Microsoft fmr Product Lead on Product Research
Product Research: Enhancing Product Without Budget
Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to work in a variety of organizations that leverage product research to enhance a variety of solutions. From small startups to the largest enterprises, it’s critical to get at the heart of what your customers need. However, the ways in which you conduct research vary greatly depending on two factors. First, you must understand the maturity of your product. Second, you need to consider how much budget you have to use.
To illustrate how product research scales differently across organizations, I will share examples from my career that align an X/Y axis that compares product maturity and available budget. Specifically, the X-axis represents product maturity – and the Y-axis represents the available budget. If you think about the graph in quadrants, there are four possible scenarios:
No money, no product = Startup (early stages).
No money, have product = Startup (building traction).
Have money, no product = Enterprise (looking for category expansion).
Have money, have product = Enterprise (looking to expand current product or expand to new category)
My first example comes from NCompass Labs – where I worked for several years prior to its acquisition by Microsoft. Specifically, this fits within the “no money, have product” category. Our goal was to prioritize new features for V3 of our web content organization tool. While we had a proven product, we weren’t getting any traction with our core customers on what to focus on for V3.
Furthermore, all of our core customers were Fortune 500-level organizations. As a result, we had to make sure that we got things right. The problem is that none of the proposals that we submitted were resonating with our customers. With this, we had to come up with another route to gain the necessary insights to build our V3 product.
In the absence of a budget for product research, we utilized direct feedback from our professional services team. Specifically, we were able to get at the heart of what customers wanted – even though we hadn’t been able to receive the feedback directly from customers. As a result, we used this critical data to build our V3 product and continued to move our product forward.
Ultimately, the biggest lesson to glean from this example is to never stop asking questions. Furthermore, you need to ask questions of the right people. Specifically, the answers you’re looking for might already be in your building. As we learned from leveraging our own team, you can collect impactful insights from a number of resources. Simply put, your customers are different than you think – and there are a number of ways to get at the heart of what they want.