How To Transition A Traditional Business In To A Product-Led Company

I’m going to make a bold statement:

If your business is not making data-driven and product-led decisions, chances are you won’t be making decisions at all in the long run.

Why won’t non data and non product-led businesses be around? Because as a business:

  • You are most likely guessing or making uninformed decisions on what you should be doing or focusing on
  • There is probably little or no strategy in place
  • You won’t know how or when to respond to changes in market conditions
  • There isn’t alignment within the organisation
  • It is hard to see momentum
  • The outside world won’t understand what you do or your value proposition
  • You are not creating a meaningful brand

Simply put, if you are an established business not using data and a product-led approach to growth, someone else is or will be soon enough and replace you in the market.

Like many people, a lot of my career has been working in industries that when they began, weren’t very reliant on technology — such as banking/payments, retail, higher education, insurance, etc. However, I’ve either co/founded or supported businesses that transitioned these industries into a product-led way of working which is empowered by technology. We’ve seen transitions in many cases where the “product” that was originally sold has become commoditised and the digital product/medium, experience, and brand have become the differentiators. For example:

  • Going into a bank has transitioned to fintech, neo-banks, apps, instant account opening (via apps), and real time digital payments.
  • Going to a retail store has transitioned to ecommerce, marketplaces, and more immersive experiences.
  • Learning and in-person lectures has transitioned to on demand e-learning
  • Insurance is in the process of doing what fintech has done as we see the rise of insurtech businesses with fast quotes, instant claims, transparency, and customer centric approaches.

So the question is, how do you pivot or transition a business that is not embracing a digital product first approach to one that is?

Think of your business as a platform from day one. This will help you keep focused on your vision, architect solutions for the future, and make it easy to explain/understand.

If you have been operating for a long time, think about the core services you deliver and the requirements to support the services/products. Don’t worry so much about the current processes because chances are they are antiquated and inefficient.

Example:

We have an [industry name] platform that provides [client facing solutions]

  • We have a FinTech platform that provides mobile app, debit cards, instant payments, account aggregation, and personal financial management (PFM)
  • We have an InsurTech platform that provides policy quotes, medical assistance, and claims.

Disclaimer: If you are technical you’re probably saying “Kasey there are multiple platforms in our stack”, and you’re right. In fact when you get into the detail of how you’re going to delivery your products and solutions, you might be using more platforms than ever before. Chances are you’ll have applications, platforms for your core services, APIs, serverless solutions, data warehouses, data lakes, AI/ML, digital marketing, CDPs, analytics, third party tools, and a lot more.

Once you have a platform, you need to be able to communicate what the core products of that platform are. These will be both internal and external solutions. Doing this helps everyone in your business understand what you are offering, how it all fits together, and provide a common way to communicate about key aspects of the business. Chances are you’re going to have multiple products or at least products that can be consumed via multiple mediums.

Client Facing Example:

  • Mobile Apps for [x]
  • Websites, Portals and/or CMS that do [x]
  • Recommendation Engine
  • Portal that enables [x]
  • APIs

Internal Example:

  • Reporting Tool
  • Customer Management Portal
  • Customer Service Tool

What used to be your product, like debit cards or insurance policies/products have become largely commoditised in the eyes of consumers. They are only a piece of your overall solution that plug into the digital offering/product.

Now you need to do a sense check. The platform you’ve defined in step 1 should incorporate the information in step 2 and likewise, each product should be fully accounted for in step 1.

I always find this part of the process very interesting because you often realise that something is missing and then struggle to figure out how/where it fits into your platform. It might be something that you’re so used to having/supporting and just assumed was foundational to your business, but now is the time to challenge that or rethink about how your business works/operates.

An example of where this could happen is if you have different business models you need to account for: B2B, B2C, B2B2C; APIs, Apps, Websites, Portals; SaaS, consulting/time and material, usage; and off the self solutions vs built in-house.

Ask yourself, how can you simplify what you’re doing and delivering to ensure everyone is focusing on things that really drive the business forward. You might also find that you have extra layers of management or functions that are not needed.

You need to understand what your businesses stands for and what it is trying to achieve, but for each product you should also, very clearly define what the aspirational state of the product looks like. Do this for both internal and external products. Ask yourself, what can this product be the best in the world out. There should be executive level approval in most cases and it should help drive the businesses greater vision/mission.

Next, determine metrics, normally as a ratio, that will clearly communicate if the product is tracking towards its vision. It is common to have these break down into growth and engagement metrics.

Example:

  • Vision: Stream all the content in the world through an app to everyone in the world.
  • Metrics: Minutes of streamed content per session, sessions per user per month, number of new videos added per month, etc.

This helps create alignment and focus.

I’m not going into a lot of detail on this one, but as you reframe what your business offers and how it offers it, you’ll need to not only updates your processes, but also inform the organisation and clients of the “upgrade”.

If you’re not familiar with product management, please google it. I’ve written about The Benefits of Being Product-led and would also encourage you to read books like Escaping The Build Trap and Inspired.

The ideas is that since you have now created a framework for the core components of your businesses, you can keep evolving them in line with strategy and track their success against the visions and success metrics. This is also where you can start to make smart decisions backed by data and creativity.

Here is a simplified example of the components you can break your business into:

Diagram showing how businesses should be though of as platforms
Diagram showing how businesses should be though of as platforms

About The Author

Kasey Kaplan is a product leader and entrepreneur. He is the Global Head of Product at Cover-More, the founder of KWK Studio, and the co-founder of Urban FT.

Kasey Kaplan is a product leader and entrepreneur. He is the Global Head of Product at Cover-More, the founder of KWK Studio, and the co-founder of Urban FT.

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