Your MVP: In there a Question in there?

Throughout our educational lives from grade school through university we test to prove we have mastered a topic. Inicon_profile engineering school we even back test our hypothesis to prove them accurate predictors of future trends. Given this it is understandable that testing for failure is tough to learn.

The images of success are the first electric lightbulb providing a steady warm glow or the voice over the telephone “Watson, can you hear me?” Today we strive for those 3.5 or better stars in our app rating still focused on getting a pass to the next stage of the lean framework. Looking to move past questions or concerns not embrace them.

Working with product teams it is culturally challenging to learn the balance of getting it right and learning the failure points. We have all had the interview questions “what are your strengths” “what are your weaknesses” my challenge is how we answer those same questions for our work output as product managers. What are the areas of concern? Collect issues from your test like a roadmap in the future, “Release ready” is a choice not a grade, it is your choice. Form great questions ahead of time for all your experiments, wait for feedback and clarify what you see what you hear. Clear communication is your responsibility.

A well designed test asks questions, watching the user explore the product rather than the documentation. Finding the tricks as someone would in a video game is not what a test is interested in as much as where they go in the search. Create tests that test single performance items, causality can obscure results. Create questions and think If so, so what? It is a potential trap for product professionals as we are problem solvers, we want to jump in and fix. It is painful to watch our work struggle.

Some may say, I enjoy asking questions to much but for me the process of discovery trumps the answer and if I have an idea in my head I am eager to be wrong. This is the difference between a learner and a know it all. Learning is about the answer you get, not telling the correct answer or having proof your idea is the correct one. Getting another to agree with you is not a test, getting your prospect to learn how to use your product through painful steps is not success, learning how their intuition works with your product is the test.

I like to tell the story of the US and USSR rocket programs, in the US the modeling and test work was mostly done through simulation and micro test. IN the USSR they built it and blew it up, then built it again and pushed it to complete failure. The result, the USSR rocket engines are still the core of space launch as a result of their robust performance, the US engines are a risk and have a documented launch failure history under heavy loads. The message is don’t be afraid of blowing it up once in a while but always learn making incremental changes.

Strive to walk away from tests with new data, with new insights, not a pass go card. This is not easy trust me, focus groups and early trail customers want you to succeed. Frankly they are more often giving people or they would not be trailing your MVP, investing their time also. The platitudes are great to hear but should be taken with the mindset that I learned from my first sale course, “Customers lie three times”. This is not a negative, it is more positive about people’s good intentions and your need to learn weakness of your offering.

Test to failure and that means at times finding the failure that is unspoken.

Drills not holes; buying tools over results, means over ends.

I challenge the marketing adage by Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.” We buy so much more and if you drill down, pun intended, you can expand to buying a shelf or desk or place to study………You may argue latter that in all these examples consumers are buying the end product, I counter and say more today in our fast moving world we are buying the means to that ends.

So we can finally put that to rest in the grave yard of old advertising adages that no longer have merit. Besides in today’s world if I really just wanted a hole I would borrow a drill from the UBER drill lending site. I suggest what you really want to do is build!

First case is how often do you hear investors say it is all about the team. When you build a great team they can pivot and change with the market. What investors are really buying is a team that will find a way to return 10x on their money in short time. If their needs were less than they would buy other more secure investments. Investors are buying a risk return profile they can embrace or work with. Some buy friends or people, but in the end results count on that investors return.

Second case is in B2B sales where you buy tools for process and that process changes. If you buy SharePoint what are you buying? A process tool or a process? The application by its’ self is mostly useless out of the box. If you are selling collaboration software it is useless without people sharing ideas and content. Your team already collaborates and may document tat collaboration but what you are really buying is a tool that sustains that process for a given time. Tools are what you buy, what you do with those tools is amazing and hopefully always changing.

Third is consulting, you buy an end vision, an issue solved. That consulting approach of experience to teach. Here the feature function of the drill is the most important. I get hired to get Product Mangers and Innovation culture working. I know full well that the minute I leave entropy takes over and it is rare that the pending system dysfunction is not blamed on me. But at time I do get that second call to prop up the culture and those are great days. Great not for the repeat business but great in that they understand the solution is morphing as the company situation and staff evolve.

Lastly is building innovation, culture is amorphous and will add value to your offering over and over. Tools, people and advisers are drills to the companies that understand adding value over a long period of time in as many ways as possible is the core expertise required in today’s market. And customers will pay a premium for that commitment to the market and them.

Inbound Tele-sales/Appt. Setting

Pet peeve # 451 – Yes the numbering here is not random this burns me but more so burns companies in the B2B market. We get calls all the time for services and I often take as many as I can to learn how they are approaching me. BTW, We have three different businesses, a Consultancy, a Software SaaS company that was enterprise two years ago and an Analyst firm.

All three get calls from B2B services firms and for the most part the cold callers have not even used a search engine to look up the company. This simple step would save considerable bad calls and would even lead to increased success rates.

Dialing for Dollars is as old as Alexander Bell himself, he was trying to sell Watson a phone! Call list today have greater potential than ever so if you have a defined market target or even hypotheses of how a market would respond to your product you can get great large sample feedback.

Calls are market feedback period. Who listens, how long, what questions are hang ups, which are interest inducers? If your script caller is not logging and listening to the other side you loose data! Calls per hour callers are a waste of time, annoy the market and foul the waters for the rest of us!

Tele-marketing is Inbound! You push then listen to what the prospect responds to!

Bad Innovation?

Ok are you focused on innovation or problems? Focused on the Problem is the best Strategy! Recently I am seeing innovation that is not problem focused, no evidence of design thinking or contextual interviewing. One of the essential books in business innovation is the “Innovators Dilemma” sadly though many new start-ups don’t seem to have read the book.

They are over shooting the market potential for integrating any innovation but also you can spend big cash on something that has no main street potential. Bad Innovation is a reality, a clear example is home automation, many great ideas with reach beyond current environmental but also beyond what folks anywhere in the bell curve would want.

We can use software to read any sensor data but do we want to “live stream” the lawn sprinklers? There are things that are automated so you can forget about them and some try to automate what we want care take. Do you want to automate the great martini? Or feeding your baby? Those may be clear examples but others fall in the bell curve.

Why do player pianos also allow manual play? Baking cookies to some are an act, to others it is an art. Frankly I am on the burnt side of cookie cooking while many are on the gewy/chewy side.

Yes there is bad innovation that does not add value.

The Value of Competition

I have shared before my belief that if you have no competition you have no market. Competition makes us smarter in everything we do. We get better as we are challenged and if we are willing, as we watch others react to ideas or influences in the environment.

Environmental impacts are happening everyday with every new thought, work around or impact. Everything impacts the market from ideas to investigations to innovations in parallel markets.

Just looking at a market affects the status actually, your focus group has started water cooler conversations, your test documents or interface gets others thinking.

Competition is not always another company but an idea. A recent product I built impacted my other consulting work as the teams moved from a concept and framework to online tool that captured everything their collaboration changed.

Now ideas were captured, some slowed down on sharing, others stuffed the idea box to get noticed. Open sharing became a liability and political tool. The effects are just now beginning to soften however the cultural impact has a legacy. Introducing new ideas changes the market if only for a moment.

Your competitor could show the market a new prototype that sucks or rocks, that will affect you if you are also picking or if you are the current vendor. How are you built to respond? Are you snapping your head to change? Are you ready to fast follow?

New competitors are an opportunity to respond and deepen your conversations with your current customers. To many time I see the sales knee jerk to “they saw this and we need that!” Wrong it is time to sit again with your customer and in context uncover what they found interesting or valuable. Large companies think they can lead a market and often leave room for an agile sharp firm to innovate and create new intimacy with your market. Do not be afraid of that intimacy, embrace it! Few Do!

Interviewing Customers

We all know how to interview but how well do we know how to ingest the information. My mom is in her late 80s and when she tells me on the phone that she had a fall yesterday it is different from when she fell 5,10 or fifteen years ago. When we are five or fifteen a fall is a scraped knee. When we fall at 70 it is a recorded event, when we fall at 85 it is a flight of stairs and a potential symptom, broken hip or bad day. Interviewing for customer problem is not that different. One operations user observation is not an enterprise problem. On the other hand an executive perception may not be aware of a user work around. Context, it is all about Context! It is critical to keep your ideas out and not lead clients as we all know, recently I had a new one hit me directly. Using known clients and friends seems like a great way to reach product market fit until. So for years I have worked with boards in non-profit and for profit boards helping them build processes that allow them to be agile in their response and leadership. I focus on a derivative of the Carver methods that begin with a problem statement that describes the issue first then moves directly to an end statement allowing the team to determine the means or build a compelling case to alter the ends statement. I began to build a tool that would help them do this on line as well as keep the process in place after I left them. All went well until the experience of using the tool captured all comments in a permeate record! Wow, now thing got real! Their comments were in a compliant record and it scared them. It seems the concept and tests were fun, the real discussion on issues was not! Context extends to the real issues. So learning, testing and doing can be different. Who and what is affected? Is your MVP real to the tester or user, is there a training period to learn and perhaps long term what seems like a cycle saver has a productivity cap. We try to see everything but life always reserves the right to shock, this makes it fun!

Your Sample Value and “Bar Talk”

Professional focus group facilitators call it various terms like group think. When I was tending bar in NY putting myself through school I listened to folks in the bar pass around ideas or observations that spontaneously became facts.

How are you evaluating your UX or features? How big or diverse is you sample? Is your success with you MVP based on two very loyal early adopter friendlies?

There is a very trusted UX application vendor who I like but often tests in coffee shops based in a very technical town with an average age of 28. Not very diverse and a sample that thinks they are smarter than whomever developed the app. The result is predictable, ever first evaluation shows significant would needs to be done and guess who helps them out.

This is not planned fraud but also not a faithful review. We all have done it, just last year I had a board application I did used by three boards that already were using the governance school that I based it on. My MVP test was great but the market for the application was limited to Boards that already were faithful to a school of governance, the mass market potential was very limited.

Coffee shop or bar talk is limiting, like minded talk like minded. Courage is to stretch outside and broaden the scope of your sample. Broaden it in ways that define new personas both by demographics and technical perspective. Technically there are users of a competitive product, non-users you need to convert and technical phobic or friendly minds.

This is stuff that makes sense and we all trip up on. Testing needs to be robust, samples need to me deep and diverse. Testing both market and pressure is always the first thing deleted from the project plan when time lines compress. Just don’t do it!

Personas = Marketing or Product Management?

Based on product lifecycle, both! In the first half of a product lifecycle the Personas are similar but should be different because we use them for separate activities. After mainstream market the curves come together and the same data and customers can help with both activities.

Tell me where you stand before you tell me where you sit. This is one of my favorite phrases and helps to describe why early market product advocates/personas can be specific for Marketing or Product Management.

Think through the personality of the early adopter and innovator, they help you learn how to automate and which features are most valuable. They help you cross the chasm of adoption and finally they help you market your product through net promotion. However they are a small market segment and marketing needs to test messaging that delivers identifiable value to a larger group of people so what lifts the hearts of early adopter is not going to convert a mainstreamer.

Later in the LifeCycle of a product the lagers endorsement brings lagers. Late market personas that suggest the last features before sunset are describing the features that prove to other lagers that the product is finally mature and safe.

Buying behavior think beyond the first answer!

The statement by Levitt that people buy holes not drills is evolving, The base level concept is true but today buyers segment and often choose No. One stands in front of the produce section at a grocery and wants fruit. What kind? Apple or pear? Organic or other? Prepared or just the fruit.

Out values on how we want to live have entered into the planning stage of buying more than historically true. There are those that want stuff but even in that “Got to get Flat screen” mode the buyer is socially aware, they look to reviews on brand, they look to features and price points.

With data and choice at our fingertips like never before Product Mangers need to add buying behaviors and values to the competitive environment thinking process. Personas are move complex driving a requirement to think beyond the hole to what the hole will do.

Is the hole to be filled with a bolt or a hook? Can the user buy predrilled wood or is that a service at the hardware store. Recently I bought wood at Home Depot over others because they have a great cutting service and for small jobs the 10 mile drive is easier than pulling out the tools then cleaning up. There is also another person there to check my measurements and choice of materials.

Services like wood cutting or precut fruit are key to what logistics and broad markets can provide. I have been eating fruit lately because I can now at whole foods buy precut and small portion mixed fruit. Yes not more buying one Pineapple then cutting a storing with other fruits until I OD on the taste or it goes bad.

We are enabled to amazing levels in modern society and while some automation seems to have the potential for dumbing us down, most can free the mind. Services are the additive one plus to any product consumer or business. Businesses pick vendors who are vested in their success through services and information which may be core to the product or not.

Conversational and Instructive Marketing

Have you looked into chat ads? Currently for kids but the root could be great in B2B! Perhaps a solution to the diminishing returns on your e-mail content marketing? In content marketing what comes to mind is something a prospect once shared in a focus group. They said: I have plenty of knowledge… it’s the application of knowledge I struggle with!

How do we move from Content to conversation? And make that conversation about our product or service? In the newest sales book “The challenger sale” the thesis is making the sales process more educational? Turn your sales force into a customer resource.

How does our marketing get on board with this beyond supplying sales with information? Create a two way conversation with prospects about their industry or work that is targeted. Anticipates questions, understands requests. Imagine for a moment your auto responder responds to content? You know the push message, anticipate the question not the click.

Personalized response, Copied sales rep and turn an auto response into a three way conversation! Well two and a machine.

Recently I have reviewed a new wave of marketing automation solutions. Not much earth shattering but clearly targeting a market that is getting dollars and companies eager to be on the leading edge of whatever comes through.

Investors are reading the tea leaves and see the current marketing patterns weakening, hear the pundits suggesting and ready to write checks. We are not looking for disruption or a tweak. Marketing automation needs a small thunderstorm, big enough to move a few cows around the field but not so much as it ruins the crops.

Yea analogy is Coloradan not NYC