Eight Ways Your Product Function can Fail – Part Two

November 13th, 2020


Part one of this two-part blog identified the first major mistakes that product functions make, including lack of vision, poor goal definition, chasing output and the effects of falling foul to individual bias. Skull Mountain’s Lee Cross unearths the final four failures that your product functions could be experiencing in this weeks blog.

5 – Ignoring Holistic Customer Value.


What’s the issue?: Some of the best product people come from non-product backgrounds. They happen to be the best because they can see the bigger picture of the wider business context and more importantly, the entire customer lifecycle and experience. In reality, most product people come from a technology background, and what is extremely apparent to us now is that these people want to try to change the world from a technology perspective.

This was completely the correct approach up until about 5 or 6 years ago. Before then, you could make a huge impact to a business or customer with a digital product output and most problems were a technology problem.

This is the totally incorrect approach today. Technology is so far along now that it should be viewed in 98% of cases as a supporting enabler to business and customer needs, not the solution.

What’s the impact?: Having a product function that focuses too much on technology as a solution means that you are only managing one aspect of the customer lifecycle, the product experience. You won’t be able to ensure that you are acquiring the right customers – those that retain most profitably. This is because your proposition activity, conversion, onboarding, customer experience and retention don’t currently have holistic management.

A great metric here is to look at your payback per customer in number of weeks. If you look at conversion and retention separately you don’t have the ability to ensure that you’re acquiring the right customers…

It is not about the acquisition of customers or retention of customers; it is about acquiring retention.

How to avoid this: You can only acquire retention when: you know intimately who the right audiences are for your product or service, what propositions work for them, how to onboard them and how to give them an amazing long term experience. This requires product functions to manage the full customer lifecycle:

  • Proposition (Making promises) – intimate knowledge of your customer cohorts, what they want and what gets them onboard.
  • Conversion (Reinforcing promises) – reminding them of the proposition ​throughout conversion and why they are converting.
  • Onboarding (Fulfilling promises) – the first 90 days of a customer’s lifecycle should be a constant reinforcement of why they signed up for your service or why they use your product. What would customers say of your service to a friend after 90 days? That’s a key metric…
  • Retention (Building profitable relationships): Retention is affected by many factors ranging from the type of product you serve, how you serve it, how you make them feel when using the service.


6 – Celebrating False Validation.


What’s the issue?: False validation is a brutal and difficult issue to diagnose but, in essence, it is the false validation that you are or have achieved product market fit.

An example of this would be to imagine a digital marketplace that connects businesses to service suppliers. The team have just launched, they have huge praise of the service, lots of supplier sign ups and lots of traffic/ engagement. The team celebrate the successful launch and plough on with this success.

Nevertheless, without sign ups and conversions from the paying businesses, this is false validation. It is very easy to get a supplier to sign up and be on the service, however it is brutally hard to get a business to sign up and then purchase a service too.

What’s the impact?: The impact is extreme – you can exhaust your entire runway or waste years of investment building features and functionality or serving the wrong customers for your business. Ultimately you can crash the business entirely.

How to avoid this: By being ruthless with metrics and asking these key questions: what is servicing my business goals, by how much and why should be a relentless mantra?


7 – Hiding Behind Process.


What’s the issue?: Most people truly believe that if they turn up to work (likely in a spare room for the time being!) and follow a process perfectly then good things will happen. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work this way.

Process is just a tool, one of many at your disposal.

What’s the impact?: Entire teams can hide behind processes, or worse, be measured by their ability to follow a process. This will result in waste and inefficiency, as well as a stifling of innovation and most commonly a lack of accountability. If your teams are hiding behind processes or too bound by them, you will be cumbersome in your growth – if you grow at all.

How to avoid this: Engender a culture of relentless pursuit of value and use value delivered as the most important metric. This is best served by having a cultural framework to operate within that is backed up and supported by process – flexible process.


8 – Lacking Hustle.


What’s the issue?: This is a very intangible issue but teams that lack hustle will not find success. Good product people have the ability to drag a product into growth and break down numerous barriers to get there.

What’s the impact?: A lack of hustle results in slow growth, missed opportunity and most of the issues outlined above in this blog…

How to avoid this: Solid recruitment strategies to get the right people on board. At Skull Mountain for example, we look for people with huge enthusiasm, integrity and who have either run a business or materially changed one. People like this usually know how to hustle for success!

Alongside this, diversity is hugely critical. You want a broad range of people who can answer problems with a variety of solutions. If you don’t have diversity you will have a team that only have one answer to each problem and as a result you will solve less problems.

Finally having the right culture and a solid success frameworks to support this is key.


If these eight reasons that product functions fail resonate with the tone of your business then we hope this blog has been able to shine light on where the issue may lie and how to resolve this. If you would like to discuss your business further, email Lee Cross at

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