As a B2B Product Manager or Innovator, you’ve probably heard a million times about the importance of “understanding your users.”
But what does it really mean to understand your users? And how can you use that information to build better products and get more buy-in from your stakeholders?
There are many valuable frameworks like Personas and Jobs-To-Be-Done to articulate the various aspects of your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). But in this post, I want to give you a different perspective.
What if you looked at your customer as “the hero” of the story and positioned your product or company as “the guide” who will help the hero through her journey?
That’s the approach I recently learned from the book Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller, and I love it.
In the book, Donald Miller uses the tried and true story arc of “The Hero’s Journey” and applies it to business. I’m sure you know the Hero’s Journey story arc because most movies are based on it.
In the book, the author frames the Hero’s Journey as follows:
“A CHARACTER who wants something encounters a PROBLEM before they can get it. At the peak of their despair, a GUIDE steps into their lives gives them a PLAN and CALLS THEM TO ACTION. That action helps them avoid FAILURE and ends in a SUCCESS.”
Think of Luke Skywalker as the hero, Obi-One as the guide… Or Neo as the hero, and Morpheus as the guide.
If you apply this framework to B2B Product Management, the CHARACTER (i.e., hero) is your customer, and your product/company is the GUIDE.
Thinking of your product as a guide to help your hero save the day is very powerful. This reframing will not only help you make better decisions about your roadmap but also allow you to conduct more profound discovery, and it will help you be a more effective communicator with your stakeholders about who you are building for and what problem they are looking to solve.
Three key takeaways from the book:
1) The journey is never about you, your company, or your product.
The hero in your business story is our customer. Therefore, everything you do, from product strategy to prioritization to discovery, should reflect your role as the guide and your focus on supporting your hero’s journey. This also means that your customer doesn’t care about your product’s features or your use of the latest technology trends. All they care about is how will you help them in their journey.
2) The key is to understand your customer’s transformation.
For your customer, your product is a means to an end. So, you must understand the current state of your customers and the transformation they will experience once they interact with your product. Using your product should be much bigger than just scratching an itch or fixing a pain. It should transform your customers into a version of themselves.
For example, your product is not “a tool to build dashboards”; instead, it’s a tool that takes your customers from confused to empowered or from overwhelmed to efficient. By articulating this transformation, you’ll have a much stronger value proposition, AND you’ll gain the trust of your stakeholders by demonstrating you really know your audience.
3) The value of your product must be easy to understand.
If your product is difficult to use or you need extensive training and onboarding for your customer to understand its value, you already lost the battle. The most valuable products are not the ones with the most features or performance. The best products are the ones that have a value proposition that is easy to understand.
I can’t emphasize this enough. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had with product leaders who tell me what they do, leaving me more confused and asking: “What is your product again?” “What problem do you solve?”
If you cannot articulate the value of your product in a way that your customers say, “Yes, I need that,” then it doesn’t matter if you use AI or have all the bells and whistles. If your customer doesn’t believe you can solve their problem, they’ll find somebody who can.
The Bottom Line
Understanding customers in B2B can be difficult. But if you focus on putting your customer as the hero and your product as the guide, you’ll have a much better chance of creating successful products that help your customer save the day.
PS. For a step-by-step blueprint for discovering your B2B User Ecosystem and understanding their pains, I recommend checking out my book, The B2B Innovator’s Map.