Comedian Kathleen Madigan has a routine where she describes the objects that a single woman has in her household toolbox. As you might imagine (since it’s a comedy routine) there’s nothing in the toolbox used for the purpose it was orginally designed. The “hammer,” for example, is a man’s shoe.
This might be humorous to many people but to my product manager sensibilities Madigan’s comedy routine is closer to a horror show… like the scene in Psycho where Anthony Perkins cuts short Janet Leigh’s shower. (eeet!..eet!..eeet!!)
I’m quite sure that some commission-oriented salesman thought it was, well, “okay” to sell a shoe for a purpose it wasn’t designed. In product speak – the salesman sold the product outside of its target market segment.
What’s wrong with selling outside the target market segment?
Selling to consumers who intend to use a product in ways it wasn’t intended to be used creates a very scary scene.
Let’s fast forward to a client conference where shoe consumers attend a voice-of-the-customer session to provide feedback on which features should be modified or added. So, what does the toolbox owner request for new product features for her “hammer”? New leathers, or colors or perhaps softer soles? Unfortunately, no.
She feels that her product needs a handle so it would be easier to grasp… a metal insert on the heel so it would drive the nail with more force… and the laces should be removed completely since they don’t have any function. Of course, all this makes complete sense because she is using the product outside the segment for which it was designed.
There are very good reasons why markets are segmented in product management. Customer market segments define product features which in turn drives the product design for that segment.
All products are designed for a specific target market – a specific set of users who have similar product requirements and who use the product in a similar manner. Selling a product outside of the defined segment boundaries is dangerous… and is guaranteed to create a horror scene for product managers. (eeet!…eet!…eeet!)
Oh geez, ok, I’ll be the commission oriented sales rep. It’s like this – there I was with a truckload of shoes, when she saw a scorpion and said “GIMME ONE OF THOSE SHOES. I tried to explain that shoes aren’t really designed for that and maybe she’d much rather drive down to Ace Hardware and purchase any one of a wide variety of much more elegantly designed and vastly more effectivel scorpion killer thingees.
So she hit me with the shoe, bought it, used it, and put it in the toolbox, where that other lady found it… Whu do you guys keep asking me to protect competent adults from themselves?
Just think of all those products out there that are not doing what we intended. All of them, right? Ok, maybe not, but I’ve seen fancy bits of hardware holding open doors (you don’t need a fire extinguisher it turns out). I’ve also seen products I’ve been involved with being used in new and innovative ways that I had not foreseen. That can be inspirational, after all it is the customer telling you that there is a gap in the market!
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