There will come a time in your career where you will bring out a new product in a new market space or segment. This blog is not about the new product requirements, or even how to target this new space. I am assuming that you and your team, as professionals, will have done the research on the key problems customers will be facing and how the capabilities and features of the new product will be addressing those problems. You and the engineering team should be well on your way to building the right product. But, are you?
This is a topic for the closed doors of the product management team. There is a well-known saying that the customer is always right. However, the best product managers know that customers come with a variety of experiences, knowledge, points of view, organizational stresses, career paths, and alignment with new technologies. There is no single, lighthouse customer. There is no monochromatic view of what your prospective customer wants or needs. Anyone who presents it that way truly has missed the larger boat. I have seen products and features go through the process of being developed and enhanced based upon a limited set of customers – usually the large, noisy ones or the ones that have the near-term revenue streams on which your sales leader is focused. Be forewarned: to have the best chance at success, you must take a more holistic view of the wants and needs of the customer base.
Enter the Customer Maturity Model
A CTO of our organization once mentioned the concept of a customer maturity model to me as a way to drive prioritization of requirements and, perhaps more importantly, the messaging, position, and sales enablement for your sales teams. Based upon conversations with a variety of your customers – those who are adopting the new technology and those who know about it, but have not really started the evaluation process or usage yet – and those analysts and thought leaders you value, create a customer journey that includes four stages. Those in the consulting business are aware of the methodology of assessing the current state, having a vision for the future state, identifying a list of identified gaps, and developing a plan to close them. This is a classic consulting process for helping your clients move towards the future architecture (people, process, and technology) that they want. Key to this assessment is deciphering their current maturity level in this area. Maturity can be along a variety of vectors of your choosing: scale, internal knowledge, process adherence, business drivers, and automation tooling, for example. Choose carefully; your choice of vectors will drive your product development and go-to-market positioning.
How Mature is Mature Enough?
Ask your top sales account executive if he can sell an advanced automation solution to an immature client. Some might say that the customer is immature vis-à-vis knowing what he wants. This makes the sales process one in which the account executive can guide the customer to that future state. Yes, this does happen…. On the flip side, I have heard other account executives tell me that the best long-term relationships (with repeat purchases and high customer loyalty) occurs when the customer is aware of what they know and want, as well as where they have gaps. The customer maturity model can also be named the customer readiness model. They key is to align each stage of maturity or readiness with the requirements that your customer needs. It may be that, at an early stage of maturity, your customer needs the most help in deployment of the technology. The usage can be manual. I have experienced products that solve the later stage problems, but completely miss the mark in solving the first set of problems a customer might face. Solving the right customer problems – at the right time in your roadmap – are critical to sustained success with the product line.
Back to the Go-To-Market
The product roadmap can be aligned to the customer maturity model, taking items into the backlog that relate to the key problems of each stage. You will have clusters of customers plotted along the maturity vector – much like a line plot – and your product must appeal to both the early readiness customers as well as those in the later stages. This is, indeed, the challenge for the product team. But what about your sales development representatives or your account executives? The maturity model can really help them understand the new technology and the new areas into which their prospects and customers are delving. It gives your sales folks the terminology and street credibility to open up the conversation and allow the prospect to identify where they are on the maturity model vector. This will help the team address a specific message, positioning, and customer value to the new product. On the win/loss side, it will be important to characterize each of the wins and losses to a particular stage int the maturity model and identify where the product and product team have gotten it right as well as where they missed the mark.
Updating the Model
We live in an agile world. Once your product team identifies the vector or dimension of the maturity model, and you get quality customer feedback (you will undoubtedly be on the first 10-15 sales calls), it will be time to adjust and adapt the model to your real life experience. Does that model hunt? Can your customers understand where they are? Are they embarrassed about their lack of maturity? Can your sales team tell a compelling story? Do they seem knowledgeable enough with the material to be credible? There is a proverbial basketful of things to evaluate and adjust in the model. You may have to better educate your teams on the new technology. Or, perhaps, you may need to build a set of professional service offers to do an actual live assessment. I remember working with services to set up a cloud maturity model and assessment for teams moving from traditional IT models to a cloud consumption and deployment model. You may have to help them build a practice to help customers along the journey to that mature stage.
Next time your product team is envisioning a new feature, capability, or product in a new technology space, try the maturity model approach. It might help the team in being more upfront with where along the maturity model that request is. In applying that lens to your analysis you may find your product planning and roadmaps would have more reality in them. Your customers will pay more attention to what you build and bring to market.