After hundreds of market research projects for B2B tech companies, we know the warning signs that a product will fail.
Before your next B2B product launch, make sure you aren’t experiencing any of the following symptoms.
1. You’re challenging the incumbent without a superior product.
To beat the incumbent, the new product needs to be at least twice as good. Even then, customers may be reluctant to move away from the familiar.
Your new product can’t just be a little bit better than the incumbent. It needs to be a lot better. Feature and price parity alone won’t cut it.
Toppling the incumbent is no easy task. Why do we all still use PowerPoint? Why has no other business networking site come close to taking LinkedIn’s place? Do you honestly expect a serious rival to Amazon’s e-commerce in the near future?
If taking on an established incumbent, product managers must build a product that is so good it can’t be ignored.
2. There are no distinguishing features.
Successful products have something that sets them apart.
Customers need a reason to pick your product from the sea of competing solutions. They shouldn’t all look the same.
Think of how many marketing solutions are out there. B2B marketers have to choose from hundreds of SEO tools, social media trackers, and newsletter platforms. Not to mention analytics.
A new marketing product really needs to stand out from the crowd. And it’s a big, big crowd.
It’s very important to understand your target customers’ “jobs to be done.” What will your customers use your product for? Do other solutions get the job done? Does your solution do it better? If not, hold off on that product launch.
Know the “jobs to be done” your solution aims to solve before you build your go-to-market strategy.
3. The product is hard to use.
To be blunt, B2B software companies are infamous for releasing unusable products. It’s sad, but true.
For example, a well-known Fortune 500 client of ours was hoping to tackle a new market. However, their product required significant time to learn, whereas competitors were turnkey. When interviewing our client’s customers and our client’s rival’s customers, we quickly learned that ease-of-use was causing most buyers to go with the competitor.
Product managers, don’t forget that intuitive use beats complexity any day.
4. First-time-users are intimidated.
Many larger companies with an established product and user-base fail to consider first-time-use.
Customers who have been around for decades have benefited from experiencing incremental improvement in the product over a period of years. A new customer experiences all the product’s capabilities at once.
In this scenario, you’ll probably get the confusing feedback that established customers love the complexity, but new customers complain that it’s too difficult to use.
This is a huge red flag. It’s a red banner. A red tapestry. It’s practically guaranteed that a startup is getting ready to disrupt you.
Competitors will notice this dissonance. They’ll build a solution that is simple, tuned to meet a few key business needs, and is relatively cheap compared to you.
If you’re in this situation, it’s time to spend that research budget. Interview customers who’ve chosen one of the upstarts. Don’t dismiss startups for being small. They may be providing a more usable solution than you are.
5. The partners aren’t helping.
Sometimes, the partners matter just as much as the product.
For instance, one of our Fortune 500 clients had a wonderful software product. But their partners couldn’t be trusted to assist customers in deploying it in mission-critical environments. The competition, on the other hand, had a slightly inferior solution but a partner network that was top-notch. Guess which product won? The inferior one.
Don’t underestimate the importance of partners.
Make sure you’re including questions about partner relationships in your market research studies on customers and competitors’ customers.
6. The product aims to do a job that companies can easily do themselves.
Each month, we interview hundreds of people who use technology to solve business problems.
We’re constantly amazed by what a company can do with Excel, people power, and a bit of duct tape. It’s just amazing what developers can do with free, open source tools.
This ingenuity often removes the need for a commercial software solution. It’s very important for product leaders to understand this.
Is your product trying to do what your customers can already do themselves? If so, you’re competing against your own customers. Obviously, you don’t want to do that.
Before you build that product, make sure you understand your target customer base through in-depth interviews, ethnographic research, and onsite visits.
7. The product is superfluous.
Don’t exceed the needs of the market.
We see this all the time with tech companies. Our clients are often so innovative that they’re ahead of the market. Way ahead.
This sounds positive, but it’s not necessarily. The product may be awesome, but if there isn’t a real-world use-case for it, B2B customers aren’t going to buy it.
Cool does not necessarily lead to profits. It needs to be practical too.
If you’re constantly giving demos but rarely getting a sale, it’s time to reconsider usability and how customers will use the product in the real world.
8. You’re targeting an extinct buyer persona.
Buyer personas need updating. This is very important. If your buyer personas haven’t been refreshed in years, you may be building a go-to-market strategy or designing a product launch to target a persona that no longer exists.
There has been so much ink spilled about how tech companies are selling to business decision-makers, how CIOs should think more like business leaders, and the plethora of SaaS solutions being bought directly by business groups within companies.
It’s obvious that IT roles have taken a backseat in B2B purchase decisions.
We find it a little surprising how frequently we have to educate product managers on this fact. An IT leader was a central buyer persona a decade ago. In 2017, the buyer persona that product managers most need to focus on is the business leader.
These blunders are all too common in B2B product management. Luckily, market research can help you avoid these red flags and build products that your customers will love to use in the real world.
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