Guide #008: How to uncover client needs when designing a SaaS product

For digital product agencies with clients that sell complex software, how do you help them fix an existing product or pivot to a new market?

Take an inventory of the information available

Ask your client for a brain dump of what they know -- both quantitative and qualitative information will be useful. Ask for data ranging from the number of inbound leads, conversion rates, number of users, downtime, bug reports, etc. Listen to how they describe problems and where they think issues exist. If the client wants to take the product into a new market, ask what is driving this decision. Ask the client to share the vision for the product, describe the market opportunity, and why they’re pursuing this opportunity now.

Listen to the sales pitch

Talk to people on the frontlines who are selling the product or service -- usually a sales or business team. Ask the sales team to give you a pitch of the product or walk you through a demo, as if you were a prospective customer. Make note of the areas they choose to highlight or focus on. Ask sales reps to share where they get pushback when pitching to potential customers. Document the rejections they hear most often and how they respond. Also, since salespeople tend to have a good grasp on the market, ask them what they see as the future of the product. What are customers asking for, looking for, or getting most excited about?

Plot the customer journey across communication touchpoints and systems

Once someone decides to purchase the software product, who do they interact with, and what is the information flow between the customer and the company? What is the cost structure of the software and how is that information disclosed? What is the onboarding and training process? How do people get into the service, use the service, and exit the service? What are their thoughts, actions and feelings across all of these touchpoints? Investigate if frictions exist, visually map out this information, and if possible, get firsthand testimonials of how these processes work.

Understand who are the buyer- and user-side stakeholders

List all the people involved in the purchase and eventual use of the software. Interview the software sales and product teams to capture information about the buyer and user roles, goals and how they measure success personally and within their organization. Interview past buyers and current users of the software. Capture how they expected the software to be a solution to their pain points versus how well it’s living up to that expectation now. Add insights from the service teams around what blockers or problems users are experiencing, the questions they typically ask and ultimately what solutions allow them to keep using the product.

Create a problems and opportunities list organized by stakeholder type

Use your conversations with end-users, product sales and other internal team members to compile a list of problems and opportunities. Add to this list any issues you uncover from your own evaluation of the software product. While this list may include issues with (or concerns about) the product, more importantly it should include issues driving the need for the product. For example, what challenges do end-users have in their day-to-day life that they hope this product will solve, i.e., the opportunities.

Prioritize your problems list with quantifiable metrics

Once you have a problems list with a primary stakeholder and their goal(s) assigned to each item, you’ll need to prioritize this list with your client or product owner. One way to prioritize this list is by quantifying the impact of each problem. For example, capture the number of users impacted, number of complaints received, amount of downtime experienced, number of dollars lost, or in the case of software for the healthcare industry, you might be able to quantify health, happiness, or life-saving outcomes.

Add your own time and level of effort estimate to each problem

Use the information gathered from internal client interviews, software buyer/end-user interviews, business goals, and your own product evaluation to generate a master list of the problems to be solved and opportunities to be gained. Add your own time and level of effort estimates to address each problem. With this information, talk with your client to establish a full picture of the issues at hand so that together you can agree on how best to pursue solutions.

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