop: Improve our existing customers (as in how profitable they are to us).

So the next big question I ask my feature owner is:

Does this feature help customer acquisition, retention, or development?

I’m sure sometimes a feature can do all three. In this case, I’d find out the primary area of value.

Interviews thrive on open-ended questions. To keep question #2 “open,” I follow-up with:

Why?

The answers to these questions clarify the customer side of the feature. They point to which group(s) of customers we want the feature to affect, and how. I must understand the feature’s audience and how we want it to change their behavior before I can promote it correctly.

Does this feature help customer acquisition, retention, or development?

In the example case, let’s say I got this answer:

  • VP of Client Services: “Providing our customers a do-it-yourself XML upload option empowers them to use more file formats and not wait on our Client Services team. This may increase client satisfaction and thereby drive Retention.”

This becomes more instructions about how I must introduce the feature:

  • The XML file format upload presents a possible benefit of being faster than working with Client Services.
    • If we think ahead in the framework, the VP of Client Services has provided a big clue about the Position.
  • As our primary goal is Retention, messaging must focus on existing customers.
    • If we think ahead in the framework, the VP of Client Services has reinforced a previous clue about the Target.

I think about this answer for a moment, and I realize a new clue. I want to find out why customers bother to “wait on the Client Services team” for this file type to begin with. A new question arises:

How does XML file format impact the value our customers get from our product?

My feature owner’s response triggered an unplanned question. This is why it’s important to approach the interview ready to listen and think. My willingness to dig beyond predefined questions may help me discover this feature’s consequences. Perhaps it creates access to other features or unlocks an important new use case for the product. As we discussed before, the feature owner interview is, above all, an investigation.

Dig Deeper When the Feature Owner Says “Acquisition”

Sometimes the feature owner will say the feature fosters customer acquisition. In this case I use a few important follow-up questions. Since customer acquisition centers on sales, we have to look at the sales process:

Sales Funnel
An example of the Sales Funnel.

I need to ask:

Which part of the sales process is the biggest area of opportunity for the new feature?

Do we want to drive:

  • Awareness? (recognizing we offer this feature)
  • Interest? (stirring fascination with the benefit offered by the feature)
  • Trial? (trying out the feature)
  • Purchase? (buying or activating the feature)

Understanding where in the sales process the feature can have the most impact influences the Position and every bubble downstream in the framework. For example, it’s easy to see how this affects which channels I use for messaging. To drive awareness I need to put my feature messaging out in the public space. To drive purchase I need to put messaging either in the hands of the sales team or on the self-service check-out page.

The feature owner may say the feature influences all parts of the sales process. In this case I’d I work with them to prioritize the sales funnel’s parts. A feature will have the biggest impact in one part, or one part will stand out as most in need of help.

Framework Strategy - Volume
The “Strategy” zone of the Big Picture Framework.

Another important angle from which to look at customer acquisition is Source of Volume.

Since customer acquisition is about new customers, I need to ask:

Where will these new customers come from?

Will we:

  • Steal share? (from the competition)
  • Increase category demand? (target a new market, get existing customers to buy more or more often)

The answers to these questions also affect the Position and its downstream bubbles. For example, it’s easy to see how they impact what I say in the message. If we want to steal share, I must compare our feature to our competitors’ offerings. If we want to increase category demand, I must focus more on the problem the feature solves.

Understanding the business goal helps me figure out the core value of the feature I need to highlight. Understanding the marketing goal helps me figure out what customer action I want to encourage with my message.

Next Up: Tease out Value Proposition

At this point in the interview I understand the business side and the customer side of the feature. Now it’s time to move from strategy to tactics. In the next post in the series we’ll cover how the feature owner interview builds concrete marketing tools. These tools help us to put the right message in the right place with the right impact. Tune in next time to see the rubber meet the road!

Author: melissadoesproduct

I help technology tell stories and businesses build products that matter. I’m a software product marketer in Orange County, California.

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