Developing a clear product vision is among the most worthwhile activities product leaders and startup founders can engage in. It provides a north star to focus your org and helps with everything from product decision making and alignment to identifying where you can win in your market.

In the early stages of a company, the product vision is typically tightly aligned to the problem you’re trying to solve. There’s a solution in mind, and a clear plan for getting it built. Everyone is executing toward that singular goal.

Then comes the scale-up phase. Hiring and fundraising both accelerate, and you start to land some big-name prospects. All they need to ink a deal with you, you’re told, is that one tiny modification. That quick, one-off custom feature. “Sure, no biggie. We’ll get it done—sign on the dotted line,” you say.

But as your customer base grows, those requests start to add up. The product strategy that got you in front of those marquee customers in the first place starts to become diluted, and before you know it, you’ve lost control of the product vision you worked so hard to create.

Sound familiar? It’s a trap that no small number of startups, founders, and product teams have fallen victim to. But you can prevent it from happening by using product-led strategies. At this year’s Pendomonium, Partho Ghosh, Hootsuite’s senior director of product growth, laid out these five tips for using product-led growth to protect your product vision.

1. Understand (or create) your product vision

This one sounds easy, right? You and your team were the ones who came up with your product vision after all. But try to recite it out loud. Ready? Go.

Could you do it? Don’t feel too down on yourself if not. Ghosh noted most of us can’t truly express our product vision beyond an elevator pitch or a list of the features we’re working on. To make matters worse, there’s usually a gap between your founder’s vision and goals and what your customers expect of your product.

The key to bridging that gap is communication. Always be in communication with your product’s stakeholders, so you can start to find the spots where those two visions overlap and align them. This allows you to maintain a single vision as you scale, while keeping all of your stakeholders happy.

And if you don’t have a product vision, it’s time to create one.

Be warned: this is a crucial process, but it isn’t quick or easy. During his time at internal communications platform Bananatag, this process took Ghosh several months. After all that, he came up with a vision that spanned just seven words: “Become the one-stop shop for all internal communications.”

2. Build a product that truly sells and expands itself

The secret to any SaaS company’s success lies in ensuring that your customer lifetime value (LTV)  is always greater than the cost to acquire that customer (CAC). You’re looking to land somewhere around a three-to-one ratio here, Ghosh said.

This is where product-led growth comes into play. Being able to measure LTV/CAC lets you segment your customer base by industry or persona and spotlight areas where you need to invest more resources and where you can use less. Then, you can use product-led strategies like in-app messaging or free trials to encourage users to expand their usage and adoption, increasing your ratio.

This tactic also forces you to focus more on your product vision and the full customer experience, and less on merely closing that next deal, Ghosh said. He also advised building a separate team focused solely on customer expansion.

3. Get serious with data

Data-driven decision making and being data-informed are buzzy terms, sure, but to what extent are you really doing it?

Are you just giving the occasional glance to a dashboard or spreadsheet, or have you considered embedding analysts into your product teams, where they’d work alongside your PMs every day? Those seats could be filled with product analysts, financial analysts, data scientists, growth analysts, or product marketing managers, and will bring an entirely new level of insight to your product teams.

“I think it’s important to rethink how we integrate data within product teams,” Ghosh said. “The analysts can focus on complex [data] problems while the PM can focus on feature launches.”

4. Over-invest in your product’s hook

A hook can take many forms, but it always has one purpose: to show your users the true value of your product and convince them to keep using it. If there’s one area you should be investing a ton of time in, it’s getting users to that “aha!” moment as quickly as possible.

“That light bulb moment is so crucial, and it’s always changing because competitors are always changing,” Ghosh said.

Product-led strategies are particularly useful here because they empower you to let your product lead users to these moments from their first login through automated onboarding processes and in-app support.

5. Focus on being product led

Product teams have also acted as the glue that holds an organization together, and that’s why they’re best suited to carry out digital transformation and drive product-led growth. “In a product-led organization, it’s important to play that role even more,” Ghosh said.

But first, drop that ego. The most important thing you can do is use your position of centricity and the influence that comes with it to rally each of the company’s other functions, ensuring that they all have a say in the product’s direction and the final customer experience. That way, everyone stays aligned and focused on executing the product vision, and everyone feels like they have ownership of the outcome—not just the product org.

“Product-led growth does take a village,” Ghosh said. “It’s not owned by just one department, but rather the whole company. If customer teams can speak like product teams, you’re going to get to your vision a whole lot faster.”

From risk of dilution to visionary solution

All of this isn’t to say that you should stop listening to your customers and plow ahead with only the vision you think is best or what your founders told you they think is best, Ghosh said. But a product manager’s job isn’t to just build whatever the loudest customers are asking you to build. Do that, and you risk becoming a feature factory. 

Rather, a PM’s duty is to understand the problem your product is designed to solve and build something that gets the job done for all of your stakeholders. That’s truly visionary product leadership.

 

About the Author

Tom Relihan is a copywriter at Pendo. Previously, he's been a business writer for the MIT Sloan School of Management's Ideas Made to Matter, a social media manager at NC State University, and a news reporter at a variety of daily newspapers across Massachusetts.