How should we develop our products to stay competitive?

by | Jul 20, 2021

If your company is like others, every day brings new questions that need to be tackled to inform tactical and strategic objectives. At HelloInfo, we are often brought into this process to help provide answers. HelloHelp is our recurring blog series in which we discuss common questions that we help customers answer across client teams.

This week we are looking at the role research plays in product development, and more specifically, the role that understanding competitor roadmaps should be playing in a company’s product development processes.

Product development overview

Product development is a process of creating and delivering a new product (either a physical good or a service) or improving an existing one. This blog post by Shopify does a great job of explaining the product development process and its seven distinct steps:

  1. Idea generation
  2. Research
  3. Planning
  4. Prototyping
  5. Sourcing
  6. Costing
  7. Commercialization

Within most companies, almost every department is involved in product development, including sales, product marketing, UI/UX, manufacturing, engineering, and more. Whether your organization already has a product development idea or needs help determining the best direction to take its existing products, HelloInfo can fit into and support the process. Because as you can see, Research is step number two and is absolutely essential to successful product development!

Competitor roadmaps are a path to competitive products

There are many types of research-generated insights that can support product development processes:

  • customer research
  • competitor features and functionalities benchmarking
  • pricing support
  • market attractiveness analyses
  • go-to-market strategy development
  • and much, much more.

One approach that we find particularly effective is understanding your competitors’ roadmaps to inform your product development strategy.

According to Forbes, “a product road map is a result of a well-planned strategy. And the strategy is about where one is headed and how to get there.” Your company can stay relevant to customer needs by knowing where competitors are headed with their products, and how they plan to get there. This allows you to increase your competitive position against other key players in the market.

We are not suggesting that competitor roadmaps should be used as straight inputs into your product development strategy. As MaRS eloquently states, “Your competitors will have features and offerings that you might want in your product. Be careful not to add features because your competitor has them. Validate them with other inputs.”

Intelligence from competitor roadmaps serves as just one input into our clients’ product development strategies. To be effective, it need to be vetted against other factors such as customers, prospects, target markets, feasibility, and more. That said, it is an immensely powerful input.

How does HelloInfo support?

At HelloInfo, we regularly work on projects that are intended to support our clients’ product development strategies and competitive roadmap research is often a part of that. But what does this process entail?

Secondary (desk) research

To unearth insights on competitor roadmaps, we always start with desk research. Competitors will often give clues to what they are working on in investor meetings, in quarterly or annual reporting, in industry interviews, or in blog posts. Many companies even publicly publish their roadmaps as a way of being transparent and to build trust with customers – although sensitive/secret product development is often omitted. See this example of Slack’s API product roadmap, which communicates to the public, and more specifically developers, what is in the company’s product pipeline.

Primary research (in-depth interviews)

Once we are certain that we have done a comprehensive scour of what a competitor has publicly stated about its future development, we use these signals as inputs into interviews that we conduct with the competitors themselves. We will look to speak with executives, and with individuals in product marketing, R&D, sales, and beyond. In some industries, we will also speak with competitor partners or resellers, who are trained on new products and services that are forthcoming.

In these interviews, we work from interview guides that outline the questions we are looking to have answered. These guides also include key pieces of information we have uncovered in our desk research as reference points. We ask probing questions that enable us to dig deeper on adjacent topics that may come up. Our customers are regularly surprised (and thrilled) at how productive these conversations are. It is remarkable how many competitive signals we are able to uncover for them about the future direction of their key competitors.

How roadmap intelligence is used

Our clients then use roadmap intelligence in a variety of ways – as standalone reports or presentations to a select internal audience, as an input to product development strategy building or workshops, as inputs to further research on competitor benchmarking of product features and functionalities, or as fodder in scenario planning or war gaming exercises. As the research is socialized through the organization, HelloInfo can be as heavily involved as a client wishes.

Does this topic resonate with you? Would knowing what is on your competitor’s roadmap help you to understand and plan for your own development strategy? Schedule a call with Tanya and Nicolle to chat about the competitor insights we can help you uncover!

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