Warning Sign

This post was originally published on Product Talk.

It’s easy to spend the majority of your time talking about features. You track features in your backlog. You schedule features on your roadmap. Your customers request features. Your sales team complaints about missing features. Almost everyone thinks of products as features. But if you want to build better products, you need to stop thinking about products as a collection of features.

You Risk Building a Me-Too Product

A focus on features inevitably leads to an obsession with competitors and the features that they offer. You get caught chasing your own tail trying to keep up.

Get off the hamster wheel. All this does is lead to me-too products.

Nobody wakes up in the morning and says I really wish there was another place to host my professional profile. I’m bored with LinkedIn. Instead, new players succeed in the market because they identify a new need. Or they deliver better on an existing need.

Focus on needs and deliver more value rather than getting caught up in what features your customers have or don’t have.

You Risk Trying To Please Everyone and End Up Not Pleasing Anyone

You’ve heard it before. Be human-centered. Put your customer at the center of your universe. But when all you talk about is features, you open the flood gates.

Everyone has a favorite feature. From your CEO to your receptionist inside the building, to your customers and the media outside the company.

When you put so much emphasis on what features are coming next, everyone will vie to get their feature on the list. It’s human nature. The result is you get stuck trying to pleases everyone and end up pleasing nobody. Change the conversation from features to value.

Rather than asking for feature requests ask, how can we deliver more value?

You Risk Diluting Your Positioning and Losing Sales

When you make the switch to talking about value instead of features, your sales people will push back. After all, it is their job to please everyone. Remember, that’s not your job. This is a good tension.

Hold your ground. Your company will win more sales in the long run.

Your sales team is wired to win the next deal. They want to sell to the customer they are talking to right now.

Your job is to build a product that the market wants. The market is not one customer. And it most definitely isn’t the one customer your sales team is talking to right now.

By responding to the needs of each and every customer, you end up losing your place in the market.

This can be counterintuitive. You don’t want to sell to everyone. Doing so dilutes your position in the market. You want to sell to the customer segment that you’ve identified. You want to understand the wants and needs of just that segment.

Apple doesn’t offer pay-as-you-go flip phones. That’s not their customer segment. They focus on high-end, consumer electronics, not disposable electronics. Doing so would dilute their brand their position in the market.

While they might sell more phones in the short run, they would dilute their messaging to high-end customers, putting much more of their revenue at risk.

You aren’t Apple. But you do have a position in the market.

Understand your position in the market and create value for your customer segment. Ignore the rest.

You Risk Creating a Product That is Hard to Use

When you focus on features, you build too many features. Too many features leads to unusable products.

Microsoft Office continues to be one of the best examples of this. When was the last you used wave underline or toggle case? Sure these options are buried and hard to find, but I’m sure they were added because someone important requested them.But for most people who use Microsoft Word, what would be more valuable – adding toggle case or making a formatting option like table editing easier to use?

We get caught up in the number of features we release. We get distracted by shiny and new. But for every feature that we add, we borrow against the opportunity to make something else easier to use.

Simple Elegant Products Win

Remember, it’s not about how many features you include, it’s about the value you deliver to your customer over and over again. Rather than spending your time obsessing about features, spend your time understanding that value and how to deliver it.

Rarely is the answer more features. More often, it’s fixing something that is broken, redesigning a workflow, removing barriers, simplifying user interfaces, making something work a little bit better, tweaking an algorithm.

These types of product changes may be less exciting than adding more features, but they add far more value. They also have the added benefit of keeping your product simple and elegant. And simple and elegant wins.

The more you incorporate this mindset into your product development process, the better your product will become.

What can you do today to shift your focus away from features and back to value?