Your product won’t charm consumers forever: what are the skills needed to move it forward?

We all have products that keep us coming back for more. For you, it might be a simple fitness app like Strava, Instagram’s endless feed of engaging photos, or your flashy Beats by Dr Dre headphones.

What these products have in common is their addictive nature – and that they’re not addictive by chance. Businesses invest huge resources across design, product and marketing to make sure their product not only wins the customer, but keeps them. That’s the reason for the constant product updates, push notifications, and loyalty schemes.

Unfortunately, in Australia, product development lags behind some of its global counterparts. I say this having spent a large portion of my career at eBay and in Silicon Valley where time and again, I saw that just because a product has initial interest or uptake, that doesn’t mean it’s going to charm the consumer forever.

Product needs to move forward, and you need the skills to take it there.

If you’re responsible for product, it’s not enough to be a project manager, product marketer or similar. Success as a product manager means a track record of positive and tangible business results. The outputs you need to focus on are strong execution, and, for more senior leaders, solid product strategy.

Here are the key skills that product experts need to hone to ensure they create more successful solutions, not simply more products:

1. Data collection, extraction and analysis

Collecting and understanding your product and customer data is important because without it you are creating a product on assumption and opinion, not fact. The data will tell you whether your customers are using your product, how much they are using it and where the key drop off points are; which in turn highlight the opportunities. Make sure, however, that you don’t fall into the trap of focusing on ‘vanity metrics’, metrics that make you feel good instead of providing guidance on what to do next. Examples I’ve seen of this are features that drive traffic to a product page but don’t actually convert. While driving traffic to a page is good, not able to convert that traffic is bad.

2. Experimentation

Experimentation is critical. It’s one thing to intuitively know what will resonate but a whole other ball game to test your theory. You’ll also be surprised by the feedback you get and questions you’re asked when you start experimenting with, and testing, your product. I can’t highlight enough how important it is to get in front of the customer to solicit feedback. While testing is important, via A/B testing for example, customers will tell you what they like and don’t like about a feature. At eBay we had our own usability labs so we tested features constantly. We also did home visits to observe customers using our product in their natural environment. The investment in doing this type of research was priceless and lead to some great innovative products.

3. Customer advocacy

Within the business you are the voice of the customer and it’s up to you to make sure you prioritise and address their concerns. This means translating the data in order to help other parts of the business work together with a common goal. Product managers need to get into a rhythm of talking to their customers regularly whether it’s through surveys, panels, or in-person interviews. At eBay we had a ‘Voices’ program where department functions could talk to eBay customers and get their feedback on many initiatives, including product, pricing, policy, and so on. This was a quick way to put concepts and prototypes in front of our customers and get immediate feedback. We would carry their feedback through the development of the product to ensure that the finished product addressed their key concerns.

4. Training

On the training front, for new products, it’s not just about educating customers about your product, it’s training the sales, customer support, channel partners and account management team. Taking the time to properly train your internal team will save you time and sweat in the long run. This means not just blasting out a lengthy email, but running short training sessions, sharing product ‘cheat sheets’ and being on hand to answer any questions. Ensuring the teams are ready is critical to the success of the launch and ongoing management of the product.

5. Product identity

Beyond ensuring your product is easy to use, engaging, and has a feedback loop, you need build a sense of identity and membership. When people use or buy your product, they’re buying the cache that comes with it. For a brand like Apple users don’t just buy a phone, but the idea of being effortlessly cool. For a company like eBay, it it’s not just about the end-product but the thrift and thrill of the purchase. At One Kings Lane, a flash sales site that offered limited quantity brand name items at up to 80% off, it was the ‘thrill of the hunt’ – to be the first to purchase that hard to find, sought after item, that was beyond affordable.

Working on these skills will give you a good understanding of your customer, and how you can help solve their pain points. Ultimately, they’ll enable you to move the needle for the business and execute consistently, rapidly and effectively. Remember that if you don’t move product forward you won’t retain your customers. And if you can’t retain your customers, you don’t have a business.

About the author

Petra Gross is the VP of Product at Expert360, an online platform that connects businesses with a global network of top independent consultants for project-based work.