Every SaaS company wants to build products that users love. We imagine an ideal customer, who we help by solving their problems and who happily spreads wonderful feedback and brings more people to start a free trial. Unfortunately, in the real world, we rather face busy people, who don't have time to understand our software's benefits and who simply don't care.

Developers and product managers spend weeks on creating new features that aim to make users more agile and happy. But sometimes our hard work is left unrecognized.

We tend to lose focus toward things that are important and don't serve our main company mission.

  • Who are you as a company?
  • What is the number one priority for your customers?
  • How do they see your product?

Today we would like to share 3 experts opinions, examples and case studies to help you build skills required to understand exactly who is using your product, why they are using it, and what experiences they have when they do.

This article will be helpful for startup founders, entrepreneurs, engineers, and anyone who wants to build products that people love.

Steli Efti from Close.io on understanding your customer

Steli Efti shared on Inside Intercom podcast how Close has managed to stay focused on their true ideal customers by explicitly defining who they are not going to serve.

In the earliest stages, the number one thing they've learned is to understand who their real customer was. At Close they've decided to stay away from enterprise clients, which was a very tempting decision to break once a big corporation with potentially millions showed up at their doors.

On top of the non-ideal customer profile, product managers have developed an anti-roadmap. Once the company started to receive PR coverage and big attention from the general public, feature requests multiplied. But the decision was still there. No matter how many times Close was asked to develop certain features, if they were a part of anti-roadmap, the world has never seen them. The strategy helped Close, especially at early days.

All kind of potential customers with all kind of feature requests distract you and make you lose your focus. State how your company is going to bring value to users and specify who are those users.

Close had a small team. And speed and time was pure gold at the early stage. They simply couldn't go super broad with the feature list.

The main question then lies in the ability to identify ideal customers.

Close’s ideal customer was a person, whom they truly understood and truly cared about. Most of the team members were entrepreneurs and run their own businesses in the past. Small businesses and startups were the audiences they intimately understood and genuinely cared about.

Enterprise customers with big checks weren't somebody who Close team was excited to make a little bit more agile. Moreover, the enterprise required mostly field sales. Close wanted to focus on features that make inside sales better. So they’ve reinforced all their focus toward helping small businesses and startups.

Read also: Everything you need to know about key metrics in SaaS

Shoshana Burgett from X-rite on Customer Voice

You often hear the importance of surveying customers and collecting feedback. On the other side of the spectrum you hear thought leaders like Steve Jobs arguing:

Some people say, "Give the customers what they want." But that's not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they're going to want before they do... People don't know what they want until you show it to them. That's why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.

There is a difference between Customer Voice and Customer Insights. And your role as a product manager to understand customers and to know them better than your friends, colleagues, partners, and family.

To create a user-centered product is to figure out what customer is going to want before it even exists.      

It sounds like an unattainable task that only genius is able to comprehend. Don't fall into the trap and use the following tips shared by Shosana Burgett.

Voice of Customer (VOC) features customer request, these are things they say to you.

Customer Insight can be discovered by evaluating how customers behave and interact with your product and how they feel about it. Insights are when you look at your product through the lens of the customer removing personal biases and being empathetic to their needs. It is about asking the right questions and carefully listening to what they say. Although, just by listening to customer Feedback you won't discover deep data that is hidden in the “onion layers”.

Understand customer pain points

Create a table and visually display your priorities and how your product can develop features that actually minimize those pain points.

Related also: 3 Unconventional channels to communicate with new clients

Riley Newman Head of data from Airbnb

As product managers, we are also product users ourselves, so while working on product roadmap we tend to take our assumptions into actions. As users we can predict what real customers would want to use, can't we?

Data helps product managers to check their gut assumptions. A lot of startups, especially on early stages, believe that analyzing data is something that happens on later stages of the business cycle. Riley argues in the opposite. In fact, data helps startups with small teams focus on what matters the most. It helps to check whether your gut assumption is correct and removes any personal biases from the equation.

Currently, there is around 75 data scientist at Airbnb, who come from different backgrounds including Ph.D. students from computer science who work on machine learning and specialists from social science, who help to make qualitative researches.

"It’s all about identifying opportunities and doing whatever you can to highlight the solutions to those opportunities with data. Where those opportunities exist will vary from company to company. But there is a certain amount of evangelism that’s required of this way of thinking. In many cases, early-stage startups have a lot to learn about everything surrounding a business. This is just one of those areas."

For example, here is how data helped Airbnb understand Location Relevance at Airbnb (aka knowing where you want to go in places we’ve never been) to improve the algorithm and thus Airbnb guests can find optimal listings faster.

Conclusion,

Every software as a service company aims to build a product people would care about. The common advice “to build a user-centered product” sounds too vague and non-actionable.

Today we've looked at 3 examples from Close, X-rite and Airbnb and listened to expert's opinion to bring some clarity into the vague concept of the user-centered company.

Understand who is your ideal customer and non-ideal customer. And building product roadmap, as well as anti-roadmap, is essential to focus on building product that your team members and users care about.

Secondly, know the difference between Customer Voice and Customer Insight and use the information to write down pain points to discover true customer drivers and what is important for them in the long-run.

And thirdly, create a data-informed company to make intelligent decisions and check your gut assumptions.