A New Feature’s Commercial Plan: Steps 3 – 5

Knowing the customer and how they see the feature will shape my message.

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In this series I discuss feature launch announcements. In the first post I covered the feature-owner interview and introduced the Big Picture Framework (“the framework”). In the second post I stepped through the framework’s first, critical elements and how they guide the interview. In this post I talk about how to pull all-important value proposition out of the interview.

Once more, here’s our friend the framework:

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

In the last post we walked through the Business Objective and Strategy zones. In this post we tackle the next zone, Value Proposition.

As before, I’ll illustrate with the example I described in an earlier post. Check it out before reading on.

Step 3: Segment Customers

The "Value Proposition" zone of the Big Picture Framework.
The “Value Proposition” zone of the Big Picture Framework.

At this point in the feature-owner interview I understand the feature’s business motivations and how we want the feature to affect our customers. Now I want to understand the customer and how they see the feature. This information shapes the specifics of my message.

Segmenting customers means collecting them into groups. The customers in a group share some attribute, perhaps:

  • a demographic
  • a usage pattern
  • a goal in using the product

Useful Segments also:

  • drive ample real or potential revenue
  • may benefit from the new feature

Many companies have pre-defined customer Segments. In this case I can discuss these known customer groups in my interview. However, it’s okay if no customer Segments have been defined yet. The interview helps me create them.

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

Who would use this feature?

I want to understand what users my feature owner had in mind while building the feature. Of course, to keep the question open, I follow-up with:

Why?

to catch any hidden feature benefits. Should my feature owner need help to get started, I can offer more concrete questions like:

  1. What do this feature’s users have in common?
  2. Would customer group X use this feature? (Where X is a predefined company Segment.)

If the product owner needs more help, I offer different user variables to consider. I can pick any variable I think is relevant to our business, our product, or our user-base. For example, I can ask:

  1. Would users in location X use this feature? (Where X is a geography where some customers live.)
  2. Would tier X users use this feature? (Where X is a payment level or package size some customers bought from us.)
  3. Would users who want X use this feature? (Where X is a benefit our product offers our users.)
  4. Would users who do X also use this feature? (Where X is product- or purchase-related activity done by some users.)

And so on. The answers I get tell me how I must define my user groups when I think about who should receive my message. My user groups may align with my company’s known customer Segments, or they may be different.

Who would use this feature?

In the example case, let’s say the answers I got were:

  • Product Manager: “Anyone who needs to support RSS feeds on their website.”
  • VP of Client Services: “We find that most of our XML file upload requests today come from customers in the e-commerce vertical. And they tend to be large businesses that are very valuable to us as customers.”

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

  • The feature provides the benefit of helping businesses support RSS feeds on their websites.
    • If we think ahead in the framework, the Product Manager has provided a big clue about the Position.
  • I might segment customers and prospects by these variables:
    • Vertical
    • Business size
    • Revenue

When I think about what the VP of Client Services has said, I realize I must ask more questions to understand our Segments:

  • What other business verticals are our customers a part of? Could this feature  impact them as well?
  • What other size businesses do our customers represent? Does the feature only impact large businesses?
  • What are our different customer spend levels? Does this feature apply beyond the big spenders?

As the interview continues, more new questions arise. In the last example, only one new question came up. In this example I had three new questions. Once I’ve discovered the customer Segments whom the feature might impact, I can pick a Target segment.

Step 4: Target the Right Ones

Framework Value Prop - Target
The “Value Proposition” zone of the Big Picture Framework

The Target is just the customer Segment on which the marketing effort focuses. I may end up with one or several Targets. Each Target may need its own Position and marketing mix. I may finalize my Targets(s) after the feature-owner interview, and I want to learn enough from my feature owner to make well-informed decisions later on. My next big question is:

Who must know about this feature?

We may review the Segments to highlight the most important ones. As before, I follow-up with:

Why?

If my feature owner has trouble identifying a Target, I offer selection criteria questions. For example I may follow-up with:

  1. Which Segment has the most prospects (or clients)?
  2. Which Segment displays the most growth potential?
  3. Which Segment represents the greatest revenue value?
  4. Which Segment is the most stable vis-à-vis needs and goals with our product?
  5. For which Segment would this new feature improve our standing vs. our competitors?

The answers I get tell me which user groups should receive my message. I may have only one user group, or several, make up my audience. Different motivations may give me different Target user groups. The reasons we want to target a given user group influence my message’s content.

Who must know about this feature?

In the example case, let’s say the answers I got were:

  • Product Manager: “Mid-size and enterprise customers who have RSS feeds on their websites.”
  • VP of Client Services: “I agree. Also, of those customers, the ones who pay us the least should absolutely know about this feature. They cost us more in support than their revenue justifies. Also, large e-commerce prospects may find this feature attractive.”

When I think about the above answers, along with what the conversation has taught me thus far, I know more about my feature announcement’s audience:

  • My feature messages have three Targets, and each Target has its own value.
  • Target 1: Low-revenue mid/enterprise customers with RSS feeds.
    • Motivation: Based on my feature owners’ accounts, these customers have needed Client Services support for XML files, but they’ve paid us less-than-impressive amounts. Reducing these customers’ Client Services burden will help decrease support costs.
  • Target 2: Enterprise e-commerce prospects.
    • Motivation: The feature means we support RSS feeds, which enterprise e-commerce businesses have cared about. Putting this information into Sales’ hands and perhaps in the public space could attract prospects’ attention or help close deals.
  • Target 3: High-revenue e-commerce enterprise customers.
    • Motivation: Those customers who ask Client Services for XML support should know about this new feature, of course. And the rest should know, too. Perhaps these businesses support RSS feeds differently, and they may want to try our new XML upload feature. With success, our product becomes stickier, which fosters retention.

As I said before, I may see the Targets’ nuances and motivations clearly only after the feature-owner interview. However, I’ve learned enough to develop a rough sense. Now I’ve discovered my messages’ Target(s), I can figure out the Position.

Step 5: Position the Feature

Framework Value Prop - Position
The “Value Proposition” zone of the Big Picture Framework.

The Position shows my Target the new feature’s value. To succeed, the Position must be compelling, defensible, and sustainable. The Target must care about the benefit, and I must back the benefit with evidence. Also, the benefit must stay relevant for the foreseeable future. So my next big question is:

Why would a Target customer want to use this feature?

If the feature’s core benefit has yet to become clear during the conversation, this question illuminates it. Since I have a sense of my Target, I name the Target, for instance:

Why would a small travel agency on the East Coast want to use this feature?

Where my Target is small East Coast travel agencies. When my feature owner cites a benefit, I follow-up with benefit validation questions:

  1. Why is this benefit important for the customer?
  2. How do we prove the benefit?
  3. Are there any changes on the horizon which would have the customer find this benefit irrelevant or unappealing?

If I have multiple Targets, I repeat the big question and the follow-up questions for each Target. The answers I get tell me the benefit(s) the feature gives the Target. They also tell me how I can prove said benefit, and they confirm this benefit’s longevity. The benefit can influence my messages’ content more than any element so far discovered.

Why would a Target customer want to use this feature?

In the example case, let’s say the answers I got were:

  • Target 1: Low-revenue mid/enterprise customers with RSS feeds.
    • Product Manager: “Because this feature will let the customer run multiple RSS feeds at once in our platform, which is something Client Services doesn’t support today.”
    • VP of Client Services: “Yes, it’s too demanding for us to handle multiple feeds per customer today. Also, this target would want to use this feature because uploading XML files will be faster and simpler than working with Client Services. A client will be able to upload an XML file in just a few minutes, including first-time setup. Engaging Client Services to manage XML files has historically required up to three phone calls and at least two weeks of set-up time.”
  • Target 2: Enterprise e-commerce prospects.
    • Product Manager: “Because self-service XML upload lets our product support multiple RSS feeds. I think that might put us ahead of some of our competitors.”
    • VP of Client Services: “Because this feature can shorten on-boarding time for clients with RSS feeds.”
  • Target 3: High-revenue e-commerce enterprise customers.
    • VP of Client Services: “Because the feature reduces the client’s RSS feed overhead. It may help customers who wanted to support RSS feeds but ran into operational or cost barriers revisit the idea.”

When I think about the above answers, along with what the conversation has taught me thus far, I know more about my feature announcement’s content:

  •  Target 1: Low-revenue mid/enterprise customers with RSS feeds.
    • This feature helps a customer support multiple RSS feeds. I must find out the business advantages multiple RSS feeds could offer this Target.
    • This feature saves the client time, energy, and therefore money in RSS feed set-up and support. Client Services may be able to give me before-and-after data to support this claim.
  • Target 2: Enterprise e-commerce prospects.
    • This feature helps a customer support multiple RSS feeds.
      • I must find out the business advantages multiple RSS feeds could offer this Target.
      • I must also verify whether our competitors have this ability. This feature could become a differentiation point.
  • Target 3: High-revenue e-commerce enterprise customers.
    • This feature enables RSS feeds where they may not have been before.
      • I must research this Target to find customers who tried and abandoned RSS feeds. I might sub-divide this Target into those who’ve tried and those who’ve yet to try RSS feeds!
      • I must also find out the business advantages a new RSS feed could offer this Target.

At this point I’ve explored the three value proposition elements with my feature owner. This helped me clarify my messages’ audiences. It has also taught me what those messages must convey to succeed.

At Last: Tie It All Together

green-bow-21As we covered in the last post, the feature owner interview reveals the feature’s business and customer sides. Now it’s also given me the tactics to craft the right messages for the right audiences and maximize the feature’s impact. In the next post I’ll close the series with what the feature-owner interview produces: the promotional plan.

We earned this reward with our great interview sleuthing work, so come back to see it all fall into place!

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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