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What is a Product?

As a product manager and executive, one of the most frequent and frustrating conversations I had with sales was around the definition of "product." Many wanted to separate services from products, or software from hardware from services. They wanted line items for each component: hard drive, memory card, Wi-fi, processor, and so on.

Do you want to buy a hard drive, memory card, Wi-fi, and processor? Or do you want to buy a laptop or perhaps a tablet?

Many teams have a hard time getting their arms around this:

"Everything the customer purchases is a product."

Theodore Levitt in his HBR article "Marketing Myopia" famously said, "People don’t want a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”

Actually, we need to understand what the quarter-inch hole will enable—the outcome; perhaps to build a desk or hang a picture.

And this is the big a-ha people need to get. Your product is not defined by what you sell (software, hardware, services, or anything from your lens). It is defined by the outcome the customer is seeking. The solution to their problem. The value you deliver.

Consider this definition of a product:

“A product is a solution for a persona’s problem, including all components necessary to fully solve that problem and the persona’s experience throughout the process.”

There are four key concepts that are critical to fully understanding the definition.

Personas and Markets

“a solution for a persona”

My business school professor Stew Bither defined market segments pretty simply as a “group of customers who share similar needs and wants, and react similarly to the same value proposition.”

We define a buyer persona as: A group of buyers who share a problem, and have similar values and motivations, regardless of demographics.

These personas live within markets and can transcend markets.

One of the biggest mistakes companies make—and the most common—is they do not do a good enough job of understanding personas. They target their product(s) at a broad market (like 'travel') and not a persona (such as 'a single parent with three kids').

Different personas may share a problem, but if they do not have similar values and motivations, they likely will pursue different solutions. The key takeaway for Personas and Markets is that you cannot be all things to all people.

Find the personas whose problems, values, and motivations align with your solution and differentiation.

Products Solve Problems

“a solution for a . . . problem”

In the simplest form, a product solves a problem for the buyer.

Peter Drucker called these ‘wants and needs.’ He said a product should address an unmet or under-met need that customers have. Or if you prefer the jobs-to-be-done (JTDB) format, a customer hires a product to do a job.

The point is, a product needs to address something the buyer is looking to address, whether you call it a problem, want and need, job to be done, or something else.

So as you seek to understand personas, you must ensure you truly understand the problem, need, or job they are looking to solve.

Whole Product Concept

“all of the components necessary to fully solve that problem”

Buyers are looking to fully solve their problems. They want a whole product.

The whole product concept is an adaptation of Theodore Levitt’s total product concept from his book entitled The Marketing Imagination.

In Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore defined a whole product as “everything required to assure that the target customers can fulfill their compelling reason to buy.”

They are not looking for a component of the solution; they want a complete solution (unless what they are looking for is a component).

You need to understand their problem and what the complete solution is. All of the components. If you do not have the complete solution, figure out how to put it together.

Experience is Part of the Product

“persona’s experience throughout the process”

The experience through the buying and using process is now viewed as part of the product.

  • Bad sales process or experience – that gets attached to your product.

  • Bad onboarding process – that gets attached to your product.

  • Poor customer support – that gets attached to your product.

Your slides, your proposal, your contract, your terms, your phone support, your client success interactions. Experiences through the buying, onboarding, using, and offboarding process are now part of the whole product, and you need to treat these experiences as such. And they must be managed.

What is Your Product?

Do you know your personas, what they value, and their motivations? The more they value your differentiation, the better.

Do you understand the problems they are looking to address? The better you understand their problems, the better the value proposition you can deliver to them.

Do you offer the whole product needed to address their problem? If it is bigger than what you offer, you better be thinking about how you assemble a whole product for them.

Do you understand the experience points along their journey? Use their experience throughout their journey to enhance your product, not detract from it.


Read our eBook How to Achieve Product Success to learn how to become systematic about discovering, developing, and delivering products.


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