Build your products based on the testimonials you want to get from your customers
Testimonial: /ˌtestɪˈməʊniəl/ a formal written statement about the qualities of a product or service.
During a workshop, a couple of years back, I had this idea about the concept of testimonial driven development. The idea stuck with me since then and I've been using this framework successfully for years now. I wanted to share this idea with you.
Product people usually spend a substantial period of time in a problem-solution space. Learning about customers, about their pain points and seeking opportunities for adding value. That is good because the products will eventually solve some problems and make people's life easier. There is nothing wrong with this approach. However, I want to present a different perspective, Testimonial Driven Development (T/DD), which will let you see further into the future, beyond just product outcomes.
Testimonial Driven Development is something beyond building great products. It is about building delighting experiences for your customers. I'm sure your product is adding value for your customers, but have you tried adding value to your added value? Sounds confusing? Well, an additional value which I'm referring to is a value on a personal level of the customer. It's great if you solve the problem, but if you go the extra mile and give them an experience which will touch them on a personal, emotional level, they will be delighted. There are several benefits coming from a delighted customer:
- They are more likely to recommend to their peers (business scaling, network effect)
- They will become a product evangelist (free influencer marketing)
- They will be a regular, returning customer asking for more (strong brand, recurring revenues)
- Your product will serve a higher cause (mission-oriented business)
Sounds nice, doesn't it?
Let's find out how does the Testimonial Driven Development works. I've organized the explanation into three parts:
- Introducing an example,
- Testimonial anatomy,
- Reverse engineering.
1. Introducing an example
For the sake of the story and easier understanding, imagine that you and I are building a startup. It's called ProdBook. It is a multi-sided platform, connecting product managers and product people who want to exchange their used product management books. The platform is used for selling and buying used books. The books in this marketplace are business-related, especially in the field of product management and software development.
The platform would enable product people to exchange their books, share their recommendations and book reviews. Users of the platform will be able to sell their books and find new ones, recommended by their peers. This is a basic concept of this imaginary platform.
Great. Where do we start?
In testimonial driven development, we start from the end. Fast forward yourself to the future and imagine happy faces of your customers. Really get into it, imagine how they feel relieved and delighted. Try to hear them talking about your product, and take notes about what made them feel awesome. Got that picture in your head? Great. Now think about how your product will make them feel that way. Think about the delighting experience you can offer. Now try to put this feeling into words — testimonials. Set your expectations by defining the statements from your happy customers.
Often times, we limit ourselves by only thinking about the problem solution. Rarely do we think about what comes next. What will the customer feel after using the solution that you offer? Testimonial driven development is all about providing solutions with delighting experiences.
2. Testimonial anatomy
What is a testimonial?
A testimonial is a formal written statement about the qualities of a product or service.
I've analyzed a fair sample of testimonials and found a common pattern. Almost every testimonial consist of four essential pieces:
Stress is the part of the testimonial where customers describe the problem that they are experiencing. This is a valuable piece of information for product manager because it explains the pain points of the users. If you understand the problem that you are solving, it is more likely that you will come up with the right solution
Relief is the part of the testimonial where customers describe a particular feature of your product which helped them to achieve the intended goal. This part is interesting because it describes the tools and features of your product that the customers love and use the most.
Delight is the sweetest part of the testimonial. It's the part where your customers really feel good for using the product. Also, it's the part where you feel accomplished and proud because you made someone's life so much better. This is the feeling that we seek in T/DD.
Persona is a user profile behind the testimonial. It describes the personality and target audience for your product. It provides information such as age, interest, area of expertise, habits, and preferences. This is also a piece of valuable information for your market segmentation and a better understanding of your audience.
Let's go back to the ProdBook example. Imagine a platform user saying something along these lines:
You made my book search so much faster and effective. I just type in my interests and your algorithm provides the most popular titles instantaneously. And the comunity on the platform is awesome. Landed my dream job by using your networking feature!!
Mark Terry, ProdSoft Inc. CTO.
Sounds good, seems like Mark is very happy with our product. He is delighted because he was able to find his dream job by using ProdBook platform. Let’s see how can we lay out our product development plan based on this information.
3. Reverse engineering — extracting value from testimonial
Let’s breakdown the testimonial and dive into the meaning behind this statement.
As always, we start from the root cause of user frustration. This is what is called stress in T/DD. Read the testimonial and try to figure out what is the problem that the user is experiencing.
Mark talks about a book search. We all agree that our time is precious. Also, we all agree that we should learn more every day. The tricky part is to choose the best sources for learning. The best in terms of ROTI (return on time invested). So his frustration is related to the time required for finding an appropriate book, worth the time. He would love if someone could provide him with a ranking algorithm suitable for his interests and expectations, and possibly reading history and preferences. Which leads us to the next part of the testimonial…
This is the part where users talk about the key features of your product. This is where you want to see your flagship feature in its glory and magnificence. You might think that a single testimonial is too short to describe your key feature. But that is the point — your key feature should be so simple that it can fit into a sentence. Keep it simple and effective. Hide the complexity and make things look easy and effortless.
See how simple that sounds: just type in my interests and the algorithm provides the most popular titles instantaneously. Notice that there is nothing about the machine learning algorithms, data collection, user profiling etc. The complexity is hidden. Of course, the complexity will be required in order to provide these results and meet expectations, but nobody has to know about it. Anyways, relief part of the testimonial is the core of your product, and it the value you provide for the users.
This part of the testimonial screams with excitement! This is a statement about something that the user did not expect but it blew their mind. This is a part of your product that is not directly related to problem-solving. Rather, it is a slight surprise, that provides a competitive advantage. It is not necessarily a big benefit for the user. It is just a sprinkle of stardust which makes them feel special and understood. A thoughtful gesture that will warm their hearts.
Mark was not expecting to find his dream job on a book-sharing platform. But our networking feature enabled it to happen. It actually seems so obvious: you have an abundance of data about user preferences and their interests so it seems natural to leverage the data and create a delighter for the users. Tinder for business, so to speak.
These are the core elements of a statement. But there is more. One more thing. This statement contains the author. Describe your potential customers with their name, age, and profession. This will shed some light on the market segment that you want to attract.
This part is as equally important as the previous three parts of the testimonial. This information will keep you focused on a specific group of people. Designing a good product requires knowing your audience. Specifying the profile for your imaginary testimonial author is very important for you and your team. This will help during the design phase.
Stress — learn about the problem, identify the pain points and discover opportunities.
Relief — solve the problem in the best way possible.
Delight — provide the best user experience and put a bit of extra work in to make your users feel special.
Persona — get to know your customers and define the market segment you want to attract.
That's it. Simple, but effective. This was an example with only one testimonial. But the workshop should provide a dozen testimonials. This framework will make you think about the solutions but also, it will make you think about that little delighter that makes all the difference. It is what will make you stand out from the crowd. It is why your customers will absolutely love your product. So, go ahead, delight us!
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