I noticed a strange trend early in my product management career. People in marketing, sales and even on our product teams could position products we hadn’t built yet and do it with remarkable clarity. We weren’t nearly as good positioning products we already had. I still see it with many of our clients today. What’s going on?

Our company was in the very early stages of rebuilding our entire product line from the ground up on a new technology platform. As you’d expect, customers and prospects were very interested. Anyone who knew anything about our future direction would get pulled into customer meetings, sales situations, partner meetings, etc.

I’d routinely hear phrases like…

  • “The whole point of product X is…[some great benefit that just netted it out]” 
  • “You know today how it takes 100 steps to do X, and then all these things go wrong and…? You’ll be able to do that in two steps and you won’t have to worry about the mistakes.”

There was little to no mention of features in these conversations because we were still a long way from any scope decisions.

Fast forward a year or so and the new products are being released. Guess what happened? All of us went headfirst into the feature gutter, and like a bad dream, we couldn’t pull ourselves out.

What in the world happened to all of those great value dialogues that just came naturally to everyone before the products were built?

I’d love to know your theory! Here’s mine.

When there are no features to talk about (the HOW part), it forces people to keep the discussion on WHAT a product will help customers do and WHY it’s important to them.

When features exist, especially cool new things, we’re so passionate about them that we completely forget about the other part of the conversation.

Here’s the thing. The WHAT and WHY part of the conversation is far more interesting to customers because that’s the part they most easily relate to. Following the WHAT and WHY dialogue with features keeps the HOW part in perfect context.

If You’re Going to Position Products…

I think the moral of the story is this, whether you have products or not. Use all three elements together, and 1 + 1+ 1 = a lot more than 3!

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