Product Standardisation – Walking on the Razor’s Edge

In this post I will explain why satisfying your clients inevitably creates conflicts in your product development, and how marketing and sales can help ensure that product standardisation is still possible in a customer-centric business model.

“I really like your product – it is exactly what I need, the best solution for me on the market! The only thing I am missing is an interface with this software we have used for years…but if you build that for me, I will definitely go with your solution and get it signed off by our Head of Digital right away!”

Does this sound familiar? If you work in sales or account management, I am pretty sure you have heard those words before – a potential client who really, really wants your product – it just needs a little extra bit of customisation. And unless you work in a industry where bespoke solutions are the norm, customisation should not be your focus.

Especially in an early-stage startup the temptation is very big to just go along and say yes to all client requests – you’re a young company, you need clients because you need proof of concept and, well, money. So it often happens that your first few clients get away with murder, since you simply are in no position to say no, so you end up doing exactly what they request.

And that is where you establish the basis for future account management nightmares and operational chaos! Why? Because you will never be able to achieve meaningful product standardisation.

Product standardisation is key for achieving scale

Making clients happy is important for any business, irrespective of the size and the current phase of development. However, imagine you continue to act like the hypothetical early-stage startup I just mentioned, and satisfy all your clients’ requests for extra features.

Do you think they will be happy? Pretty sure they will be, but will you? Once you start scaling the company by adding more clients, and also enlarge your operations to support more growth, your generosity will come back to bite you.

I have experienced it myself: suddenly your neat and tidy portfolio of 2-3 products has evolved into a jungle of 20+ different variations, with different features and pricing agreements here and there.

You want to role out an update across the platform without much hassle? Forget it. Cut off some features on future releases? Not a chance – after all, each client feels they paid specifically for all those little goodies you gave them!

So what are your options then? You can muddle through the way you did before, and never be able to really scale, or you need to make the hard cut at some point and push through the product standardisations you need – and risk losing many clients in one go.

Neither option sounds attractive – so consider the following instead.

Marketing and sales need to set the right expectations

In order to avoid your product variations growing like weeds on your lawn, you need to set the tone right from the start. Your clients obviously will not really care why product standardisation makes sense for your company – after all, you are meant to solve their problems!

So you need to deliver a different, customer-centric message to them:

  • Position yourself as an authority in your field through strong content marketing to gain expert status
  • Emphasise in your product marketing that you offer a standardised solution which is based on industry best-practice
  • Be consistent in your sales pitches and negotiations to ensure prospective customers have a clear understanding of your value proposition

You may even be honest and mention in a direct sales conversation that your business is dependent on speed and efficiency so that you are able to aways provide the latest updates to your clients – and for that, product standardisation is essential. Some of your clients will certainly understand, since you make it important for them.

This may sound like a lot of work and some extra hoops to jump through, especially for sales when signing new clients and facing their objections to standardised solutions. It is definitely easier to get a new client hooked if they get the feeling that everything they ask for will be possible, but as we established earlier, the cost for you will be much higher later on.

In summary

Promoting product standardisation right from the start may make it harder to win new clients for a company, but the long-term benefits cannot be ignored when you consider future growth. Managing complexity in your product portfolio comes at a high cost.

Marketing and sales can both help influence clients early on to ensure expectations are in line with product strategy and thus make it easier for account management to develop positive relationships with clients going forward.

How do you deal with product feature requests at your company? Do you rate them as an issue? Leave a comment or get in touch!