Writing by Peter Hilton

Articulate the minimal product definition

How to set the context for your product in one sentence - 02 January 2020 #product

A bowl of soup

unsplash-logoMonika Grabkowska

Lead with the benefits doesn’t justify mysterious behaviour. This product marketing advice suggests talking about product benefits before you talk about price assumes that you’ve already established what the product is. But without a clear product definition, your story parallels a comedy sketch in a restaurant:

diner: what’s today’s special?

waiter: you’ll love it!

diner (annoyed): but what is it?

This may seem contrived, but reflects the poor state of some product descriptions, notably for enterprise software products.

Define the context

The Siebel Sales product page leaves you guessing about what kind of product it refers to:

Designed to improve pipeline visibility, sales effectiveness, and bottom-line results, Siebel Sales enables your organization to share information across teams.

What is Salesforce? does better by starting with a product definition:

Salesforce is a customer relationship management solution that brings companies and customers together.

Your product needs a straightforward written product definition, for context. Start with one sentence.

Introduce the product in one sentence

Wikipedia often starts a with a better sentence than the product’s own web site:

Microsoft Dynamics CRM is a customer relationship management software package developed by Microsoft. (Wikipedia)

Although you shouldn’t expect to find this easier than any other writing problem, you can find plenty of examples to learn from:

Zendesk Sell (formerly Base) is sales force automation software to enhance productivity, processes, and pipeline visibility for sales teams. (Zendesk)

The sales CRM that makes your life easy, so all you have to do is sell. (Pipedrive)

Web based CRM, project management & collaboration. (WORKetc)

Your product marketing story needs a protagonist to save the day. A good novel introduces the protagonist to get the plot moving, without telling their life story on the first page. Your product plays the protagonist in its own marketing story, and the product definition introduces the new character.

Claim the unremarkable

The examples above mention customer relationship management (CRM) software. This doesn’t tell the whole story, but it narrows the focus: CRM explains more than any other single word. Within your product definition’s first sentence or two, identify existing categories that your product belongs to.

As a rule, an existing category has a Wikipedia page, such as Customer relationship management. As with CRM, the same term often applies to both a business software category and a management discipline.

Use the product definition to get the unremarkable aspects of your product out of the way, before you get on to its unique qualities. If you build CRM SaaS for retail then saying makes your story easier to follow, even though other products share those categories.

Sometimes a product definition story has a twist: a unique part of the combination that you can highlight. Perhaps only your CRM SaaS for retail offers offline mobile support or installation as a pre-installed appliance.

Use the product definition systematically

A good product definition requires effort and iteration, but also delivers a lot of value. If you get this right, you can introduce your product consistently in every story you tell. Otherwise, correcting the resulting misunderstandings will cost more effort.

The first sentence merely starts the story. Next, continue your product definition to say who you built the product for, and what they can do with it.