Back to resources

Head or Tail: What PMs Should Be After

Product
Roadmap
Users

20 January, 2021

Aram Grigoryan
Aram Grigoryan

Product Manager at Meta (Facebook, Oculus, & Family of Apps)

Aram Grigoryan, Product Manager at Qualtrics, discusses customer segments in B2B and explains why PMs should pay their attention to the long tail.

Problem

In the world of enterprise software, companies tend to focus on a group of large and often vocal customers. Unlike in consumer applications, it is much harder to instrument product metrics to track and measure usage patterns and engagement, and the diversity of business customers is more pronounced. As a PM with a finite amount of time to engage with customers, you might find yourself forced to focus solely on these large enterprise customers, especially if your company is strongly sales-driven. That said, similar to customer segmentation in the consumer space, enterprise segmentation differentiates between the head and tail (and often, shoulders).

Actions taken

One of my products was designed to help enterprise customers learn about their customers from the unstructured text data from surveys, reviews, and other feedback channels. It was extracting themes, sentiment, and emotions for further analysis along with core business metrics. I quickly learned that what my customers wanted to accomplish and specific requirements varied based on multiple factors, such as customer industry, staffing levels, company culture, to name a few. However, from the business perspective, customers with the most considerable spending (head segment) are naturally receiving a lot of attention as they impact the immediate revenue streams. Consequently, their needs are quickly channeled to the product organization by the account teams.

If your product is complex, you will likely limit the number of customers you will preview and validate the product with. Over time, you are likely to continue utilizing the dozen or so customers as your informal advisory board. However, that dozen will start asking for specific features in exact details; at times, they will even describe what the feature should look like. In contrast, thousands of emerging tail customers are likely to tell you about their problems instead of asking for features. In a nutshell, the tail is problem-driven, the head is solution-driven.

In enterprise software applications, I like working on products that scale to thousands of customers. While it is easy to fall into the trap of addressing the asks of the biggest or known customers, I find it more exciting to discover opportunities that apply more broadly.

For example, small at-the-tail customers can quickly become your largest accounts, and influencing their process early on will bring long-term customer retention and renewals. Smaller customers are less likely to create alternative internal solutions to what you are solving. Finally, product improvements developed for thousands of customers could increase your addressable market and bring even more customers.

In my case, I defined a product strategy that focused on creating product experiences and out of box content that would democratize the analysis of unstructured data for thousands of customers. Their use cases were generic and relatively simple, allowing the team to innovate and deliver meaningful product investments at a higher pace. Our forecast also suggested that the tail-informed and driven strategy will support the rapidly accelerating growth of the business.

Lessons learned

  • To generate sustainable growth for the business and product, you must develop a product that supports your company vision and strategically solves customer problems, and supports opportunities at scale.
  • Start by focusing on core use cases and sprinkle the product with delightful experiences rather than directly and blindly building a specific feature just because your biggest customers asked for them.
  • It is often said that a customer doesn't know what they need. Your customers will tell you what they want, but they wouldn't know what they need. Your tail customer will often say -- I don't know what I need. Please help me solve my problem.
  • It takes determination from a PM to create an intentional tension between needs and wants of the head and those of the tail and -- regardless of the strategy -- to recognize different interests and possibilities between the head and tail.

Discover Plato

Scale your coaching effort for your engineering and product teams
Develop yourself to become a stronger engineering / product leader


Related stories

Scaling a Team in Two Parts: The Product and Manager

2 August

Viswa Mani Kiran Peddinti, Sr Engineering Manager at Instacart, walks through his experience scaling a team, product and his skills as a leader.

Managing Expectations
Product
Scaling Team
Leadership
Meetings
Viswa Mani Kiran Peddinti

Viswa Mani Kiran Peddinti

Sr Engineering Manager at Instacart

How to Organize, Manage, and Grow Your Team

12 July

Vineet Puranik, Senior Engineering Manager at DocuSign, discusses the impact of roadmaps, organization, and proper management for your teams to procure growth.

Managing Expectations
Delegate
Collaboration
Roadmap
Strategy
Vineet Puranik

Vineet Puranik

Senior Engineering Manager at DocuSign

How Product Management Chose Me

23 June

My accidental journey into product management

Product
Personal Growth
New PM
Career Path
Michael Castro

Michael Castro

Sr. Manager, Product Management at Capital One

How Product Marketing Can (and Should) Help Product Development

20 June

Pavel Safarik, Head of Product at ROI Hunter, discusses the frequently overlooked role of product marketing in getting high user adoption rates for your product.

Goal Setting
Product Team
Product
Different Skillsets
Cross-Functional Collaboration
Pavel Safarik

Pavel Safarik

Head of Product at ROI Hunter

Dealing with Uncertainties and Adapting as You Go

14 June

Muhammad Hamada, Engineering Manager at HelloFresh, addresses the uncertainties brought on by the pandemic, how these have affected our work environments, and how we can adapt.

Goal Setting
Internal Communication
Collaboration
Roadmap
Stakeholders
Prioritization
Muhammad Hamada

Muhammad Hamada

Engineering Manager at HelloFresh