Please! Give Me Another Chance

Or: What I Wish We’d Done the First Time

Dumped by st on Dribbble

As you might have guessed, this post is written off the back of a break-up. It’s easy to point fingers in relationships, easy to place the blame on the other party, but with this relationship there’s lots of things I wish we’d done differently. And now I’m sat here, upset and lamenting my loss, the loss of a big customer.

OK, for anyone that was expecting to read some dating advice on Valentine’s Day, I’m sorry but this is a business story. Big yawn, right? Relate have lots of help with relationships, though, and you might want to head over there. For those of you interested in what went wrong, read on…

I started working at my current company three years ago, initially looking after user engagement before taking on more responsibilities in shaping our products. I was offered the chance to help relaunch a ten-year-old product, bringing it into the digital age. Back then I had no knowledge of Lean principles and few notions of customer-centric development, and my employers didn’t work to that framework. But after completing the Product Management course run by General Assembly, I now know some of the places we messed up. I’d always had a hunch as to what went wrong but that course and my wider reading has confirmed it.

This series is a run-down of what I wish we’d done the first time. Hopefully others can avoid making the same mistakes.

Establish Customer Demand

Has the userbase been growing, become stagnant or started falling? If a product has been around for ten years, that’s great. If it’s a bit outdated, you should definitely bring it into this century. But before you rush ahead, let’s check on a couple of things. (Because we didn’t, and that’s why I’m writing this post.)

A growing userbase

If you’re still taking on new customers, start asking them why they chose your product:

  1. What are they trying to do better?
  2. How were they doing it before?
  3. What is it they need from you?

There is a sustainable demand for your solution, and there’s likely nothing much you need do differently. But to sustain and increase that demand, you will need to change your offering at some point. The answers to these three questions will help you decide where to innovate based on customer need. Even if you’re sure of your vision for the product, these questions will help eliminate any uncertainty.

A stagnant userbase

If you’re not losing any customers but not gaining any either, it’s likely that your solution works well for your users. However, they’re going to be reluctant to change unless it suits their needs. You need to ask them ‘Where do we suck? Where does it matter?’ It’ll help you work out which features need improving first: establishing the demand for what needs to change, not what you want to change.

A dwindling userbase

If your customer list has been diminishing, it’s time to start questioning whether the users’ problem still exists and whether your solution is applicable. People might be switching to a competitor, but they might be stopping all together. You need to know why they’re leaving before deciding whether to do something about it. Build the right thing for the right people.

What We’ll Do Next Time

Luckily, we’ve been gifted a next time.

When it came to developing our new product, I decided to start off on the right foot and conduct lots of interviews. We needed to combat bias and build a better picture of the opportunities that lay ahead.

For 8 hours one Monday, I fired off plenty of emails to our network and asked them some questions. Their answers gave us a chance to refine our offering before putting code to console, proving whether our idea had legs before spending any more time or money.

A selection of answers from our interviews.

And though you might say that research costs money, I think it’s better spending man hours validating your assumptions rather than building an engine for waste. I can’t begin to thank our interviewees enough because they gave us the confidence to continue.

Thanks for reading! Why not read the next post? If you have similar stories or something to teach us, grab me on Twitter (@stevenjmesser) or comment on the post. I’ll be adding to this series over time, so please do follow me or check back later.