By John Mansour
For those not familiar with it, Jeopardy is a very popular and long running game show where contestants answer questions based on categories and can win or lose money based on a dollar amount tied to the question.
For product planning, the Jeopardy analogy comes compliments of one of our clients describing his organization’s annual product strategy routine. The analogy as he described it was pretty funny, but the experience and the results, not so much.
The Jeopardy version of product strategy is a game you may have played but didn’t realize it.
You and your fellow product managers each come to the table with a proposal of your highest priority product investments accompanied by revenue and cost projections – the answers.
Your key stakeholders come to the party with the questions – the topics are market landscape, risk, competition, ability to execute, etc.
It’s time to play Jeopardy!
“I’ll start with product 3 for $600, Alex” says on Product Manager, while another prefers to start with “product 1 for $400.” After a few rounds, a lot of discussion and final Jeopardy, priorities get decided and set the resource wheels in motion. Fast forward 3, 6 or 12 months and the results are fairly predictable.
The sales team that signed up for the revenue numbers has been reshuffled, or key members have moved on. There’s been another reorg or acquisition and priorities have shifted. Ideas for shinier new objects have leap-frogged projects that were once the highest priority.
The bottom line– products aren’t delivered as planned and revenue goals aren’t met. Are we having fun yet?
Fixing the problem
In B2B, there are two things your product management team can do to drive the product strategy routine in a more meaningful and predictable manner and avoid the game of Jeopardy and all the ills that go with it.
1. Function as a unified team
Don’t act like a group of individuals each running the business of his or her products.
You’ll see your target customers the same way they see themselves and understand the biggest obstacles they face. Determining the solutions that have the most value relative to those obstacles becomes blatantly obvious.
2. Treat your products as the means to the end
Components of the solutions that have far more value together than any individual product. In other words, end the strategic planning pitch with products instead of leading with them.
In the case of our client mentioned above, they looked at the commonalities of their target-customer organizations across five vertical market segments. All of them are in hyper-competitive businesses with short product cycles, rapid commoditization of services and revenue models that are changing as fast as I’m writing this article.
As a team, they asked themselves, “What are the biggest contributions we can make to those organizations to help them survive and thrive in their hyper-competitive markets?”
After a lot of thoughtful discussion, two themes surfaced.
- Help them get new offerings to market faster
- Keep their customers from defecting to the competition with a superior level of service until new products/services are available.
The solutions that support each of those target-customer goals all involve more than one product. Interestingly enough, none of them required any major new products.
The revenue projections put forth by the product management team weren’t product specific. They projected the uptick in revenue in each vertical market segment as a result of delivering the proposed solutions. The projections are attractive, even from a conservative point of view.
Still some work to be done
The jury is still out on the results and will be until the solutions are in the market, but senior executives across the board have welcomed the new approach, especially the SVP of sales. Why?
It demonstrates the market value of focusing on the target-customer’s goals first and determining how your organization can contribute in a way that supports your own growth and profitability goals. Products are merely the vehicles to get you there.
The best part is the senior executive team has a clear understanding of the market value of these solutions and unless the market suddenly changes, the product investment priorities are highly unlikely to change.
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