Consider all details of add-on features

If you want to be a bad product manager, only worry about what gets added to your product, not how customers will take advantage of it. There may be some features that you don’t want everyone to see, or that may require some setup. Just put them in the product but don’t worry too much about how they’ll get set up — that’s for some other group within your organization to care about. Your job as a product manager is just to get the feature in the product, not to figure out all the details of how customers will enable the feature. Sure, it might be possible to make the process smoother, and customers may have to jump through some hoops, but if they really want it they won’t mind taking the extra effort.

If you want to be a good product manager, consider all aspects related to any add-on features. A product manager is not only responsible for identifying what needs there are in the market. The product manager must also figure out how those needs should be filled by new or existing products.

There are many valid reasons to include something as an add-on to an existing product, including: to utilize an existing platform for lower cost and broader distribution yet still allow for additional revenue; to provide capabilities for one customer segment while not overwhelming another; or to leverage brand recognition while expanding the product portfolio. Usually product development teams spend a lot of time deciding whether or not to include something as part of the standard product, and much less time determining the steps for how someone would obtain that add-on. In fact, how easy it is for the customer to enable the feature or buy the add-on can be a big determinant of how successful it is.

Imagine that you have a great new feature for which you have validated the market need and determined that the best approach is to allow this to be added on to an existing product. This could be a home networking option for your cable modem. It could be an extra section of content on your web site. It could be an adapter that can be added to a jogging stroller to accommodate smaller children. If you want to launch these as add-ons, what do you need to first consider?

  1. How will customers find out about the option? It does not matter how beneficial the add-on may be if customers do not know that it is available. Rather than just “build it and they will come,” product managers need to make sure that customers of the existing product are aware that the options are even available.
    • For example, jogging strollers usually are designed for toddlers, though some provide options to accommodate infants. Customers shopping for a jogging stroller need to be informed whether a particular stroller can accommodate an infant, and whether there is an add-on which will allow for use by infants. If it is unclear whether a stroller is designed for an infant, or whether an adapter is available, then customers may inadvertently overlook a stroller which meets their needs.
  2. How will necessary details be provided to customers? The level of detail provided about new standalone products is often more than provided about enhancements to existing products. If the product team treats an add-on as just an enhancement to an existing product, the result may be a shortage of information for customers viewing this as a separate purchase or setup. Product managers need to understand the decision process that customers will go through and make sure that the information is available and sufficient.
    • For example, if you are adding a new section of subscription-only content to your web site, you need to provide a way within your existing site structure to promote and explain this new content. If the rest of the site consists of free content, then this provides a unique challenge of having to explain the value proposition to customers. Making customers available of the option is simply the first step; in this case, customers may require details around pricing, availability of archives, and various access options — all much more than would be provided were you just adding another section of free content.
  3. How will customers enable the option? Once customers are aware that the option is available, it must be straightforward for them to take advantage of it. Convoluted and cumbersome processes will reduce the number of customers taking advantage of this capability. The process for enabling the option needs to be part of the consideration when creating the option in the first place.
    • For example, many Internet service providers include add-on options such as wireless home networking. If it is easy and quick for a customer to set this up on their own, this could be a big benefit. However, if this requires contacting customer service, scouring your router for technical details, and waiting for the option to be enabled by the service provider, these steps may negate the potential benefit and turn away prospects.

Additionally, product managers need to think ahead about how they will segment customers who utilize this option in the future. The web site in the example above has a simple way of communicating to customers who have purchased the subscription-only content, while the Internet service provider may have more of a challenge identifying customers who have enabled the wireless home networking option. Part of the product requirements would likely be to be able to identify customers who have enabled this option so that any necessary billing, communication, and support can be addressed.

Good product managers not only identify the customer need which is being addressed — they realize that in order to really fulfill that need, customers need to be aware that a solution is available, have the appropriate information about the solution, and have an easy and smooth way of taking advantage of the solution.

13 thoughts on “Consider all details of add-on features

  1. While you cannot add a new discontinuous technology to a product, you can let the users do it as an add-on. The customers that find that technology interesting can install it. Everyone else who sees it as trouble can just not install it.

    Discountinous technologies represent pools of customers that are different from your existing customers. If they were the same customers, then you would have a sustaing innovation on your hands. These cultures run deeper than statistical aggregation, so while you could aggregate members of the different functional cultures, that aggregation won’t stand up under use.

    If you want the upgrade sale, they have to use it. Existing customers could bale out if you just shove a discontinous innvoation down their throats. Let them make the decision. Don’t alter the underlying application via disruption or discontinuity.

  2. David — Excellent point, which speaks to all three of the questions above. You may want to publicize the innovation only to a select set of users; you may want to tailor the amount of information provided; and you may want to let customers set this up themselves.

    You can take it one step further by creating the ability for products and add-ons to work seamlessly as part of a larger system. There are a few obvious examples, like the iPod and the numerous related accessories, though open source software like WordPress with its scalable plugin architecture is a good example of how add-ons are relevant beyond just the organization that built the product.

  3. Jeff, David: Very good points and well expressed.

    Just wanted to comment on two specific points:

    1) D.L. “Existing customers could bail out if you just shove a discontinuous innovation down their throats. Let them make the decision. Don’t alter the underlying application via disruption or discontinuity.”

    This is a very good point! I think a lot of what Microsoft has done in Vista and Office 2007 is violating this. They’ve altered an existing application/OS in such a way that makes it very hard for a lot of current users to perform basic tasks – such as using the File Manager (“Windows Explorer”).

    2) J.L. “Once customers are aware that the option is available, it must be straightforward for them to take advantage of it… The process for enabling the option needs to be part of the consideration when creating the option in the first place.”

    Very well said, Jeff! At our company, we’re currently in the process of designing a major new feature for our product – and we’re spending a lot of time/resources on this point, including performing usability tests with customers using functional mockups. In this specific case, we’re finding that this challenge could be quite hard to overcome, without over-complicating the product! 🙂

    – Raj
    Accompa – Affordable Requirements Management Tool for Product Managers

  4. When considering an add-on, I’d say the paramount consideration is whether the add-on strengthens, or at least is compatible with, the position of the product in the marketplace.

    The most powerful factor in marketing is a clear and focused position, the association of the product with a single idea in the mind of the customer. An add-on should not compromise or undermine that idea.

  5. Many times developers code their vision. Then, it’s marketing that has the job of finding the market. Desktop publishing is an example. It didn’t get focused on traditional typographers until somewhere beyond version 3.0.

    Programmers coding their vision accounts for why most products don’t have product manager until after version 1.0 is released. And why just beyond the hiring of a product manager, the development vs. marketing war breaks out, when development’s vision isn’t moving where the market has taken them.

    When doing custom apps in anticipation of commercializing the underlying technology, the same problem occurs. It is critical that the customer’s visualization be coded, rather than the developer’s or the elicitors. Development can code the technology as they desire, but not the produtization. Otherwise, the custom app won’t sell in the vertical market, which stalls the adoptiion of the technology.

    Somehow the war must end if anyone expects the product manager to drive the bus. Hiring a product manager with a technical background just biases the war in that direction, rather than the other, and vice versa.

  6. All good points; however, it sure seems like this gets back to a very basic starting point: requirements! Why the heck would you go to all of the effort to put a feature into a product for which nobody really knew how the company was going to make money off of it?

    I call them requirements, but maybe a better way to refer to them would be as a “mini business case”. You have limited development resources so it would seem as though you would want to focus them on only those features that your customers will value.

    The “other” features can be enabled by a well designed API. I believe that the folks over at both and Yahoo are in the process of taking this path…

    – Dr. Jim Anderson
    The Accidental PM Blog

  7. Jeff, David – Thanks for articulating it well.

    I think there is more to it when that add-on should be developed on new technology. If you are at version 8 of the product and you want to change the customer behavior – How are you going to build that strategy where you convince your existing customers to move to new functionality considering they love the old features but that feature is difficult to extend or maintain?

    As Jim mentioned, every requirement is business driven. If there is a proper justification – it might be worth to re-build the product using new technology but in phased manner. During that time “old” and “new” both should be able to work together. But over the long term “new” functionality get fuller and richer. Then is the time for existing customers to move to new technology even though there might be some pain associated to it. It is important to remember that Product Manager should make business driven decisions and not technology or customer driven. It might be ok to leave few customers if they cause long term pain for the product. My experience is that there are handful of customers that take 60% of your time and escalation budget. It might be worth to calculate the net profit or earnings from those customers. Believe me it is worth an effort :)-

    On the other hand, there is a possibility where new functionality is a simple add-on or delta changes to the existing functionality. It is important in that case to have holistic view of the feature that eventually results in value prop for customers.


  8. Well done all. let me add this point which is more important in technology products. Product users skills and experiences levels are important in speeding acceptance of the new product or the new features. When designing or enhancing a product, you should take in consideration the skills of your targeted segments. This make it easier and more focus in communication and positioning stages.

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