Aligning Product Strategy With B2B Customer Requirements
Director of Product Management at D2L Inc.
Unlike B2C, in B2B product strategy decisions are not driven only by customer data. The decision making is more multifaceted and it is important to keep all of those facets in mind. Decisions are typically driven by a combination of how your end-users are interacting with your products and how your key strategic stakeholders within the businesses you are selling into are articulating their requests.
To engage external stakeholders I would set up and run one -- or more, if needed -- Customer Advisory Boards for strategic decision-makers at the business I am selling to. A Customer Advisory Board typically consists of strategic decision-makers who both have the ability to make buying decisions on behalf of the organization but who also understand what their end-users and businesses are looking for and what would make them successful. They would meet once a quarter and I would use that opportunity to give Board members a readout of some of the things that Product and Engineering have been working on in the last quarter helping them understand where we would be moving the needle. I would also facilitate breakout sessions or group discussions on specific topics that would help me gather their inputs and better inform my strategy in the next six to 12 months.
That enables me to build a trustful relationship with customers as I would get to know them over time as well as to open up a channel of communication where they would start to provide me with regular feedback. An additional benefit of having multiple customers in a forum and listening to each other is that they would much better understand each other’s problems and needs. Then, when you have to make tradeoff decisions they would have visibility into what were the requirements of other customers.
Having an internal cross-functional team that I could meet with on a regular basis, biweekly or monthly, depending on how frequently I would need advice is highly beneficial. The team should include people from Sales, Engineering, Implementation or Professional Services, Technical Support, Marketing, Design, Architecture, and Engineering bringing a diverse group of people together. They should be genuinely invested in promoting, selling, implementing and supporting your product, Moreover, they should be passionate about the product, have a thorough understanding of it and an engaged interest in seeing your product evolves.
The team could be involved in both tactical and strategic conversations. Tactical conversations should be low-level discussions where I would share designs or ideas around features that are in development and would try to get specific advice about user experience, flow, etc. They could also be more strategic, similar to the Board meetings where I would share a roadmap and engage them in our thought process. These meetings should be set as forums or resemble a roadmap steering committee, but would nevertheless gather people who are passionate about the product and understand both the market and your customers.
I would also arrange for quarterly cross-functional conversations with business segment leaders within my organization. When you are selling B2B products you are selling to multiple market segments. For example, if you are selling education technology, you could be selling it to K-12 and higher education or businesses for their corporate learning which is a very broad segmentation. The segmentation could go even further -- community colleges vs. online universities, etc. Most companies that sell B2B would have someone that would be looking at the business strategy for a specific segment -- what language we should use to market into that segment, how we should build a sale strategy, what are the buyers like, etc.
Over time we managed to build strong 360 views of all the feedback and inputs and to catch alignment challenges fairly quickly. As I continued to share my thought process I could quickly understand what were the things strategic customers could accept rather easily and where the areas of friction would be.
From a relationship perspective, communicating regularly with different stakeholders opened up feedback channels. People who may not come to you in the past would learn that you would be open to listening to their ideas and inputs and what they are trying to accomplish. It democratized the process and created a free and inspiring flow of communication between us and our stakeholders.
- Including both external and internal stakeholders helps build a more holistic view of the problem. You will still have to prioritize and you won’t be able to make everyone happy, but the inclusivity of the process brings high-level transparency and corroborates your decision-making with solid data.
- Reasons behind some decisions are not always easy to decipher. Maybe you are making a decision because there is a market segment that is bringing a significant amount of revenue or there is a segment that you want to grow next year or you noticed that 70% of your external stakeholders want something. It makes it easier to explain strategic decisions when then you have the data collected from various stakeholders.
- On a personal level, you will have a much higher degree of confidence in the decisions you are making and the direction you are choosing because you are making a continuous effort to include different stakeholders and the multitudes of their perspectives.
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Director of Product Management at D2L Inc.
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