What framework(s) do you use to evaluate how to differentiate your product?
There are 2 exercises I use to evaluate bringing differentiation into the products I'm building.
- What sucks?
- User value mapping
Where they originated
I came up with these frameworks in collaboration with Paul Pedrazzi (SVP, Salesforce) while we were working on a 0 → 1 product for small business. We repeatedly re-visited the artifacts of these exercises throughout the product development lifecycle.
What the outcome will be
A list of the Top 3 issues for your target user.
How to do it
- It’s as simple and cathartic as it sounds: get in a room with a diverse group of stakeholders – Product Marketing, Support, Engineering, Sales, Product, Design, Solution Engineering, etc. You should not have more than 10 people participating.
- Have everyone individually brainstorm on sticky notes (or a Google Jam Board) “What sucks about _____?” In the Salesforce example, we brainstormed, “what sucks about being a small business owner”? In my current role at Shopify, I lead Product for Checkout. Our prompt would be “what sucks about checking out online?”
- Share 4 things with your group before they begin writing stickies (1) Remind them to put themselves in the shoes of the user (2) Share snippets from customers you’ve spoken to recently to get the juices flowing (3) Share an overview of the range of personas and industries you cover (4) Think big and broadly; do not think about specific issues created by our existing product or company.
In the Salesforce example of “what sucks about being a small business owner” our stickies ranged from ‘finding new business’ to ‘not being able to take vacation easily’.
- Once everyone has created at least 5 stickies, begin a grouping exercise. Groups should be created based on similar dimensions and each group should be given a name. An example group could be ‘getting started’ or ‘finding new business.’ Seeing the quantity of stickies per group gives you a general sense of where the problems live. Groupings will also show you things like where other competitors are focused and where there are gaps in the market.
- Once groups are finalized, give each person in the group 3 votes. The 3 votes are used to mark what each person believes to be the 3 most important and impactful issues from the user’s POV. Votes can be cast by putting a dot next to a specific sticky.
- Bubble up the stickies with the most dots next to them. Facilitate a conversation around where the group thinks we could focus to have the most success in differentiation and providing user value. Example question prompts:
-Which sticky is our company best positioned to deliver value against?
-Where do we have the expertise to deliver value against?
-What issue would users expect us to solve for them?
-Where is there the least competition?
-Where is there the most competition?
-What issue, if solved, would be the most compelling to attract new business?
-What issue, if solved, would be the most compelling for users to stick around?
You can do this exercise in conjunction with ‘What Sucks?’ or own its own.
What the outcome will be
A map of the most valuable, most unmet needs in the market. This can serve as your menu of options for where to focus on differentiating your product.
How to do it
Choose a grouping from the “What Sucks?” exercise. For example, ‘Finding New Business.’ If you’re doing this exercise on its own, select a ‘Job to Be Done’ category.
- Create a Kanban board in your tool of choice (Miro, Trello)
- The column headers should be steps in the user journey for that category (ex: ‘Finding New Business’ or ‘Checking Out Online’)
- The cards within each column should be desired outcomes for that step in the user journey (ex: ‘Successful purchase’)
- Cards within each column should be ordered based on highest priority to lowest priority. Priority as defined as what is the most valuable to the user.
- Cards should be color coded either red, yellow or green based on how unmet / met this need is in the market today. Red = no one in the market is solving this today. Yellow = some competitors address this. Green = Lots of people address this need today.
- At the end of the exercise, find the top 5 cards. These areas should be the highest in their column and color coded red or yellow. This is your biggest area of opportunity for differentiation.
Many teams do some version of these exercises early on in the product development lifecycle and then forget about them as they’re building the product. Timelines get tight, resources get shuffled and often the scope that can get cut is the differentiation you aimed to achieve.
Every Product Manager should call out and protect differentiation. It doesn’t need to be available in the first release of your product, but you should always be working towards some differentiation that can help you acquire new customers, a new market or retain existing customers.
While I don't use an existing framework specifically for product differentiation, I do use a variety of inputs to determine what lever to pull or what decision to make. These inputs can be found in the answer to the question, "What are the most important inputs to take into consideration when thinking through product differentiation?"
Other frameworks I do use:
- Geoffrey Moore's Positioning Statement Template in his book, Crossing the Chasm: "For (target customer) who (statement of the need or opportunity), the (product name) is a (product category) that (statement of key benefit – that is, compelling reason to buy)."
- Gokul's SPADE Decision Making Matrix (thank you to a former Square employee for introducing this to me at a recent networking event): https://coda.io/@gokulrajaram/gokuls-spade-toolkit
Here is a general framework that you can leverage to customize to fit the specific needs of your product; whether it is hardware, software or service offering; entering a new geo or disrupting an existing market.
Start with the customer. Create a list of current and potential customers; so this should include current customer types and the customer types that the product strategy is looking to address. For each customer type, a general framework to consider is the buying and usage journey:
1. What are the buying journey highlights that create customer benefits and competitive differentiation?
This can include feature benefits; but important to also consider pricing and packaging differentiation. Is there a try-before-buy differentiated packaging approach to deploy?
2. How can differentiation help with first-time user experience?
It's not always about adding features but also reducing friction to first use that can be the differentiation.
3. Repeat user experience differentiation
How can continued product usage drive sustained benefits and differentiation for your customers? Can the customer gain new insight when they come back to use your service? This is going to be key for renewals and upsells.
As a bonus, the GTM plan can leverage the same framework to create differentiated experiences across the marketing funnel: awareness, consideration and conversion.