- Initial focus during the coronavirus crisis has been on the impact to employees overall, and marketing and sales specifically
- Though not as immediately severe, there are implications for product management and actions product managers should be taking
- Product managers can take several actions during this time of crisis to help customers and position their products for success and growth
The coronavirus outbreak is impacting all aspects of society, and businesses across the board are trying to figure out how best to respond. The initial impact for many of our clients is on marketing and sales — marketers are trying to deliver virtual experiences with in-person events cancelled, sales teams are grappling with selling in the age of a pandemic, and customer success is on the front lines.
Of course, organizations’ first order of business should not be on product management; keeping employees safe and concern for the employee experience, communicating with customers, and ensuring that the company stays in business all take precedent. After all, if a tree is about to fall over, first make sure it doesn’t hurt anyone or damage any property — making a picnic table with the wood from the fallen tree comes later.
That said, in these challenging times, product management shouldn’t sit idly by and carry on business as usual. Product managers should be responsible for the overall commercial success of the offering, so they have a role to play in helping marketing colleagues with new demand creation approaches or providing more support to sales than they normally would.
However, product managers still need to tend to their own responsibilities. There will be ripple effects in the weeks and months to come, but here are seven actions product managers can take now to position the organization for success now and after this crisis has passed.
For products in the market today:
- Evaluate and consider adjusting pricing and packaging. This isn’t the time for knee-jerk pricing reactions or introducing major changes to a pricing model. However, some adjustments may be needed if customers’ needs have changed — packages based on the number of office locations a customer has may need to be adjusted to reflect users working remotely, for example. My colleague Lisa Singer highlighted some specific changes — such as considering low-cost or free offerings for those most impacted, and creating flexible upsell paths — in her blog post “Five Pricing and Packaging Steps for Selling in the Age of Pandemic.”
- Monitor product engagement and respond rapidly. Organizations with robust usage and analytics capabilities along with mature agile development approaches are well-positioned. Product engagement tools monitor in-product customer activity and allow product managers to create and display contextual interventions (e.g. announcements) to users who meet specific criteria. Use these tools to understand if and how customers are using your product differently than before, then quickly make changes and improvements. Additionally, for products with an influx in new users — videoconferencing or team collaboration, for example — onboarding guides and highlighting important capabilities to previously infrequent users may help customers realize more value and lighten the load on support teams.
For new products or enhancements in development:
- Increase the level of internal documentation. Many product managers used to being collocated with engineers are adjusting to working on remote, distributed teams. As a general rule, the farther apart physically a product manager is from the development team, the more documentation is needed. Chat and video calls help significantly but are different from collaborating in person, so plan on providing additional documentation — including scenarios and prototypes — to ensure intentions and requirements are understood.
- Reconsider your launch dates and strategy. In some cases, launch dates may need to be pushed back for new products or major enhancements. Getting the attention of customers about an expensive new product is difficult when those customers are focused on keeping their business afloat. Sales reps may be so concerned with pipelines drying up and opportunities getting pushed out that they can’t focus on learning about new product capabilities. However, in other cases, it may be beneficial to release new functionality sooner and more rapidly, especially if there is an influx of new customers or existing customers using your products in new ways, or if capabilities related to changing needs can be added sooner. Every situation is different, so there is no one blanket rule to follow. Look at releases planned for the next three months, and work with a cross-functional team to evaluate whether adjustments are needed.
- Evaluate if requirements have changed. We recommends that, prior to launch, new products and major enhancements go through a decision gate during which two questions are asked: Does the offering meet customer needs as expected? Is the offering release ready and is the organization ready to launch? Often the primary focus is on the second question or ensuring that the product as built matched what was requested. However, dramatic changes in the past few weeks and months may have changed the market conditions and customer needs significantly enough to alter the value proposition and expectations for the offering. Even if the product was built exactly as requested, what was desired even a month ago may no longer be valid. Evaluate whether new requirements need to be added or existing requirements no longer apply or need to change significantly.
For products or concepts in the early stages:
- Reconsider the research approach. In-person interviews and observational research are often ideal for uncovering new needs and helping new offerings take shape, but are likely impossible to use in the near future. If done well, phone interviews can be effective at uncovering unspoken needs. However, if talking with customers is difficult, this may be a good time to try a minimum viable product experiment or look into user research and concept testing technologies that can help gather (often asynchronous) feedback on product and enhancement ideas before they go into development.
- Identify potential future needs. Predicting the future is always difficult. Still, it’s worth considering how customer needs have changed so far in 2020 and projecting how they might still change. Is there a new normal for customers that your product may need to account for? Clients of our SiriusDecisions Product Management research service have access to the research brief Deep Dive: Finding Emerging Needs, which describes techniques that can be used to help identify potential future needs.
These are trying times for most of us. With some resolve and focus, though, product managers can help organizations and their customers navigate the crisis and hopefully emerge even stronger on the other side.