Sunday, May 9, 2021

Using a Technical Edge in Products

"Don't worry about people stealing an idea. If it's original, you will have to ram it down their throats." -- Howard Aiken

Innovative technologies are different than what came before. Product buying patterns are based on what has come before. If you have an innovative technology you will need to bend your customer’s stated needs and your technology’s capabilities to fit each other. Product market fit is not easy or pretty.

“But wait,” you might be thinking, “isn’t listening to the customer’s need the most important thing in product management?” Well, sort of. It’s not listening to what the customer says they need, it’s listening to what they need. The customer’s stated need is shaped by several components:

  • Their actual need to do something, such as pass a compliance audit or roll out a new service
  • Their experiences with other products that they’ve used for this purpose in the past
  • Their team’s appetite for innovation versus surety
  • Their purchasing process.

That last one is extra challenging; if your product fits into the buyer’s signing authority, then great, but if you’ve got to make it through an RFP-gated procurement office, your innovative product is going to be checklist compared with the last twenty years of status quo. The only way through is for your buyer to spend their political capital and force the issue.

If your innovative technology can help the customer solve their real need to do something faster and cheaper than legacy technology, then lean into that and give your buyer the weapons they need. You can get past experience and conservatism and even a purchasing department if you’re really helping the customer save money and time.

I’ll spare the full list of examples, but there are many; trust me that technologies now considered boring infrastructure, such as gratuitous ARP NIC teaming, were once radical and difficult to sell.