Personas are a good start
July 1, 2013
When I coach product teams, I often meet a ‘persona fan’. This is typically someone who has read the Cooper book (“The Inmates are Running the Asylum” – 2004) and advocates using personas to guide product development. This is a good sign for the team, since personas create focus. Instead of developing a product for everyone (and thus, no one), the team targets specific customer profiles. This creates a deeper understanding of user problems, current solutions, alternatives.
But personas are not enough. Personas apply to only one definition of a customer, the user. To be truly valuable, a team must supplement this ‘user’ view’ with a ‘decision-making view’. This is especially true when developing business products.
Any product team must validate two things: 1) that their product fits the customer; and, 2) that the customer is willing to pay for it. If the fit is good, but the customer is willing to pay little or nothing, then what’s the point of building this product? Instead, the team must find motivated buyers who feel the product fits well and solves their underlying problems.
The persona approach is most lacking when developing business products, which are evaluated, purchased and used by a group of people. In a business, a customer ‘decision making team’ is made up of several personas with different agendas: users, supervisors, requisitioners, managers. The decision making team, not solely users, evaluates the product and decides jointly whether to buy it or not. For business products, multiple personas must be integrated into a customer view. Then the team must hypothesize, validate and build the product which best satisfies this customer.
The method we use with product teams is to combine multiple views of the customer (e.g. personas, primary use, vertical segment) into a market matrix. As shown in the sample below, the market for this business product is stratified by vertical segment and primary use of the product. A market may be stratified differently depending on product and customer attributes. The objective is to group customers with mutually exclusive attributes in each cell of the matrix.
Once the matrix has been created, the team then hypothesizes the revenue opportunity in each cell of the matrix. As shown below, a green cell indicates a good opportunity, yellow is uncertain and red is bad. Then the team meets with customers primarily within green cells to validate the product opportunity. Validation is based on several factors, including the fit of the product, price the customer will pay and expected units sold.
At customer validation meetings, the team discovers how to blend multiple personas into a holistic customer view. It also validates which customers will buy the proposed product (i.e. green on green above). Finally, the product team then builds its Minimum Viable Product targeted to the needs of it most relevant customers.