Importance of perception

Why is perception important?

How customers perceive the product determines their behavior and their behavior determines the outcome. So the facts do not determine the success of the product as much as the perception does. Product Manager therefore has to focus on creating a perception among the minds of existing and prospective customers that reflects positively on the success of the product.

But, what kind of perception does Product Manager want to create?

Every product will be built only with the basic premise that what is being built will be valuable for customers and they will readily embrace it. So ideally there are 2 elements

  1. What do customers really need or want? Ideal focus should be on ‘NEED’ and not on ‘WANT’
  2. How does product create value for customers?

While building a product, Product Manager ensures that there are lots of synergies between (1) and (2). Otherwise there is no purpose in building the product. Basically the value rendered by the product and customer needs should overlap to a greater extent for better product-market fit. But does it suffice for product success?

For product success, customers should perceive that the product addresses their needs in the most optimal manner in comparison with competition. How the product should be perceived by the customers should eventually determine the marketing message for the product. The marketing strategy should strive to create a perception that is basically derived from the understanding – ‘How we could like our customers to talk about the product, what we could like our customers to believe about the product’. Therefore the (3) aspect of building a commercially successful product is to derive the right marketing strategy to ensure that customers’ perception of the value rendered by the product aligns with the actual value delivered by the product (ie the perception should match the reality). Otherwise customers might feel that the product does not fit their purpose. So essentially Product Manager needs to ensure that (1), (2) and (3) overlaps for a successful sale.

Perception

Let us consider the example of selling a brand new car. The car under discussion is a multi-purpose family vehicle catering for a larger family of 6 people. It is reliable and well-designed with utmost driving comfort. Product Manager wants to create a perception about the car that is aligned with reality. The marketing campaign or the engagement points, albeit they deliver messages with varying depth, each of them should aim at creating same perception among the minds of the customer (ie the car is a family car which is reliable and well designed with utmost driving comfort). The information that is delivered to customer during various stages of the buying process should essentially focus on how the car is delivering on those parameters and it not worthwhile for someone to talk about the off-roading capabilities of the car or it ability to go from 0-100KMPH in x seconds.

When to create a perception?

The necessity for creating a perception starts with sending the 1st message about the product and thereafter at every opportunity customer interfaces with the product during the buying cycle and pre/post the buying cycle, there is a necessity to manage the perception. It is essential to frequently measure the perception and ensure that the customers perceive the product in a way we like them to do.

Otherwise, customers’ notion of the product contradicts the reality. If such customers enter the buying process, the probability of successful sale will be minimalistic. In such cases each engagement point in the various stages of the buying process should also be leveraged to influence perception positively in the minds of the customers.  All engagement should work like a well-orchestrated symphony to create and manage a consistent perception. ‘How do you want customers to perceive the product’ determines the behavior of each of the engagement points as well.

How to create a perception?

Amazon is known for putting its customer first and they succeed in creating a similar perception among customers as well. Every customer too opines that Amazon is ‘Customer friendly’. I presume everyone in Amazon believes what they stand for. To ensure creating and managing appropriate perception across all engage points consistently, it is critical for every stakeholder involved to understand what the product and the brand stands for. What the product and the brand stands for should be religiously imbibed into the thought process of every stakeholder and it should act as guidance for any engagement with customers. Doing so, every engagement point can act in-harmony to manage a consistent perception. Apart from the engagement points involved in the buying process, every organization needs to have mechanism to deal with perception threatening events that might shake the foundation of what the product stands for. Product failures and recall of car plying on the roads might have serious impact on how customers perceive the product. In such cases, even though engagement points can be tuned to influence the perception, there should be other dedicated ways to restore the perception. Similarly there should also be focus on perception enhancing events through ratings by recognized agencies, product endorsements by persons with lot of authority in the related space.

 

Measuring the efficacy of product roadmap

Product roadmap is one of the most critical elements that determine the long term success of the product and if it cannot be measured, it cannot be improved. To measure anything, we need to set goals. I have already outlined that product roadmap is a plan of execution to accomplish product objectives. There would be a timeframe to accomplish the product objectives and Product Manager has to periodically assess how product roadmap is contributing to the realization of product objectives. Product objectives could be targets related to either revenue, growth etc.

Understanding customer needs and addressing the needs that are valued most by customers is a means to achieving product objectives but it is not the only means. I always maintained that merit of the product contributes utmost 50% (or little higher but definitely not 100%) to a successful sale. In any selling process, customer evaluates the product against certain set of attributes. The attributes include both product and non-product; both of them jointly influence the selling process. For instance, in case of restaurant where food is considered a product, the ambience and the location of the restaurant is as important as the taste of the food. In case of B2C, marketing play a critical role in communicating the value of the product and establishing an emotional connect. In case of B2B, the existence of reliable support system, brand, and distribution network are other important factors that complement the core product. So establishing a direct causal and effect relation between product roadmap and product objectives is not foolproof. Therefore in addition to using product objectives as a means to measure efficacy of product roadmap, I am also advocating the use of feature usage metric.

During prioritization of product requirements, I indicated about the need to pick right product attributes that are valued most by customer and assign appropriate weights. While measuring the efficacy of product roadmap, the single most important criteria is to evaluate whether Product Manager has picked the right product attributes that will influence the selling process. Two methodologies indicated earlier will be used to measure the efficacy of product roadmap and to provide reinforcing feedback back into product requirements prioritization process, so right product attributes could be used to prioritize requirements that are valued most by customers.

Product objectives (aka goal) metrics

The purpose is not to validate whether we have accomplished the objectives, but to ascertain the progress and identify whether the product is on the right track to accomplish the objectives. If the product is indeed on the right track to accomplishing the objectives, Product Manager can presume that roadmap has played it role because existence of both product and non-product attributes is mandatory to a successful sale. Even so, Product Manager has to understand whether customers are buying the product for the same reasons that Product Manager has envisaged. If customers are buying the product for its reliability and price while Product Manager assuming that customers are valuing the product for its design and usability might not be a nice situation because any further prioritization decisions will be focused more on design and usability instead of reliability. Each customer will have their own reasons and no two customers are alike. Yet, Product Manager has to wisely choose a sample of customers and understand the common patterns that will influence their buying behavior.

Similar exercise needs to be done if the product is far from realizing the product objectives as well. Product Manager should always identify the reasons behind success and failure. Product Manager has to analyze the losses to determine whether there is lack of proper understanding of the product attributes that are valued most by customers and reinforce the feedback back into the product prioritization process to evolve the product with right set of requirements.

Measuring product objectives

Feature usage metrics

The idea of feature usage metrics is to understand whether top prioritized features are most used by customers. If not, something might be terribly going wrong with the product prioritization process. The primary premise of the exercise is that customers use features that are really useful for them. They do not use features just because they are available on the product. Not every product would have a direct mechanism to understand on how many customers are using each feature, in such scenario I normally take the help of support system. Please take a look at my earlier blog post to understand how support data can be gleaned to derive feature usage metrics. Feature usage metrics will reflect the efficiency of product requirements prioritization process. Product Manager can use those metrics to revisit the prioritization process whether (s)he is choosing right attributes (product attributes are already defined in ‘Prioritizing product requirements’ blog) to identify requirements that are valued most by customers. In this methodology, the underlying assumption is that the customer is aware of all the features available in the product and lack of usage of any features is not due to unawareness.

Gauge the mood – Measure the perception

I would not call it as a methodology as it is more subjective and in general it does not indicate any thing specifically about the prioritization process and effectiveness of the chosen attributes. This methodology is to measure the perception of everyone (primarily customers) especially when the business model supports sharing of product roadmap. When Product Manager shares the roadmap with customers and elaborates about what will be made available in the product over the next couple of years, Product Manager really needs to understand the reaction of customer. Do customers get excited and enquire eagerly of what is being made available or just don’t react or express anguish over the inability of product roadmap to match their business requirements. As I have been stating all along, no two customers are alike, so look for generalized reaction of broader set of customers.

Perception of customers reflects in their actions and therefore measuring the perception is critical to make customers invest in the product. Perception sometimes contradicts the ground reality and if it does so in a negative way, nothing could be more disastrous. The ground reality might be that the product is at the fore-front of innovation and perfectly evolving to meet the business challenges of customers. If customer(s) perception about the product is contradictory and it would obviously reflects in their decision to invest on the product. Customer visits, escalations are quite a few ways to measure the perception and same could be achieved through product roadmap presentations as well.

Promising product roadmap creates positive vibes among internal stakeholders too (more importantly engineering and sales team). Present the roadmap to them as well. I have earlier talked about leveraging the expertise and experience of sales and engineering team to discover customer needs, so it is only appropriate to share the roadmap throwing signals that preparing roadmap is an inclusive approach. Take their feedback and gauge their perception as well, product roadmap should motivate engineering team to build better product and sales team to sell more. Internal stakeholders should be excited about the product roadmap and should be convinced about the direction in which product is heading.