What Products Should You Build To Solve Your Customer Problems?

For our first webinar of 2021, we were joined by several Product experts to discuss how they and their businesses have adapted and changed to meet the needs of an ever-demanding client base, as well as their solutions to ensure they offer the best products to fit their customer’s needs!

With over 30 years of experience between them, the main focuses were on product management and the different approaches that can be taken, such as, innovation, products, and solutions, and how it encompasses both working with customers in various ways and adapting and responding to challenges posed into the product function.

The Four Guests

Tim Hall - Head of Innovation at Boxxe; a technology experts’ provider. Boxxe is on a journey from a business that used to be around products that are focused on software and hardware into a technology service provider. The company is now focused on history around the public sector, and a small but growing corporate footprint.

Ian Hart - Head of Product at The Access Group; a mature organisation focusing on providing software across lots of different sectors. The Access Group specialise in software and services that wrap around their software whilst working with public and private sectors.

Ravi Rabheru - Product Director at Zayo; a large telecoms provider that owns underlying fibre underground. The business works with major companies, such as banks, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. Ravi looks after LIT solutions and owns the multi-Cloud strategy globally, he believes that the telecoms industry needs to adapt for their customers. Zayo, works B2B rather than B2C.

Robert Grigsby - Director of Product Management at Six Degrees; a cloud and management provider which has grown through acquisitions and organic means. Robert covers all things Cloud, infrastructure, connectivity security and the modern workplace.

Product-led services or bespoke services?

Product Management is an old discipline to do with the standardisation of software. We have all heard of HP, developed by the famous Bill Hewlett, who developed a concept whereby rather than selling something different to each customer, it is all about looking at what the whole market wants and needs and picking the appropriate components to pre-package them.

Ian has been known to work on both sides of product-led services and bespoke services. He explains that it is very difficult to take different parts of the software to meet the needs of different customers. This is where software moved forward very quickly and picked out the most important parts of software that met 80% of the consumers’ needs and developed products like “office 365” which appealed to the mass market being a product-led service.

Product Management and services, regardless of what they are selling or providing, still provide an overall service. iPhones and Android’s are services, and even though they are a physical product, the service enables the consumers to check their emails, make phone calls all in one tangible item. Apple is not just a device but the ability to provide services to the end-user with one product in their hand.

Ravi explains that there are two types of services we are trying to service. Looking at both internal (sales, marketing, and technical teams) and external (the end-user) markets. If all companies are selling the same products, then the difference is how your company is selling the product, and how efficient they are in doing that. Most people can buy a service and probably do not even use 20% of the service. But the success of selling this product is down to the customer service you are offering and the ability to take a step back.

On the other hand, if you are only fulfilling 80% of your customer’s needs, then how is your business going to grow and survive? There is a lot more work involved in offering bespoke services, but there is also the advantage of being able to up the margins on these services. Within the world of business, sometimes it is just not scalable to build a bespoke service, including customised tools, original ideas and of course, tailor-made strategies, hence why these often come with a hefty price tag.

Depending on the product/service that is being provided and what needs it needs to fulfil, product-led services and bespoke services all have their role to play in the world of business.

So, how do businesses manage their products?

Often, customers do not know what they want when it comes to purchasing or using products, so they look to businesses for advice and guidance. This is where the service level is extremely important, ensuring you can offer your customers the knowledge and expertise required. A large part of businesses managing their products is through scalability: this is very important as it is how a company increase sales, it is the ability of a system to grow to meet a company’s business needs. It is the ease with which the supply of a product, service or process can be expanded to meet changing levels of demand.

Customers want to feel they are getting something that is personal to them. As mentioned above, it is very difficult to scale up whilst offering a bespoke service. Therefore, it is a very fine balance between how you design the standard service, to enable that consultancy layer to still exist. An example of this is how this is done in the car manufacturing industry, the customer is given choices to pick” personalisation” for a car design, making the customer feel special and valued. Whereas the business is actually offering the customer a selection of products that are already part of the standard car build so wouldn’t alter the manufacturing process, all allowing the customer to feel they are getting a bespoke and tailored product.

B2C is a very emotive sector, the buyers are the users, whereas B2B is very different as the buyer is disconnected from the product. In business, such as with the example of Office 365, there is not much personalisation that goes into this for the end-user as they only try to meet 80% of the user’s needs, compared to the car industry previously mentioned which has a more emotive experience. The chief aim of B2B marketing is to form a professional relationship between two companies, the objective of B2C marketing is to develop a popular brand.

Following Boxxe 2020 rebrand they introduced the strapline “making technology human”. Boxxe always used to sell products with a lead on IT-focused conversations, but as time has moved on, they realise it is not just about the IT product but also about the customer and the people using the product. Through client and customer consultation this knowledge has all been developed using customer workshops, mapping out what the buyer cares about and then what the user cares about. It is about asking the question; how do I make my buyers care about what my users care about? If you can connect the 2 then that is how as a business, you can differentiate yourself.

Drive for change

The need to alter the way businesses work to keep up with demand and competitors, as previously discussed, is what is driving these enterprises to change. Are the changes more of a commercial catalyst or solutions and services catalyst and how are businesses doing this?

Ravi explains that he does a series of bi-weekly training for employees, to show them the values and the solutions within the workplace. For example, they are learning about how you go from having a conversation with a network architect to a product manager that is delivering an app for the banking consumers. These conversations are very tough, so need a lot of training to ensure the movement/change is successful for both the company and the customer. Peer learning is most important, as when few begin to succeed others want to follow, their ears perk up and they begin to listen.

Scaling up is also about the scaling up of skillsets, Ian illustrates how change depends on the maturity of the business, where they are looking at splitting the product management function to various levels for a few reasons. A way to ease the drive for change in the working environment is to work in steps. Humans are not designed to like change; they are a creature of habit and so we should utilise this where possible. The most successful way to implement change within the product world is to start with one specialised product manager in charge of one product, one development team and one scrum master. Once you have validated key UX and technology risks, it becomes safer to start to scale up by splitting the existing teams into new teams with new products and then added new employees to these existing teams, who already have the existing skills needed to succeed.

To conclude, product management is not just about collecting data and viewing it but doing something intelligent with it once it has been collected. Data, to be a catalyst for growth, needs to be understood implicitly and needs to demonstrate the value of the service: it is taking the figures and turning them into useful artefacts to make business decisions with. Customer experience is key to success, transition processes need to be more automated and integrated to ensure businesses are unique and excel above their competitors. Businesses need to be able to adapt quickly to changing conditions, they need to be quicker than their competitors. This can be done by improving employee’s knowledge of the business and by helping development teams understand the end user’s needs.

We’ve got plenty more fantastic industry experts lined up for 2021 to take part in our webinar series. If you’d like to find out more or to get involved as a speaker yourself then please get in touch with Robert Taylor.

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Kate Higgs

24th May

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