May 26, 2016

A short guide on rapid experimentation

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In the last couple of years, I have started to appreciate the power of small, quick experiments. As product managers, we often face the challenge of bringing together the right resources (especially, design / tech expertise) to validate certain ideas and to make progress.

Thanks to the lean methodology, many of us have started to embrace the experimentation mindset, which involves

  • Taking a complex problem and breaking down into small, executable chunks
  • Seeking progress, irrespective of the results
  • Incorporating key learnings/insights back into the experimentation process

It's easy to read about a framework or a methodology from a book/blog and get excited about the benefits it can bring to your role. But unless we practically experience/execute it in our realm of work, we will not be able to appreciate the benefits or realize the impact.

Experiments are akin to prototyping in the design world. They are not expected to provide the complete solution but give you enough information to make the "next" decision. The reasons why experiments are a handy tool for a product manager are the following:

  • Helps to explore the problem space and the context
  • Can be driven independently
  • No dependency on tech/UX resources
  • Quick way to capture baseline metrics

An experiment is slightly different from a hypothesis. In the case of an experiment, you are seeking the unknown whereas for a hypothesis, you have a point of view and want to validate whether it is true or not.

The scope of an experiment could fall under any of these categories:

  • to identify the hypothesis to go after
  • to validate/invalidate a hypothesis
  • to gather sample data, using which you can derive meaningful insights
  • to understand a process, potential flow, dependencies, pitfalls and bottlenecks
  • to explore multiple alternatives, different means to achieve a certain goal
  • to simulate a workflow before embarking on multi-level approvals and coordinating with various stakeholders

For an experiment to be successful, I recommend a 6-step process:

  1. Be very clear of the scope
  2. Define a goal
  3. Identify the target audience
  4. Fix the timeline during which the experiment will be run
  5. Make a clear plan of action. List down the steps involved
  6. Define the metrics to be captured

To give you an example, I'm sharing an experiment that I ran for a SaaS product.

Scope - to identify a goal-driven communication plan for new user onboarding.

Goal - to design a series of contextual lifecycle emails that result in higher conversion rate (the number of users who completed the expected onboarding flow)

Target Audience - users who signed up for free trial of the SaaS product.

Steps involved / Plan of action - As a new user completes certain tasks/activities, an email will be sent, nudging the user towards the next task. The end outcome of these emails is to get the user to experience the complete flow and achieve success with the product.

As part of the experiment, we tried out various subject headers, email content, personalized contextual success messages and supporting collateral/documents. This was a completely manual effort without any dev/UX involvement. Once we finalized the flow, we then operationalized it using a customer communications platform.

Metrics to be captured - % of users who complete steps 1 to N after they signup for free trial. Measured cumulative as well as for every change in variables (subject, email content etc)

Do share your thoughts on this topic and how an experimentation mindset has worked for you.

Originally published in LinkedIn Pulse - 

May 16, 2016

Book Review: The Wedding Photographer by Sakshama Puri Dhariwal

 It's been a while since I read fiction and when I came across the synopsis of this book, I was intrigued. First, the title. I know an acquaintance of mine who does wedding photography and her work is amazing. Capturing the candid moments as the couple enters an important phase in life must be challenging but interesting too. So I was curious to know how they work and capture such brilliant pictures.

I got a good glimpse into their work through the life of the protagonist Risha Kohli. A good person at heart, cheerful, confident and passionate about her work. Through a chance encounter, she gets to meet Arjun Khanna - rich, talented, business guy who generally feels out-of-place in his world. How these two characters meet, fall in love and deal with their setbacks form the crux of this story.

I loved how the author has built Risha's character through specific incidents in the storyline that not only move the story forward but also elevates the character. The first section where Risha and Arjun meet and the events leading upto it were funny and witty. Once the Punjabi wedding part begins, it started to feel like a Karan Johar movie (due respect to him, I love some of his movies), especially the grand sets and costumes. The part with the nani character and her broken English gave a good laugh. As the wedding events progress, Risha and Arjun come close and realize their love for each other.  Up until this point, I loved how the story progressed.

I felt the third section where they face a certain setback could have been dealt with better. Love is built on trust and understanding. I couldn't accept Arjun breaking up with Risha without giving her a chance to explain herself. Also, the solution that solved the work-related issue that was bothering Arjun a lot is not really believable. I like all-is-good kind of endings and so towards the end, everything works out fine for the couple.

An easy read, funny and romantic - a good story for a Saturday afternoon. Monsoon is on its way, so save this book for a rainy day.

P.S. The book was sent to me by Flipkart as part of their "bloggers initiative". The review is my honest and unbiased feedback of the book.

May 10, 2016

10 lessons I learnt on product marketing working for a SaaS startup

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It's been almost a year since I moved on from a fast-growing SaaS startup. It was an enriching learning experience, working with smart people on various aspects related to target market definition, positioning, customer development, stakeholders motivation, buyer journey and funnel conversion factors that helped me understand the importance and role of product marketing, especially for B2B products. Before the memory fades away, I'm jotting down the 10 lessons I learnt that are important for effective product marketing. Hope you find it useful.

(1) Understand the motivations and goals of all stakeholders. The stakeholders involved in a typical B2B purchasing decision are the decision maker, influencer, buyer and end-user. Being aware of the organization's business goals, priorities and challenges are crucial in understanding stakeholder's motivations and expected behaviors.

(2) Identify where your prospects are in the problem / solution awareness matrix.
For prospects who are aware of the problem and also aware of the solutions, you need to showcase why your product provides superior value in comparison to available alternatives.
For prospects who are not even clear of the problem to be solved, you need to invest significant effort in educating the customer on why this problem is critical and what impact it is having on his P&L. Numbers always help to bring clarity on the severity.

(3) How important this problem/need is in comparison to other problems to be addressed in his organization? Is there a budget allocated to get it solved? What's the customer's priority of this problem to be solved? If it's not in his top 3, don't waste your time. You will end up with longer sales cycles and multiple follow-ups.

(4) Understand prospect's current business challenges and clearly articulate how your product can help address one or more of these challenges. Bring this focus in the collateral being prepared. Do not opt for a general ppt/deck or a common demo flow for all. Customize the collateral and demo for EVERY prospect with the right context.

(5) Evaluate the alternatives and workarounds your customers are presently using to solve the problem. Change is hard. People prefer status-quo, however inefficient it may be. So your goal would be to help prospects understand the inefficiencies of present alternatives and how they impact their key business metrics.

(6) Figure out if it is a top-down initiative (mandate from the upper management to fix certain issues/achieve certain goals) or a bottom-up initiative (a manager trying to solve one of his key challenges). Your approach and next steps will vary based on the answer. If it is a bottom-up initiative, help the influencer become your champion and enable him/her to build a clear, crisp business case.

(7) Analyze the prospect journey in the inbound marketing funnel - what blog articles did he read, what case studies/white papers did he download, did he check out your pricing page etc? This will help you to identify where he fits in the problem/solution awareness matrix and gives you good insights into the direction you should take moving forward.

(8) Make free trials exclusive, don't push every prospect into the free trial pipeline. Have a clear free trial qualification criteria and enroll ONLY those prospects who are high in the problem-awareness dimension and are serious about evaluating your solution.

(9) Provide different ways for a prospect to get on-boarded. Prepare your onboarding strategy based on multiple learning preferences (visual, auditory, kinesthetic).

(10) Minimize the effort required by prospects to check if your product solves their problem or not. Don't bore them with a 13-step elaborate tutorial or a 5-min overview video. Identify their quick wins and help them achieve those as quickly as possible. Your trial period might be 7, 14 or 30 days but a qualified, serious prospect will just need about 2-3 days to make his decision.

Originally published in LinkedIn pulse - 

May 5, 2016

The need for product conversations

A few days back, I was having an interesting conversation with a product manager of an early-stage startup. He's been building a B2B product from scratch and was looking for someone who can listen to his thought process of how he's product-izing the whole concept, the workflow and the UX. We spent around an hour on this exercise where he was talking the most while I was listening intently and was asking a few questions. The questions weren't really earth-shattering but more fundamental and basic. At the end of the hour, he felt energized and was able to identify a few areas that require immediate attention in his product. For me, it was a good learning experience and also gave me an opportunity to exercise my "product-thinking" muscle, if I may say so :-)

Product management is a skill that is best learnt through experience and real-life problem statements. No courses or certifications can match upto the learning that you'd get from an actual problem that involves product-solve - a term that is frequently used at my current workplace :-)

There are multiple reasons why I think such product conversations should happen more frequently, especially in India where product management skill is in high demand.

A product conversation in this context happens between two product owners / product managers. Let's say, A wants to sound-board his thought process and B is ready to listen. Such informal conversations without any associated tangible reward or recognition are extremely helpful, enriching and mutually beneficial to both the parties. Let me list down some of the benefits that I can foresee:

From A's point of view,
1) A non-stakeholder has no bias
Keeping aside the confidentiality, non-compete clause and other legal implications, a non-stakeholder can give honest, unbiased inputs and can ask the right questions - sometimes very basic and common sense, which may not be that apparent to us. Our peers, other internal stakeholders (including you) and customers know a little too much about the market, the problem to be solved and the available solutions. Call it the "curse-of-knowledge". A non-stakeholder brings a new perspective, which may not have come into picture while you are product-izing the solution. He/she also provides non-critical and constructive feedback.

2) Helps to take a step back
As a PM, you are heads down focused, building the product, planning the release, talking to customers and working on other umpteen tasks that occupy your mind (and time). You don't have the luxury of taking a step back and think through what made you take a specific direction. An hour-long conversation with a trusted product person helps you to explain why and how you are envisioning a new product or a new feature. Articulating your thought process in clear words helps you unravel a different angle that you might have missed.

3) Identification of cross-functional skill needs
During the conversation with my friend, we talked about user onboarding and how the product can help the user achieve quick wins. As I have worked earlier on projects in these areas, I helped my friend identify a few action items around them. They may or may not be within the scope of his work but the conversation helped him understand the importance of these areas. The product person B can bring his experience to the table on - say, analytics, product marketing, UX best practices etc, which A may not have had prior experience.

From B's point of view,
1) Develops product thinking
Product thinking skill is like a muscle that has to be exercised. It cannot be achieved through courses, mock problems or in one-off interviews. Real world experience cannot match up to these alternatives. Such conversations helps you envision the challenges typically faced by a product manager. They also help you ask the right questions and structure your thought flow.

2) Gives you exposure to multiple domains
T-shaped skill development is a concept I subscribe to. Through such deep conversations, you get exposure to various domains on which you may or may not be aware of the intricacies/complexities.  You might also get curious about certain aspects of a specific domain that emerged during these conversations, which you might look up/research/explore later.

3) Provides opportunities for active listening
As product managers, we are "expected" to talk a lot. But I often emphasize on the importance of active listening. I had earlier written in detail about this topic. In today's world of endless distractions and constant interruptions, this skill is becoming obsolete. Try to lend your ears with an open mind and listen to someone deeply without getting distracted. It opens up a world of new opportunities and ideas.

Hope I have convinced you enough on the need for product conversations. Let's connect, reach out in an informal manner and make this happen.

Originally published in LinkedIn Pulse -

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