Why Product Manager has to comprehend customer buying process

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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.

 

Facilitate customers to make right buying decisions

Product Manager should identify the information which when provided to customers would make their buying process easier and simpler.  Product Manager therefore has a fundamental responsibility to identify what information would be sought by customers across various engagement points at each stage of the buying process. Identifying the causes for customer churn and identifying what information is sought by customers are strongly inter-related. Unless, appropriate information as sought by customers is provided to them during buying process to simplify their decision making process, they quit. Unless Product Managers identify the reasons for customer to quit the buying process (I will explicitly focus on the reasons for customer churn in subsequent blog), it will not be possible to reinforce engagement points to provide relevant details that can possibly influence customer buying decision positively. Engagement point need not always provide information, sometimes they deliver experiences. In case of restaurant, where food is considered as a product, restaurant can be considered as an engagement that delivers the experiences for customers to enjoy the food. The review sites like Zomato (www.Zomato.com) can also be considered as an engagement point that customers leverage to decide which restaurant to go based on the reviews.

For details on customer buying stages and engagement points, please visit by earlier blog

Customer has certain expectations from product in alignment with their respective needs. During the buying process, customer is actively on lookout for experiences or information that can provide sufficient details to identify whether the product can meet his/her expectations. As long as experiences or information provided by participating engagement points during each stage of the buying process matches customer expectations, the journey would culminate in a sale. Therefore the task of Product Manager is to identify what are the expectations of customers in each stage of the buying process and accordingly feed the engagement point with necessary data so they are equipped to meet the expectations of the customer.

Customers start their journey with a need for basic information about the product and as they march onto subsequent stages of the buying process their desire to know more about the product only increases. Journey of buying process starts with creating an awareness about the product by feeding customers with basic information about the product (purpose, USP etc). While seeking information, customers look for more details about the product. Evaluating the product is tantamount to looking out for details (ie proof) to authenticate the information provided about the product in the information and awareness stages. Proofs could be in the form of customer testimonials or opportunity to evaluate the product to ensure what the product promises is what it delivers. Customer have reached evaluation phase because the information that was provided until then had convinced them to buy the product. So evaluation phase is an opportunity to convince customers that product delivers as promised to them until then. Good news is that customer do no look for discrete information, the kind of information they want to know about the product primarily stems from initial messaging of the product in awareness phase.

Customer information needs across buying stages

Understandably the expectations from customers across all stages of the buying process do not remain same. It hardly makes any sense to flood customers with all the details about the product at the awareness phase. Product Manager has to identify the right set of information to provide at each of the stages. Excess information might leave customers confused thereby making their choices difficult and eventually pushing them away from us. Part of the purpose is also to help custo

mer make right buying decisions by providing only appropriate and relevant information, so the product is always sold to the RIGHT customer. I always opine that successful sale to a non-target customer will always be detrimental.

Especially with B2B products, pruning of information and sharing appropriate information at each stage of the buying process is really critical. Most B2B products are built with plethora of features and they do million things to address various customer pain points, it is sufficient to just talk about the finite future set that would address exact customer needs or pain points. To do so, Product Manager needs to be aware about the customer environment and their needs or pain points. Lack of such information will only push Product Manager to flood the customer with product capabilities, Product Manager is letting customer experience information overload leading to a very bad experience. Product capabilities sound alien to the customer. What customer expects in each stage of the buying process is how the product can address their pain points. Identifying customer pain points and elaborating how the product can address those pain points in more optimal manner much better than anyone else will essentially simplify the buying process. I have elaborated below on the kind of information that would be expected by customers in each stage of the buying process.

Awareness

Awareness is all about creating a lasting impression in the minds of customers about the product or brand synonymous with its core functionality. BMW with luxury cars, DropBox with collaboration, Freshdesk with customer support, Intuit with finance SW.

When the need arises for a customer (both B2B and B2C), brands or products that are synonymous with the functionality capable of address the need should immediately strike them or when customers google for products that addressing their needs, corresponding relevant products should be displayed. The focus of creating awareness lies entirely with Product Marketing Manager. Awareness is not about throwing lots of details about the product, it is just about communicating what the product does. I have few examples

Intuit Ad Campaign

Vedantu Ad Campaign Freshdesk Ad Campaign

What information is provided by Intuit, Vedantu.com and Freshdesk in those ads.

  • Intuit is an online software to manage sales accounts, invoices
  • Vedantu is a portal offering personalized tuitions (1-to-1).
  • Freshdesk is customer support software.

The ads communicate what those products stood for and what is their primary service offering. There are no much details, intention is to provide information on what the product does without dwelling too much into the details while creating awareness about their respective products through ads.

Information

The engagement points in the information phase feed few more additional details to indicate how the product can address the needs of pain points of customers, what is its competitive advantage and how uniquely can the product address the customer pain points, what is the price of product offering.

In case of online tuition (Vedantu.com), customers will be able to identify for which grade tuitions are available and for what subjects, who are instructors. How the tuition is delivered, is it recorded medium or live? Are the tuitions conducted for competitive exams as well? If yes, for what exams? Etc.

Evaluation

Demos to substantiate that the product can address the customer pain point can be the ideal opportunity to let customers evaluate and experience the product. Product Manager has to demonstrate the capabilities required by the customer, demos for the heck of it helps none. More often Product Managers are obsessed with demonstrating features that are deemed important by them. Some of the features might be really innovative (out of box), unless they would influence the buying decision of the customer, do not explicitly talk about it.

Evaluation is all about creating an atmosphere for customer to evaluate the product in alignment with their requirements.

If it is a sports car, what is the point in allowing customers to test drive the car within city limits where there could not really experience the car. So the test drive should really happen on highways/freeways to experience the power of the car firsthand by the prospective customer.

On similar lines, in case of SUV with strong off-roading capabilities, there should be a facility for customers to experience on firsthand the off-roading capabilities before buying the car. Otherwise, I don’t see how customers can make right buying decisions.

 Product Manager can also create an atmosphere to facilitate customers to experience their offerings.

Apple stores do not merely exist for the purpose of selling all their products. They exist primarily to allow their prospective customers to discover, learn and experience various Apple products.

Companies offering home theatre solutions (such as Bose) would create an exclusive environment to allow customers to experience their offering thereby creating a WOW experience among customers.

Testimonials of customers already using the product for similar purposes, market share to emphasize the acceptance of the product among customers can be deemed as reliable alternatives by prospective customer to evaluate the product. Product roadmap to showcase the future plans of the product is also critical for evaluating the future of B2B product. Customer can always resort to one or more of the suggested methodologies to evaluate the product. 

Trial

Trial is an extension of evaluation phase especially in B2B space. Evaluation does not always involve actual validation of the product. Moreover, the evaluation will be done in a controlled environment. But trial will mostly be held in customer premises and it is an opportunity to test how the product can fit in customer environment and address their requirements. Product Manager has to exert control on the trial by identifying stakeholders on either side to work together throughout the duration of the trial. In addition, the trial has to be planned well to determine what customer might evaluate and pro-actively verify whether there is any possibility for product to misbehave. Such pro-activeness is required to avoid any negative impact during the trial.

Adoption

Customers go past this stage if they are convinced that product is worth the price. Communicating and justifying the RoI is critical especially for a B2B product. Communicate ROI to customer to indicate the value delivered by the product could offset the initial cost. If the product costs $100,000 and it is the responsibility of Product Manager to communicate the tangible and intangible benefits of investing $100,000 to customer business. Product Manager has to clearly articulate the benefits in terms of operational efficiency (savings in $) or ability to generate more revenue, or enhance customer delight etc. Depending on the situation discounts, migration plans or flexible pricing options had to be projected to provide an attractive proposition to customers.

Loyalty

In this phase, customers do not seek information but they seek experience. Level of experiences delivered will determine the loyalty of customers. Track how customers are using the product and measure his satisfaction level. Keep a tab on the support cases, feature requests raised by customer. Possible interlock with them to make sure that there are always opportunities for CROSS SELL and UP SELL. Loyalty is not merely for cross sell or up sell alone, but to have those customers act as product ambassadors and speak about the product positively. I am surprised at how certain companies periodically call their respective customers to remind them about pending service or license upgrades or renewals. The engagements points in loyalty are expected to imbibe such behavior.

Apart from the identifying kind of information that would be required by customers during each stage of the buying process. Product Manager needs to have penchant to know more details on how and where customers would like to consume the information. If we are providing all the information required by the customers but not in the form expected by them and not in the location of their choice, then it is a colossal failure.

 

Stages of customer buying process

This blog is a continuation of my previous blog post on ‘Why it is required for Product Managers to comprehend customer buying process‘. I have mentioned about ‘WHY’, ‘WHEN’ and ‘HOW’ of comprehending customer buying process. In this blog, i am expanding ‘HOW’ to talk in more detail about the buying stages of customer buying process.

As customers enter the buying process, not every customer journey culminates in a sale and it is sheer pragmatic sense on part of the Product Manager not to expect 100% hit rate. Because combination of both genuine buyers and frivolous buyers enter the buying process, Product Manager has to isolate the genuine buyers to further identify who among the genuine buyers are actual target customers and figure out what causes the target customers to quit the buying process. Identifying the exact set of causes is more easily said than done, but quest for answers can possibly help Product Managers expand the bottom line.

The stages in the buying process vary depending on the product. Nevertheless, there are already well defined stages such as AARRR (developed by Mcclure) and 6 stages derived by Bryony Thomas in her book – Watertight Marketing. I have listed them as a reference to aid in better discussions.

AARRR

Source: http://startitup.co/guides/374/aarrr-startup-metrics

Watertight Marketing - Buying Funnel

Source: http://www.smartinsights.com/marketplace-analysis/customer-analysis/consumer-decision-buying-process/

All those stages are self-explanatory, so I avoid dwelling into details of each of those stages.

Buying stages of a car

For ease of discussions, I will henceforth follow the 6 stages defined by Bryony. Nevertheless the thoughts or suggestions put forward in the following section of the blog will be applicable to any other stage approach of customer buying process as well.

Stages in the buying process of a car

I have constructed the buying stages for a car and a closer look will reveal that I have comfortably omitted the TRIAL stage. For me TRIAL makes more sense in case of B2B product where the customers will trial the product free of cost for longer duration (3-6 months) in their environment before they decided to purchase the product. For me TRIAL is a natural extension of evaluation stage where customers will attempt to evaluate the product in much more detail. In case of buying a car, there would not be any detailed attempts to evaluate the car and therefore I thought it is appropriate to drop the TRIAL phase while ascertaining the buying stages for a car.

Stages therefore referred in this article are only for reference and not for strict adherence. Depending on the nature of the product, Product Manager can either add additional stages or remove existing stages. What is critical is that Product Manager identifies an exhaustive list of stages for his/her product buying process. Otherwise it would not be possible to identify at which stage the product is experiencing customer churn. Once the stages of buying process are ascertained, it is time to embark on the journey of identifying various engagement points within each stage of the buying process.

Identify customer engagement points

With the advent of mobile, web and social media, the engagement points for customers to know about the product, to evaluate the product, to collect feedback about the product and to throw feedback about the product has only manifold. The task at hand for Product Manager is to identify exhaustive set of engagement points at each stage of the buying process.

Purpose of engagement points

The purpose of engagement points is to establish connection between the product and customers. Engagement points provide more details about the product in order to simplify the buying process of customers, solicit feedback on what customers think about the product and finally to deliver or enhance customers experience with the product. The nature of interaction and communication between engagement points and customers can be bi-directional or unidirectional. Engagement points can take any form – personal, digital, social etc.

How to choose engagement points

Engage points should be chosen depending on how customers would like to interface with product (in which form and in which location) at each stage of the buying process. All those drivers combined together define the engagement points at each stage of the buying process. Not all engagement points are defined by the Product Manager, certain engagement points are defined by customers. For instance, customers dictate where to throw feedback about the product. Engagement points also need to evolve. Existing engagement points should either be deprecated or new engagement points should be introduced in accordance with the changing behaviors of the customers. Ultimately when, where, and how (timing, location, and format to share information) of each engagement point would be driven by the customer preferences and conveniences. Engagement points should create a plethora of options for customers to engage with the product, therefore the criterion for selection of engagement points is not merely by choice but by convenience and preferences of customers.

Engagement points of buying process of a car

For sake of illustration, let me revisit the example of buying a car and list down all possible engagement points for each stage of the buying process.

Engagement stages of a car

Basic tenets for identifying engagement points

  • Engagement points in each stage of the buying process should be exhaustive
  • Engagement points across all the stages of the buying process need not be mutually exclusive

In the next blog, i will talk about how engagement points could be leveraged to facilitate customers to make right buying decisions.