Recently, the Dude conducted a new product briefing for the NA Sales team, who happen to be all gathered in town. At one point, I was highlighting the 5 major new features of our product, and was explaining the “value” to the customers of these features.
One of the sales managers interrupted to say that he was disappointed, and how in the hey day, we would have easily done double or triple this number of features. It took a lot of self control to not escalate the discussion, but I calmly pointed out a few things:
First, we have a mature product in a mature market. Wishing to go back to the early adoption curve, printing money, having lavish resort style sales meetings, where just glomming on more check box features was enough to drive sales and differentiate is just not possible. For what it is worth, we are more disciplined, methodical, and market driven than we were in the hey days. Heck, by their own admission, we did so many one off features to close a deal that we can’t shake a stick at it. But did these features add value?
Second, I am reminded of several blog postings and past experiences. Features don’t sell products, value sells products. Heck, even today’s blog by Seth Godin “On Pricing Power” references the fact that if customers don’t value your product, they won’t buy it.
To get this back on track, features don’t sell products. Those of us in product management are tasked with knowing enough about the markets, the customers, and what their needs are that we can solve. We provide solutions to problems, not stack ranked feature lists. Yet it is often the perception that all we do is stack rank feature lists and define the cut-line.
Think of a product that is successful despite not having the best features. The one that pops into my mind is the original iPod. It was not the first portable music player. It was not the most feature laden. In its first incarnation, it was little more than a hard disk, a jog wheel, and a display. But it solved a need elegantly, and started a franchise that now includes phones and tablet devices. Would Apple have been successful had they just matched +1 of the features of the Diamond Rio, or the Creative Labs MP3 players?
Back to my product, the truth be told, there were dozens of smaller features, also included in the release, that we are quietly rolling out. There is value in them, to certain customers, but together they are in total the value proposition of our offering. Now to get the sales team to see this.
(Originally written in 2011)
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