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The Ultimate Guide to Startup Product Management & Understanding Customer Pain Points

David Barlev

December 10, 2018 · 6 minutes

When you’re a startup, product management and development lifecycles can have steep learning curves, especially for entrepreneurs turned product developers. But, they’re important things to understand if you want your product to be successful.

Essentially, the product management lifecycle is just the process of outlining and managing every required step and phase — and that goes all the way from inception to engineering, and can also include manufacturing and disposal if we’re talking about physical products.

The full scope usually looks something like this:

  • Innovation
  • Analysis
  • Development
  • Go-to market
  • In-life
  • End-of-life

Whether or not you’re designing an app or a new device, the core components of managing this lifecycle are going to be the same. There are, however, stages within this process that can really make or break the success potential, and that’s what we’re going to cover in this guide.

During the early stages of innovation and analysis, there are 3 areas you’ll need to explore deeply if you want to nail your product development. We’re going to dig into understanding and utilizing customer pain points, validating your idea and market, and obtaining customer feedback.

startup product management

Pain Point Identification

Regardless of how insanely amazing and shiny your new product is, people will not be willing to part with their hard-earned money unless you can trigger something emotional within them. Uncovering the real pain points your customers are dealing with isn’t easy, but it’s something you need to do if you want to create a real connection with your audience.

It’s the human element that draws people in and makes them feel something, and this feeling is what will push them to buy. The best products come from businesses and individuals who see a problem and genuinely care about solving it. But, creating a product that people want simply isn’t good enough. You need to take it a step further and identify those pain points.

One of the biggest mistakes startups make is having too much confidence in their product. Don’t be that guy. Don’t assume that loving and using something yourself will translate into hundreds or millions of other individuals feeling the exact same way. Understanding your customer pain points is one of the primary steps of product development — because if you don’t understand what people want and need from you, it’s impossible to give it to them.

What is a Pain Point?

Although this term is fairly self-explanatory and well-understood, the important thing to get here is that the person you’re targeting must feel this pain. It’s got to be something personal that they’re dealing with in their everyday lives and something they’d like a solution for.

It can be big or small, it just needs to be stopping them from achieving the outcome they desire. Maybe they wish they had more time in their day to spend with their kids, or that they could get through their repetitive admin work faster and easier. On the surface, these problems may seem quite similar but the feelings driving that want are likely quite different, and that’s where we need to focus.

Addressing the real pain is always the hardest part but it’s where you need to direct your attention. Using the above example — let’s say you’re developing time management software. How many other companies out there are doing the exact same thing? What makes yours better or different? What would possibly compel someone to switch if they’re already using something similar? The differentiator will be that your business acknowledges their real desires and offers real solutions to those problems.

This is where you need to dig deep to figure out the answers to these questions. Where are the gaps in the current market? What can you provide that others don’t? And don’t just start throwing answers out. Do your research. This is where the importance of market research, customer research, and customer feedback will show itself. The people will tell you what they need if you ask and listen.

Talk to your customers

One of the easiest ways to do this is to simply talk to your customers. If you can get them to acknowledge their pain, you can then figure out how to create the solution they desire.

Types of questions you can ask during your research:

  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • Why do you think this is so hard?
  • How does that affect things?
  • How does this affect the rest of the team or your family?
  • What were you expecting out of this?
  • What do you think the main issue here is?
  • What’s the main thing getting in your way of being successful?
  • What would a change in this area mean for you?

This can be an extremely powerful exercise to go through during your prototype and MVP process as well. If you can give them something to try, and then learn from them how to make it better, you’ll be ahead of the pack.

While we’re talking about the early stages here, it’s important to note that you should include soliciting customer feedback into every stage of your product development and management lifecycle. Never stop talking to your customers — throughout every stage of your business, their feedback is what will help you to continue to develop products that meet their changing needs. We’re going to dig a bit deeper into this subject in the last section of this guide.

Making an emotional connection

Once you’ve taken the time to figure out what those deep and personal pain points really are, it’s time to position yourself as the genuine solution for their problem. Continuing with our example from above of time management software, let’s explore how a company could tailor their messaging to really hit on that pain point.

What do you think would be more impactful — A or B?

A. “We’ll give you more time back in your day to do what you love.” B. “Stop feeling guilty and take real action that will actually give you more time to spend with your kids.”

It’s an obvious choice what phrase will tug at the heartstrings and push someone to take action. But, you can’t get to that point without doing the legwork first. If you truly understand what their pain points are, and do the work to create that product for them, you will then be able to make that emotional connection that will push them to act and decide you’re the solution they’ve been looking for.

When it comes to product development, always start with the doing the work to truly understand what problems your customers are dealing with, and use that knowledge to create products they need that are easily positioned as the solution to their deepest problems.

Market Validation

Once you’ve managed to truly identify your target audience’s pain points, it’s time to ensure there is a market demand for what you’re making. Unfortunately, meeting a need doesn’t mean people will buy. It’s the first step, but there are a few more hoops you’re going to have to jump through.

Your market research should help you to either prove (or disprove) that there are enough people with this particular problem who are willing to pay for your solution. It should also help you understand what your competitors are doing and where any gaps exist, as well as help you to come up with a plan to differentiate yourself in the marketplace. It should confirm that you’re solving the right problem at the right time, in the right way.

If your market research doesn’t confirm all of the above, it’s time to take a step back and see where you’re missing the mark. It’s very important that you don’t ignore what you learn when going through this process. Invest the time and resources into doing proper market research early on to ensure you don’t start developing something no one is going to buy.

In this blog post, we’ve created a list of different ways you can test an idea or prototype before you have an actual product: How Many Different Ways Can You Test Your MVP?

Customer Feedback

Once you’ve nailed down your customer pain points, your market research, and your solution, it’s time to get as much feedback as possible from your users. Even if you don’t have a product yet for people to test, there are simple ways to solicit feedback from your potential customers.

Use the feedback you get from your users to help shape your product development and the final version — nothing is more valuable than direct feedback from your users, telling you what they want and need out of your product.

In this post, we’re exploring the tactics of conducting customer research in more detail: How To Do Customer Research For Your Product Development.

At the end of the day, your project management lifecycle is huge and there are no shortcuts. But understanding how to maximize these 3 foundational phases will give you the solid ground you need to embark on this journey.

The most important lesson in this entire guide is that it all comes back to customer pain points. You need to uncover what they are, and then do the work to create a product that is truly the exact solution these people need.

I hope this guide will help you to work through the stages of not only figuring out what your customer’s innermost needs are but also give you the tools to take that information and use it to fuel your customer and market research and empower you to stay connected with your audience.

About David Barlev

David is the Co-founder and CEO of Goji Labs. David loves working closely with passionate founders to understand their vision and help them build beautiful applications while focusing on risk-mitigation. As an author, he focuses on informative and educational blogs that enable our clients to make the most of their businesses.

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