How Do I Know I've Built Too Much Product?

A few days ago, I cancelled a HootSuite account before my trial was over. I had signed up so I could schedule some tweets and some posts on LinkedIn while I was away on vacation. But then I was digging more about automation, remembered about Buffer, saw it had a free offering that fit my needs, and signed up to Buffer. I liked Buffer, and decided to cancel HootSuite. Although I noticed HootSuite had a free tier also, Buffer did the job, and HootSuite felt like it did too much.

HootSuite was too much product for me.

“Overserving”. It’s a term that comes from Clayton Christensen’s work on disruption theory. It happens when you overshoot the buyer’s job-to-be-done. It happens when your product offers too much.

The consequence? People are encouraged to choose a more modest alternative that just does the job.

How You End up Overserving

It’s a situation that creeps in, unexpected:

You grow your product, you listen to feedback from customers, you add features and you grow your monthly recurring revenue accordingly. But then you get signs you might have overserved.

Or maybe you grow your agency’s team, you take on bigger clients, you add more services under your belt. You add those services on your website. But then you get signs you might have overserved.

The Three Signs You Might Have Overserved

Sign #1: People Are Hesitant to Buy

How do people make purchase decisions anyway? We’ve looked at the Four Forces of Progress, which describes what pushes and pulls a buyer into advancing toward a purchase, or back to a default position of non-consumption.

Specifically, people have anxieties (one of the Four Forces) about what you’re offering, which makes them hesitant to buy:

  • Am I going to have to commit to using this product?
  • Is my information going to be secure?
  • Are there people I can trust behind this product or service?
  • Will this product to the thing I need to get done?
  • Will I have to be learning all of those features?

You can tell they’re hesitant to buy if you’re measuring high bounce rates and few return visits. You can bet they’re likely going to hesitate if you rely too much on your features in your product communication.

What to do? Try re-writing your marketing copy to communicate that you understand their likeliest struggle. Avoid stating general benefits. Instead, choose to recount sharp examples of struggles. Downplay the features. Make a long-form pitch page that half-way down offers help on doing the job themselves (without buying anything). Make sure that long-form page takes multiple shots at making them feel you understand their situation. Interview recent purchasers on their purchase story to understand what caused them to switch from “I’ll do it with what I had before” to “I’m hiring this product”.

Sign #2: People Are Cancelling, Switching to Another Product

Just as your customers switched away from something else before switching to your solution, they’re switching away from your thing toward some other thing.

If, when cancelling, they’re switching to a smaller, more modest product, that likely means your product was overserving.

What to do? Run a cancellation survey (or, even better, a one-click email like this one from Baremetrics), which allows the outgoing customer to provide the reason for their cancellation. If they choose “Switching to another product”, then follow-up to offer a gift card in exchange for an interview with them, where you’ll conduct a purchase interview like mentioned in Sign #1, but for the purchase they made of switching to your competitor.

Sign #3: People Aren’t Using Your Features

People hire your product for a job. But people hire your features for sub-jobs.

You might have heard (from your customers) that a feature idea would be great to have. You might have thought that the feature would attract more sales – and maybe it did.

But if your features aren’t answering a struggle your customers were having, your features might be causing them a struggle. A clear sign of overserving.

What to do? Hold off on new features for a while. Set a direction for your team that is about sharpening the features you already have. Tune your features to the customers’ core jobs rather than addressing customer feedback. Conduct purchase story interviews to remind you why people hired your product. Interview your users the same way, except this time have them recall the story of when they first reached for that new feature. You’ll know the actual jobs for which they hired that feature.

So keep a close eye on the temptation to add features, guard against straying away from serving the job for which people hired your product, be clear on what sub-jobs your customers are hiring your features for, and you’ll stay clear of overserving.

Stay Sharp!


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