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The Risk of Becoming a Feature Buffet

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The other day I had a conversation with a VP Product of a well-known startup. We were discussing how to choose which product features to develop.

“That’s simple,” he told me point-blank. “I have a frank discussion with my sales and marketing team and ask them what is lacking in the product that makes us lose deals. Once these features are developed, we’ll win more deals.”

I admit that there are many benefits to this prospect-driven approach. After all, we want to ensure that a product brings value to the marketplace and sells. In addition, if several prospects want a particular feature, it’s probably safe to assume that other prospects want that feature, and building it will ultimately add value to your product and increase sales.

A Better Approach: Build Your Product Identity

In actuality, this approach isn’t as clear-cut as it seems. Many times, you don’t know exactly why you’ve lost a deal, especially in the B2B sales process, which is long and comprises many factors. Perhaps you don’t have a strong enough “champion” there on the client side fighting for you and your product. Maybe the different players involved on both sides of the sale have lousy chemistry, and the deal collapses before it even starts. Perhaps the prospect doesn’t truly believe in your company’s philosophy and your core offering. Maybe the specific systems they have in place don’t sync well with your product. If your brand is weak, it could also deter sales. The possible reasons are endless.

Sometimes, potential customers themselves don’t even know what they want. I’ve had instances where a potential customer specifically requested a particular feature and he promptly received it. Guess what? In the end, the deal never closed.

Instead of focusing on additional features, it can be far more valuable to focus on your product identity. What are you trying to achieve? What problem are you solving?

Beyond the marketplace and your vision, you’ll also base your product identity on available resources. Where do your innate abilities lie? What is your background and experience? What types of ideas are you naturally drawn to? What are your competitive advantages?

Clarifying your core identity is essential because it allows you to filter customer requests for features and determine which are truly relevant to your core product. Not only will you more easily be able to determine on what features to focus, but you’ll also know which ones you should not be focusing on. With this clearly defined identity, you’ll be able to properly determine your product’s future development path, evolving in a manner that is suitable to this vision.

Lose Prospects, Gain a Stronger Identity

The truth is that you probably will lose some prospects over those features that you aren’t developing, but that’s a small loss compared to the danger in losing your product identity as a whole.

When you cater to everyone, you risk becoming a buffet — in which there are plenty of mediocre dishes, but none are truly amazing — with many different features, but without a unifying story holding it all together.

At the end of the day, this myopic prospect-driven approach can prevent you from achieving significant growth. Your product idea and vision simply won’t resonate with people, and they won’t be able to convince themselves to buy it en masse.

The Optimove Story

In contrast to the approach above, our strong identity enabled us to shape our product’s future path and choose the right evolutionary path.

A few years ago, we reached a pivotal point in the evolution of our product.

Our model was theoretically always able to recommend the next best marketing actions for each customer. Practically, it couldn’t, because when we asked our customers for a record of past actions they executed with customers, they often couldn’t provide us with this data.

So guess what we did?

As the expression goes: “If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, then Mohammed must go to the mountain.”

We said, fine, if you don’t have the data (i.e., the mountain isn’t coming…), we’ll just develop a complementary new module that runs marketing actions (campaigns), and then we’ll have the data ourselves!

None of our customers asked us to develop this new module. Instead, the idea for developing it came from within.

I liken small startups to young adults: both are searching for their identity, trying out different lifestyles, careers, partners, products and markets until they find their true selves. At Optimove, we were able to discover our core identity quickly: predictive modeling of the best action/move for each customer, hence Optimove.

By focusing on modules that stayed true to our core purpose and vision, we were able to take the right evolutionary path and create a winning product.

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