What the Past Two Months Have Taught Us About Product Strategy

It feels like things are changing daily in this new COVID-dominated world. But daily changes also mean daily lessons to learn. So to keep up, we started Better Product Weekly: a new podcast series to share timely insights from product leaders adapting to today’s changing market, user, and product demands. 

We’ve been hearing some common themes amongst these product leaders. 

Here’s what we’ve learned.

Focus on Your Customers

  1. Now is the time to hold a mirror to your clients:  In times of uncertainty, listening becomes your greatest superpower. Sending out marketing messages or looking to upsell a new feature without sensitivity can make you look self-serving. Amy Brown, founder and CEO of Authenticx, explains how holding a mirror to your current clients allows you to better understand their personalized needs. 

“When thinking about introducing this feature, we’re turning the mirror, tuning our ears to the parts of the conversation that are most relevant to the customers right now. I think the whole world needs to be looking for ways where they can help.” — Amy Brown, CEO and Founder of Authenticx

  1. Be authentic, and pay attention to the times: Circumstances dictate how you communicate to your users. If you’re focused on selling instead of understanding existing priorities, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Darrian Mikell shared how his company Qualifi is focusing on communicating its unique value, without taking advantage of the panic surrounding a suddenly remote workforce.  

“In all scenarios, if you truly believe that you have something of value to offer someone, then it’s almost your duty to reach out to them and let them know that you’re available.” — Darrian Mikell, Founder of Qualifi

  1. Stay hyper-focused on changing customer needs: Customer needs have changed and continue to change daily. How can you stay true to your product’s mission while pivoting to help your customers and your employees? A few product leaders have prioritized weekly time to spend listening and re-engaging with customers. This helps to keep the product’s higher mission in mind while still being informed and adaptive to customer needs.

“Most of our customers have been forced to shut their doors. So we’ve had to find new ways to really help them with our software. This change in needs has altered some of our team’s day to day focus. But overall, our mission hasn’t changed. So it’s more like positioning of the different products that we offer.” — Myles Grote, Head of Product at Upper Hand

“We’ve tried to be very intentional about being sensitive to the specific needs of our customers and making sure that our product is there to support them during this time.” — Amy Brown, CEO and Founder of Authenticx

  1. Your existing customers are priority number one: In times of economic crisis, it is easy to get distracted by dollar signs. But your best sales strategy right now is not securing new business, but instead being an essential partner for the customers you already have. This crisis will not last forever, and when we all come out the other side you want your customers to remember you as the partner who stuck it out with them. As Christian says, “you cannot lose your existing customers at the expense of the effort you spent to go find more.”

“The way that we’ve pivoted and changed during this time has been focused around supporting the customers who are critically impacted, giving them offers to keep them onboard. And just to go above and beyond for our customers in every possible way we can.” — Ryan Chan, CEO and Founder of UpKeep

Find and Stick to Your Value

  1. Understand your value before and after COVID-19: We often make assumptions about our value based on our own opinions, or we guess what our customers need. But a large scale event like this provides a unique opportunity to hit the reset button. Now is one of the few moments where companies can take time to identify how things are changing for their product, the market, their users, and their unique value proposition. 

“I hope that people listening can understand that they need to just pause and say, what was true before that isn’t true now? Then reflect, what’s true today that wasn’t true before? It’s time to figure that out.” — Myles Grote, Head of Product at Upper Hand

  1. Stay above the noise by focusing your message: There is a lot of messaging out there that seems to just take up space. The product team at Cloverleaf intentionally decided not to lean into the trend of discussing COVID-19. Instead, they have been able to rise above the clutter by going back to what matters most to their users and asking them personalized questions about what they need. 

“We’ve been really intentional to say maximum one sentence about, hey, we understand this is happening at this time. Whether it’s, hey, maybe you’re feeling isolated or maybe your team’s working remote for the first time ever, that type of stuff. But then we just move on to talk about you. What do you need? What’s happening in your life?” — Kirsten Moorefield, Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Cloverleaf

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Don’t Overreact

  1. Just because the world has changed doesn’t mean product development should change: Development is expensive. Instead of rushing to build something new, consider how you could adapt your messaging to address new market needs. To effectively adapt your message, hone in on your customer’s most pressing needs and then build messaging to speak to where they are today. By focusing your messaging first, you can make sure you’re not throwing money at the problem when that isn’t truly what your customers need. 

“Drawing a clear line, there’s product marketing strategy and there’s product development strategy. And I think it’s really important to point out the difference between the two because our product development strategy hasn’t changed whatsoever. We’re still focused on the same stuff that we were focused on before. However, our product marketing strategy has definitely changed.” — Myles Grote, Head of Product at Upper Hand

“The only thing that we did from a product development standpoint was to take what we already had and add analytic capabilities around customer sentiment around COVID-19. So we just built on to what we already had and then pivoted our product marketing strategy in March… It’s really important that we are not tone deaf from a marketing perspective right now. So we’re really just focusing our marketing messages on how we can help you in the here and now.” — Amy Brown, CEO and Founder of Authenticx

  1. Avoid copying what other companies are doing: These decisions may feel out of your league and it may look like other companies have it all together, but you can’t assume that what works for some will also work for you. And for many, staying the course could be the right decision. How you come to that conclusion ultimately goes back to spending time to understand your users’ needs and business impact. 

“Product roadmap-wise, we had a lot of initial big conversations and decided not to react quickly and whiplash our team, even though that sounds a bit ironic because literally the whole world has changed. So staying the course may sound unwise and we debated that a lot internally, but we decided what we’re doing and what we’re already building doesn’t need to change. Just how we present it to people, what’s helpful, should change.” — Kirsten Moorefield, Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Cloverleaf

Act Short-Term. Think Long-Term.

  1. Stay opportunistic: While it is important to trust the goals and roadmap you set for your product, it is also important to stay open to opportunities right in front of you, and recognize that your customers’ short-term needs have shifted. By opening yourself up to opportunities and easy wins, you can deliver immediate relief for your customers while also potentially finding new long-term value.

“How we’ve stayed nimble during these changing times is that we’ve said collectively as a company we’re gonna stay opportunistic. We’re gonna stay open to new ideas, to how we can better support our customers in this post-COVID world.” — Ryan Chan, CEO and Founder of UpKeep

  1. Focus on what you can control: This is a time fraught with uncertainty, and nobody is going to do everything right. Instead of letting that uncertainty overwhelm you, prioritize what you think is right and focus on what you can control. Ryan Chan, CEO and Founder of UpKeep, has created a customer success team to focus solely on his customers that have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 crisis, reaching out daily to get ahead of the problems they’re facing, since the thing he knows best is serving his customers. He also focuses on the main thing their team can control: Their perspective. 

“We know that the fundamentals of our business are here for the long term. We know that at some point there is going to be a turn towards normalcy. So we want to focus on the things the three things we can control. We’re going to focus on our mindset. So every day when we come to work, what is our mindset and are we optimistic? Are we positive? The second thing that we’re going to focus on is our effort. How much effort do we put in every single day? And the third piece is, what are we doing for our customers are we continuing to stay committed to our customers in the long term?” — Ryan Chan, CEO and Founder of UpKeep

  1. There is hope in the chaos: There is one consistent theme emerging in the industry: the future is tech. While the path forward may be unclear today, your digital strategy will be the bedrock to build on, and will bring you the clarity you need tomorrow.

“Companies today are just trying to figure out how to make it through. Every company is having to make do, but product is going to be just as or more important once it starts correcting itself.” — Christian Beck, Executive Design Partner at Innovatemap

“It’s important to distinguish between micro patterns that are just happening today, just because of the situation that we’re in, versus these more long term sustainable changes that are going to take place.” — Anna Eaglin, Principal Product Partner at Innovatemap

Nobody has all the answers and it is crucial now more than ever to share our learnings and put our heads together to find the best way through this crisis. Better Product Weekly will continue to share timely product insights from leaders on the front lines, so be sure to subscribe to stay up-to-date. And if you haven’t already, join the Better Product Community to connect with and learn from product leaders across the country.

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