What makes your product unique?

What makes your product unique?
Image Credit: Kevin O’Mara

Congratulations, you are managing a good product. It might even be a great product. However, when it comes time for one of your potential customers to pick a product to solve their problem, why should they choose yours over all of the other options that they have?

The Power Of A USP

Trying to figure out what makes your product better than everyone else’s is a classic product manager problem. One of the things that makes this so hard to do is the simple fact that we know too much about our product. We know how it does what it does and so we understand (in most cases) that we do things quicker / better / faster than the other guys. The problem comes when our customers are trying to decide between choosing our product or another product – they don’t know as much about our product as we do. Getting them to choose your product is a skill that you could add to your product manager resume.

What’s missing here is what we product managers like to call a Unique Selling Proposition (USP). To put it simply, a USP is a simple statement that clearly identifies what makes your product different from all of the other products that your customer could possibly choose. Note that I said that a USP was a simple statement, this means that it is really only one sentence long. No marketing brochures are allowed to serve as your USP.

You would be amazed at just how hard it can be to create a USP for your product. The reason that this is so hard is because as product managers we’ve been taught to think of our product as a collection of features. We know about a whole bunch of things that our product does very well. It is very hard for us to narrow this list down. However, in order to help our customers with their decision making, this is exactly what we need to do.

How Best To Use Your USP

Yes, creating a USP is hard work. However, it turns out that spending the time working on accomplishing this is time well spent. The reason is that once we’ve been able to clearly identify what makes our product different from everyone else’s product, it allows us to move forward with our product development definition and make sure that we spend our time on those things that our customer will value the most.

With a product that has many different functions, it can often be all too easy to create road maps and other feature plans that add value to the product in areas that have nothing to do with the USP that you’ve identified for your product. While some of this will always be required, now that you know what your USP is you are going to want to make sure that each new version of your product includes features that add more and more value to its USP.

As an example of the power of a USP, I was working with a small firm that was in the business of creating websites for schools. This is a niche market but there were a handful of other firms that were offering the same product. This firm did a better job, but had a challenge describing why what they did was better than everyone else. I worked with them to hash out a USP and eventually they discovered that what they did better than anyone else was to create websites that talked with each other – a network of websites. Once they worked this into their marketing material and their conversations with their customers they were able to really stand out.

What All Of This Means For You

In order to be a successful product manager, you have to really believe in your product – this is part of your product manager job description. You know that it’s the best solution to solve your customer’s problems, but your potential customers may not always know this. What this means for you is that you need to create a USP.

Your product’s unique selling proposition (USP) is the single sentence that clearly states why it is better than all of the other possible solutions that your customer could select. It can be very hard to boil down all of the things that your product does well into a single USP. Once you do this you can use your USP to guide future product development in order to strengthen what makes your product special.

No product manager ever has enough time to get everything done. However, taking the time to sit down and create a USP for your product is well worth the time that you’ll invest in doing it. Knowing what makes your product different will help both you and your customer make the right decisions going forward.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that you should have different USPs for different types of customers?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I can only speak for myself, but during the course of my career I have been the product manager for a number of very boring applications. You know, business-to-business stuff. Back in the day as I worked on my product development definition, how I dreamed of being responsible for a product that had millions of users and was associated with something that was more interesting. It turns out that this dream has now come true for a large number of product managers out there: they are responsible for dating apps. This market is growing and making your app successful has become very hard to do!

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Product Managers need to lead customers to their product

Product Managers need to lead customers to their product
Image Credit: Jacqui Brown

As product managers it can be all too easy to get caught up in the fancy and complicated parts of our job. You know, things like product release maps, feature planning, metrics, crafting a complete product development definition, etc. However, sometimes it is worth it to take a step back and make sure that we still have a firm grasp on the basics of product management. One key part of this is doing a review of the process that your customers go through when they decide to buy your product.

Understanding That They Have A Problem

No customer will ever buy your product if they don’t think that they need it. They have to first realize that there is something wrong in their life. It is the job of your sales team to make sure that the customer realizes that they have this problem in the first place.

A really good salesperson has the ability, simply by talking with a potential customer, to identify what things are “bugging” them. This salesperson can then explore what the customer considers to be a minor annoyance and, with a little bit of luck, uncover something that is actually a big problem for the customer.

Realizing That They Need A Product Like The One You Manage

Once your sales person has convinced the potential customer that they really do have a problem, now the goal is to point them towards your type of product as a solution to the customer’s problem. However, before they can do that, a salesperson knows that they have to get the customer to acknowledge that what they need is a solution that is like your product.

What all of this means is that if you were selling a specific brand of kitchen knives, then first you’d need to convince the potential customer that the solution to their problem was a new set of knives. At this point in time we’re not talking about your knives, but rather kitchen knives in general.

Discovering That They Need YOUR Product

Up until this stage, getting a potential customer interested in your product has pretty much been the job of your sales team. That’s good news, because there are more of them and fewer of you. Once we reach this stage of your customer’s decision making process, they are going to buy something, it’s just not clear that they are going to buy your product.

It’s at this stage that a product manager needs to jump in. This is the kind of skill that you can put on your product manager resume. The customer is looking at your product and a lot of other similar products. What needs to happen here is you need to very clearly communicate to them why your product is the best one for them. As product managers, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to go about doing this step correctly.

Accepting Your Price / Value Proposition

Once the customer has decided that your product best meets their needs, they need to come to an acceptance of just exactly how much you plan on charging them for the privilege of providing them with your product. The key thing to keep in mind here is that it’s not just your price that you need to manage, but it’s also the complete value proposition that you’ll be offering your customers.

Keep in mind that people do purchase the very expensive Lamborghini cars. Clearly someone has convinced them that the value of owning a ridiculously priced car like this is worth it. If that can happen, then certainly you can convince potential customers that your product is worth the price that you are charging for it.

Taking Action To Buy Your Product

All of the effort that you and your sales team have gone to will have been wasted if your potential customer never ends up buying your product. This means that it’s going to be up to you to get your customer to move from thinking about buying your product to actually making a purchase.

Your salesperson should be able to help you out here by simply asking the potential customer to make a purchase. However, as the product manager you need to help to move things along by making right now the time for your customer to make a purchase. This can mean having a sale, offing a limited time discount, or doing something special to motivate the potential customer to turn into a real customer.

What All Of This Means For You

Being a product manager is a complicated job – just look at your product manager job description. There are a lot of sophisticated things that we need to spend our time working on. However, it can often be all too easy to start to overlook the fundamentals of marketing that come into play in every sale to a customer.

As product managers we need to remember that every sale starts with a customer becoming aware that they have a problem that needs to be solved. The next step is for the customer to realize that they need a product like the one that you are offering. From that you need to guide them to your product and have them start to desire it. They’ll have to come to accept the price / value proposition that you are offering them. Finally, no sale will ever happen if you can’t get your customer to take an action.

The great thing about this process of turning potential customers into customers is that there is nothing difficult or tricky about it. We all get it. However, you do need to keep in mind that this is the process that will play out with your salespeople and potential customers day after day. As product managers, we need to make sure that everyone is equipped to make sure that the potential customers end up making the right decisions.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: How can a product manager help the sales team to uncover customer issues?

Click here to get automatic updates when
The Accidental Product Manager Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Product Manager Newsletter are now available. It’s your product – it’s your career. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Congratulations, you are managing a good product. It might even be a great product. However, when it comes time for one of your potential customers to pick a product to solve their problem, why should they choose yours over all of the other options that they have?

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