You can’t control your customers’ users

Posted on February 27, 2023.

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I work with many large enterprises. Most of them see themselves as B2B2C companies. This means they produce a product and sell it to another company. That company, in turn, integrates that product into their own offerings and sells it to “end consumers.” Product teams that work in these large organizations often have these end users in mind when they’re building products despite not serving them directly nor having any meaningful contact with them. When pushed to write OKRs they almost always end up adding key results for their customers’ users. Not only is this risky, in many cases it’s not measurable setting the team up for failure. 

Example 1: Food delivery

Imagine you work for Uber Eats, Doordash or Glovo. If you work on the product team that sells the service to restaurants, you’re on the B2B2C side of the business. Because you’re an excellent, customer-focused product manager you work diligently to make it easy for “end users” to understand what each restaurant offers, what it costs and how to order it quickly. You also make it easy for your customers, the restaurant owners, to add their menus, descriptions, pricing and any other details they feel would help make their restaurant palatable to hungry customers. 

It’s now time for you to set your goals for the coming year. You write a clear, unambiguous objective statement focused on reducing the friction between end consumer, restaurant owner and delivery drive. Now it’s time to set your key results. The obvious one spring to mind immediately could include:

  • Increase average order value per active user
  • Increase repeat orders from the same restaurants
  • Increase number of orders per user per week

There are many more key results you could potentially choose from as you focus on your current priorities. 

Here’s the catch – you actually have no control over these metrics. Why? Because there are many variables over which you have no control between the time you hand over your product to the restaurant owners and when the user gets their food delivered. Some examples:

  • The restaurant has a poorly written menu
  • Food photos aren’t flattering
  • The food is priced too high
  • The restaurant is regularly late delivering the food
  • Food arrives cold 
  • The food simply isn’t good

As the product manager for the food delivery service you have no control over any of these variables. You could design the most efficient and effective way to order food online and you could still fail to hit any of the key results mentioned above because they fall outside of your control. 

What is in your control?

If you can’t measure what your customers’ users are doing as your goal, what can you measure? You must focus on the behavior of the people over which you have direct control. In this case it’s the restaurant owners. For example you could set key results that measure:

  • Average lifecycle of each restaurant on the platform
  • Renewal rates of your restaurant customers
  • Number of complaints from restaurant owners
  • Percentage of new customer acquisition that comes through word of mouth 

If your customers are successful they will continue to buy your product and sing your praises. If you provide them with tools, tips and tricks that make them more successful they will renew their subscription. These are goals you have control over. These are the key results you should be focusing on. 

Example 2: Learning management system

In this example you’re the product manager building a learning management system (LMS) that is sold to school districts. Your customers are school superintendents and school system CTO’s or IT Directors. Your users are teachers, parents and students. You may be tempted to set your key result goals based on the behaviors of these three personas. One particularly tempting key result could be “better grades” for students using the LMS. Again, this is admirable but entirely out of your control. 

Regardless of how well designed and built your LMS is, there are many variables that affect a student’s grades:

  • The quality of the teacher
  • The quality of the teaching materials
  • The student’s aptitude and study habits

This is obviously a very short list but it makes the point that your success criteria lies with the people who buy your product directly – the school system administrators. If they renew subscriptions, purchase more features and share positive reviews with their colleagues it’s a sign your product is meeting their needs. While there are many things you can do to help them make their users successful, in most cases this lies out of your control. 

Set goals that you can influence

Understanding our customers’ users is key to building products they’ll both love. Measuring your success based on your customers’ behavior is the only way for you to know for sure whether or not you’re delivering value and solving a real problem for them. Any user behaviors that are one step removed from your direct influence pose a risk to your key results.