How to PM Beyond the Core User
Tips to shift your product strategy toward supporting a spectrum of interactions.
As PMs, we are trained to consider different personas for our users but often think about the product being used in a singular way by the core user we define (which is basically what any product management course will tell you to do). However, most products will not be used in a vacuum, and other users will interact with them — whether you planned for them to or not.
Here are a few common examples:
- Buyer vs. user. The buyer of the product isn’t always the end user — a pretty common experience with B2B sales.
- Backend vs. frontend. Sometimes a product needs to consider a backend user as well as a frontend user — like with POS systems in retail where employees need to interact with the backend but could require customer interaction at the frontend.
- Customer support. A support employee may need to navigate the product on behalf of the end user or walk a user through the product without the support employee having the product in front of them.
All of this complexity can sometimes feel overwhelming. It often leads product managers to design with one type of user in mind and hope the others are happy. But it’s important to consider the other players along the way. Each interaction with your product by a new person is an opportunity to gain evangelists, even if they are not the core user. Here are a few tips to get you headed in the right direction.
Prioritize the core user
This may seem like a complete contradiction, but your main focus should still be creating for your core user. What works best for them will naturally improve the experience for everyone else who interacts with your product because its main function is still to help solve a problem they are experiencing. You want your core user to tell other people about your product and how well it works for their needs. If it is designed well, they will rarely need to ask for help from others.
However, when prioritizing the core user and their experience, it doesn’t hurt to start thinking about who else will be using the product in support of this core user or people who may use the product along the way or because of the core user.
Identify other possible users
After you’ve identified the core user, here are questions you can run through to help you identify multiple users:
- If your product is bought, who buys it? Are you hoping your core user will buy this for themselves? Do you expect the core user’s employer to buy this product? If the user and purchaser are not the same person, will the buyer be able to see the value that the core user gains from this product?
- What happens if it breaks or doesn’t work as expected? Does your company support this product? Is there an expectation for your core users to fix things themselves? Are there other people who may need to assist your core user in onboarding, learning, or using the product?
- Does your core user use this product with other people? If it’s a consumer product, can they show it to their friends? If it’s a product that is used at work, does it support letting other users jump in? Does your product support other people watching your core user interfacing with the product?
This list of questions is not exhaustive but it’s meant to get you thinking of all the other people who may be holding, seeing, using, buying, or generally experiencing your product.
Design for customer support
When creating a product, feature, or experience, it’s tempting to expect everything to work exactly the way you planned, but that’s never the case. By expecting things to go unexpectedly, you can design your product to be easy to support and troubleshoot. Just because something breaks doesn’t mean it needs to be a negative experience for your core user and the person who helps the core user fix the issue.
This can be as simple as including clear error messages for the core user to reference when speaking to support, or as complex as building in a feature that allows for remote access. Whatever your product is, it’s reasonable to think that your core user may need to ask for help and that the process should be as easy and seamless as possible.
Consistency is key
It’s important to keep your designed elements and naming conventions consistent across your product’s features because there may be multiple people engaging with the product at entry points completely separate from your expected user flow. Your core user should be able to feel like an expert when discussing your product with others and, in turn, feel like they can discuss the product features no matter how limited their experience with your product.
So, my fellow product managers, I hope you’ll take these tips out into the world, pause for a moment to think about the other people who may be leaning over the shoulder of your core user, and consider how to better their experience too.
Patrick Molloy (he/him) is an Associate Product Manager at Postlight. Say hello at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story published on Nov 22, 2022.