In my previous blog, I have stressed the importance of understanding customer requirements by focusing on ‘WHY’ rather on ‘WHAT’. So the blog was more about customer focus, however for a product to flourish we have to be market focused too.
Before I write anything, let my drop my view of product being market focused and customer focused. By being market focused, we have to be fully aware of the forces or factors that influence the market. Accordingly formulate a mind map on how the market would evolve depending on the various behavioral patterns of the influential forces/factors. In additional we should also be able to anticipate the next strategic and tactical moves of the competitors. Fine grained knowledge about both market forces and competitors’ possible strategic move would trigger a mental map of how the product should take form in both near and far future. So being market focused is more about looking outside for product requirements.
On the contrary being customer focused is to understand the product requirements from existing customers. Some of those requirements can be specific to a customer deployment not applicable to the other customers, most likely customization requests. However some other requirements can be generic and applicable to the entire market. Because there are innovative customers who have clear understanding of the business challenges and also the market forces that either directly or indirectly influence those challenges. Hence those customers propose requirements that will facilitate them to be prepared to face those challenges. I have touched upon the topic of customer innovations earlier and it is imperative to retain those innovative customers as they will continuously ensure that the product is relevant to the changing needs of the market. Further they automatically take the responsibility of steering the product in the direction in which the market is heading.
Having put my views on market focus and customer focus; let me further expand my views on when and why each of those approaches should be followed. I will also touch upon the disadvantages of each approach.
- There is always a lead time to develop product features and the product should be able to fulfill the business needs of the customer as it arises. So we cannot formulating the product requirements after such need arises. Therefore being aware of the market forces and anticipating the business requirements will ensure that the product is ready to resolve the pain points of the customers instantaneously (or as they arise) and thereby catapulting the product to become the market leader
- In case of being market focus, you can easily be the ears and eyes of the market for your customer(s).
- When the market is experiencing growth being market focused is the right approach. Check my earlier blog on ‘Identifying growth opportunities’. Even though I have not explicitly spoken about market focus, I have spoken in length about understanding the market forces to formulate the product requirements.
- Pure market focus is not an ideal strategy as it is also vital to keep our existing customers happy so there should be a healthy balance. While I cannot exactly define how to maintain the healthy balance, I can certainly state that customizations is not ideal and it is very costly. We might have to negotiate with customers requesting customization and trade-in with other features that might be critical for larger section of customers. Again for such successful exchange of features, we have to understand the customer environment better which again bring us back to my earlier blog post.
- Universal truth is that cost of acquiring new customers is much higher than retaining new customers, so customer focus is important to keep the existing customers happier
- When the market is sluggish and majority of the growth is from existing customers.
- In case of market focus, there is always a risk that more customizations will slowly drift us away from the generic needs of the market.
It is not always being market focused or customer focused, it is mostly combination of two and there is no magical value that defines a good ratio. The ratio really depends on lots of factors