How to Better Understand Your Customer and Improve Your Product
There are a few different reasons a software company would want to improve their product. Some are strategic—a company wants to enter a new market and needs to appeal to a new customer base—and some are reactionary—a company is seeing a slow decrease in sales or even losing customers. It knows it needs to make some changes to stay competitive. Whatever the reason, the customer is at the heart of any decision to change a product, and therefore should be considered throughout the entire process, from ideation to release.
Unfortunately, some companies only scratch the surface when it comes to pre-development customer research. They may leverage internal feedback on a current tool from existing customers, or they may dig through secondary market research on new market segments to understand the new target customer’s demands, but these measures only go so far. The depth and quality of the research are often limited by the software provider’s own experience, internal bias, and customer communication methods.
Without proper tools and forums to communicate dissatisfaction and facilitate improvements, customers eventually get so fed up that they move on to another product.
For example, when it comes to ascertaining existing customers’ satisfaction, providers may have poor visibility into what’s really going on in the product itself. They may not be properly monitoring software usage, such as where common bugs are occurring or when customers stop using parts of the solution altogether. They may lack communication mechanisms that would allow customers to report specific issues regarding the solution or submit feedback on their experience with the provider at a higher level. Without proper tools and forums to communicate dissatisfaction and facilitate improvements, customers eventually get so fed up that they move on to another product.
Some companies think they only need to look at similar products in order to build out their own product roadmap, but they often overestimate their ability to execute on the actual development or whether there is even a suitable use case for their goals. Others don’t prioritize their roadmap correctly, planning to introduce new features that don’t align well with existing functionality or that do not meet their customers’ actual needs. It is a common pitfall to deprioritize strengthening and enhancing foundational technologies in favor of a more ambitious product strategy.
Take a procurement automation provider that aims to expand their solution set and enter a new market by adding a sourcing automation module, which is a natural next technology adoption step for many procurement departments looking to automate processes. However, because the solution provider doesn’t properly gather user feedback from their existing customers, or research the actual functionality needs of their customer segment, the provider overlooks weaknesses in their current catalog and purchase order management tools that should be addressed first.
Often, the solution provider also falls victim to its own siloed environment. It has become so comfortable with a legacy product design, an outdated workflow, or a niche customer type that it excludes other customers in their market. Without realizing it, the provider might feel like an expert on their customers’ needs, and they sit in this echo chamber as their competitors move past them.
Before moving forward with any product re-development, companies should ask themselves two critical questions: Do you really know your customer? Do you know where you stand against your competitors? Market research reveals the answers to these questions. Market research can include:
- Brand awareness studies to map out competitive landscapes, revealing the true leaders in your space and how your organization stacks up.
- Brand perception studies to reveal how your company is perceived in the market and its strengths and weaknesses.
- Software functionality evaluation to show customer’s actual software requirements, identifying usage trends, feature prioritization, and product satisfaction—sometimes revealing that a development project a company is investing in isn’t actually that important to their target buyers.
- Customer loyalty studies to measure the loyalty of your customers and your competitors’, and to identify any weak spots that you can patch up, or even take advantage of (in the case of your competitors’ customers).
- Purchaser/influencer/user persona building to highlight the actual buyer journey experience, including purchasing channels, marketing touchpoints, purchase drivers and challenges, and sources for learning about and researching technology and solutions.
There are many more types of research methodologies that ultimately help an organization to better target where and how they present their services and offerings, build stronger product roadmaps, and reduce risk in business decisions. Leveraging market research to understand your customer and market truly means acknowledging that there is always room for improvement. Pursuing greater clarity and a broader perspective is an ongoing best practice.