For the past 20 months, I’ve been working hard on writing my first book, The B2B Innovator’s Map. It’s been a very rewarding and frustrating experience. Writing a book is not only a lot of work, but it is also a daily rollercoaster of emotions. You fluctuate between loving and hating your work and worrying about how your content will be received.
As I reflect on this milestone, I want to share a few lessons I learned along the way. From the beginning, I’ve been treating this book as a product. Therefore, the lessons I share here are very applicable to any digital product you are building (SaaS, IoT, or anything else).
1) Know what problem you are solving and for whom
Understanding the problem you are solving and who is experiencing that problem must be your first goal when starting a new product or feature. We all know that, but very few people actually do it.
As I wrote the book, it took me a while to determine the problem I wanted to explore and who this book was for. I bounced back and forth between writing for Product Managers, Product Leaders, Executives, CEOs, large companies, or startups.
I experienced a pervasive pattern I see in my clients: since my product could help a lot of people, I wanted it to be as inclusive as possible to increase my market share. Right? Wrong. The result would have been a product (or book) that speaks to no one.
In the end, after a lot of sleepless nights, I decided to write for Product Leaders responsible for launching new B2B products to market. The book is about Product Innovation for B2B.
2) Reduce the scope of your product, even if it feels scary
When I drafted my first table of contents, the book was enormous! It had over 17 (very long) chapters covering the complete enterprise product lifecycle. It included the entire journey from idea to scale. Thankfully, feedback from my trusted advisors helped me realize that a book that expansive is not useful.
After a lot of research, I decided to focus on the early stages of innovation since that’s where most B2B products fail. My book covers the six stages of the product innovation process, from idea to your first ten customers.
Another area where I had to prioritize scope was a byproduct of doing a lot of user research. I was fortunate to interview many Product people (thank you!) who shared the main challenges they face when launching new B2B products to market both in a SaaS and an IoT context.
From these interviews, I learned about 5 critical pain points that B2B product leaders have: understanding customers, business models, partnerships, experimentation, and internal alignment. My inclination was then to address all these pain points in the same book. That’s why I ended up with over 17 chapters in the first draft!
Later, I realized that I don’t need to solve ALL problems with the same product. Instead, I should focus on one or two issues and solve them completely. There will be time to address the other problems with future products.
3) User feedback is invaluable (and painful)
As a firm believer in customer feedback, I wanted to incorporate user research throughout my journey. As I created early drafts of the book and shared them with early readers, I received fantastic feedback that helped me fine-tune the narrative. But the comments weren’t always positive.
The first draft of the book was destroyed by my readers. A few of them politely pointed out that it was a mess. Others said that they couldn’t understand what the book was about. Others didn’t make it past chapter 2. And others openly said, “come back to me when you have something better.” Ouch!!
Building a product is a very personal endeavor. We try to be objective about feedback, but it is hard to leave the emotion out of it. Early feedback from customers can be (and should be) brutal. But it is invaluable! If you take those learnings and incorporate them into the next iteration, you’ll end up with a better product. By the time my early readers reviewed my 8th (yes, 8th) rewrite, I was getting great comments on how this book helped them, how they wish they had this book 10 years ago, and how they couldn’t wait to recommend it to their peers.
Imagine what would have happened if, instead of sharing my early draft with my audience, I had gone directly to my editor to take that draft into publishing. The pain I felt by those few brutal readers would be amplified 100 times if I published a terrible book.
My point is that customer feedback is the bloodline of your business. You are building products for your customers, not for yourself. That’s why you must test often and value customer feedback (even if it hurts). That is the only way to build something that can genuinely solve your customer’s pains.
4) We all have biases, and we must fight them
We are all experts in our craft, but don’t let that expertise bias your actions and lead you to skip user research and testing. As I wrote the early drafts of the book, I included a few sections that I thought people must-read. Considering my expertise in the area, I was confident people would care about these topics. It turns out I was completely wrong. Many of the topics included were either uninteresting or not applicable to most of my audience. Reality strikes again.
We must listen to our customer’s pains and use our expertise to build the best possible solution. When we believe our experience is the same experience of our users, we are projecting our biases into our product and not solving the customer’s problems. We are solving for our own ego. This can be a hard pill to swallow, but remember, Product Management is a profession based on serving others. It’s about what our customers need, not about what we want to give them.
5) Even if you know these lessons, acting on them is hard
As you read this, you might be thinking, but Daniel, aren’t you supposed to know this already? Aren’t the concepts of innovation, customer centricity, testing, strategy, etc., what you teach in your courses and advise on to your clients?
Yes! And that’s my final takeaway.
Even if you are familiar with (or even an expert on) these concepts, acting on them is very hard! There’s a massive gap between what we read on a blog post and the human emotion we feel when we put our ego, reputation, and work on the line for others to see.
There were many times when I wasn’t sure how to proceed, and I needed to get external feedback. But I procrastinated in getting it because it was uncomfortable.
The Bottom Line
It doesn’t matter how many user interviews you’ve done in your life. When you are vested in the outcome of your product, getting feedback can be very scary. But we have to do it. That’s the only way forward and the only way to build the best product to serve your customers.
Thank you for reading. And thanks to everybody who contributed to my book. I can’t wait for you to read it and get your feedback! On second thought… 😀
Photo by Daria Nepriakhina 🇺🇦 on Unsplash