Want to Be a Market Leader? Avoid These Major Pitfalls.

The trick is to focus less on pumping out new features and more on what users actually need.

Written by Eric Okunevich
Published on Mar. 18, 2024
Want to Be a Market Leader? Avoid These Major Pitfalls.
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As a seasoned product manager, I see organizations fall into the same pitfalls over and over again. What’s one of the most common?

Becoming a feature shop.

These are organizations that, in their quest for immediate customer satisfaction and short-term financial gains, succumb to the allure of fulfilling every specific feature request without an overarching strategic vision. This approach, while seemingly customer centric, can lead to a perilously niche existence, limiting you and the product’s potential impact on a broader market. 

5 Ways to Be a Leader in Product Management

  1. Align every feature and product with the overarching business strategy.
  2. Seek customer feedback and use data-driven insights to understand trends.
  3. Encourage creativity and innovation within the product team.
  4. Keep your vision adaptable.
  5. Embrace user-centric design principles.

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What’s So Bad About Becoming a Feature Shop?

While meeting the specific needs of a small group of users may generate short-term satisfaction, it ultimately relegates the product to the status of a market follower rather than an innovative market leader.

The prevailing sentiment among stakeholders is, “Your competitor can do ‘x.’ Can you add that feature?” This approach not only stifles creativity, but also perpetuates a cycle of mediocrity at your organization.

Moreover, the trend of letting customers vote on the next feature essentially crowdsources product development and causes significant issues. Don’t get me wrong, customer feedback is invaluable, but it’s a slippery slope to entrust the entire product strategy to a vote. Product management and design requires a nuanced understanding of market trends, user needs and strategic positioning — aspects that cannot be adequately captured through a popularity contest.

The crux of the issue lies in the product people who merely react to requests rather than proactively shaping a visionary road map for the organization. Again, true product management requires foresight, an understanding of the root of customer issues, and the ability to anticipate market needs before they are articulated. It demands a departure from the feature shop mentality and a commitment to being a steward of innovation.


The Opposite Pitfall: Rigidity

On the flip side, I have also seen organizations that have an extremely rigid or unbending view of how they fit into the market. Having this defined vision isn’t inherently problematic. When coupled with a reluctance to seek or even acknowledge market feedback, however, it can lead to a perilous path. The “if we build it, they will come” mentality may work for a select few true visionaries, but for the majority of us, it is a recipe for failure.

Strategic product management requires a commitment to innovation, adaptability and a relentless focus on market needs.

A product vision, or any vision, cannot be a static entity; it should be dynamic, evolving with market trends and customer preferences. Stubbornly clinging to a vision without considering external input can result in products that miss the mark, catering to perceived needs rather than validated ones. The ability to pivot and adapt is crucial for sustainable success.

A perfect example of this is Netflix, which started in the physical DVD space but successfully pivoted to streaming. Not only does Netflix now distribute media, but it is arguably one of the most important media companies — in terms of producing original content — on the planet.

An extension of this is the common pitfall that arises when individuals transition from industry specific roles to product management and focus on solving their personal problems rather than addressing market needs. While personal experience can offer valuable insights, it shouldn’t dictate the entire product strategy.

Product managers must understand the broader market, conducting thorough research to identify and solve pervasive issues. Remember, be open-minded even if you have a point of view.


How to Balance Your Product Approach

Finding the sweet spot between being a feature shop and blinded by your own vision requires a balanced and nuanced approach. Here are some key principles to help guide you down that path.


Strategic Alignment

Every feature or product decision should align with the overarching business strategy. Consider how each implementation contributes to the company’s long-term goals and market positioning, and don’t be afraid to say no. Make sure your organization has a coherent mission and an agreed upon road map to achieve your corporate initiatives.


Market Feedback

Actively seek feedback from the market and customers. Use data-driven insights to understand trends, pain points and emerging needs. Make sure to talk to not only your customers but the market at large. Win/loss calls and off-site visits are the go-to tools for this type of feedback. After all, nothing novel happens in the office. You want to balance your company’s internal vision with external validation to ensure relevance.


Innovative Mindset

Encourage an innovative mindset within the product team and the organization at large. Foster creativity, explore new ideas and don’t shy away from calculated risks. True innovation requires a departure from the comfort of normality.


Dynamic Vision

Maintain a dynamic product vision that adapts to changing market conditions. Be open to refining the vision based on real-world feedback and evolving industry trends. I recommend beta testing any major update to your product. You’ll be surprised how open customers are to provide feedback and discuss their business if you show real interest.


User-Centric Design

Prioritize user-centric design principles. Solve genuine market problems rather than chasing perceived solutions. Understand the customer journey and deliver solutions that enhance the experience. User personas are a must for any successful product manager. And don’t underestimate the importance of a good customer experience/user experience designer.

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Lead the Market

As I see it, the product management profession stands at a crossroads. Organizations must resist the allure of chasing the easy, short-term dollar, becoming feature shops and catering to specific requests without a strategic vision. Simultaneously, they should avoid becoming trapped in their own rigid visions that dismiss valuable market feedback.

Embracing a strategic product management approach requires a commitment to innovation, adaptability and a relentless focus and understanding of the broader needs in the market. Only then can a product team steer their organization towards becoming true market leaders and innovators — not followers.  

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