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Product Management

The Invisible Product Problem: How Do You Communicate Value to Customers?

By Charles Caldwell
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One of the most complex and interesting challenges we find from a product manager’s perspective is the problem of invisible products. What are invisible products? Simply put, invisible products are products designed in a way that masks their value—they’re working in the background without constantly notifying the user. Most of the time, you won’t need them until you do, and when you start needing them and don’t have them, it may already be too late.

Security products are great examples of invisible products. You probably have some sort of antivirus software running on your computers. If that antivirus software is performing well, then nothing happens. No ransomware, no hijacked financial accounts…nothing.  It runs in the background, quietly doing its job while you go on with your projects, with your computer working as expected.

What Makes Invisible Products a Challenge?

The big difficulty with invisible products is that because your customers don’t really see them working—and are happiest when nothing happens—demonstrating their value can be a challenge.

When it is time to ask a potential customer to sign a check, you want to clearly show the value your product delivers.  Not features and functions, but business value. With invisible products, you’re left attempting to communicate the value of not getting phished, or not getting hacked, or not losing files. And in more in-depth enterprise sales—where your stakeholders who will interface with the product aren’t always the individuals who are authorized to make the decisions on purchases or who approve product funding—you can run into even more resistance.

If you’re trying to communicate the value of invisible products to your existing customers, you’re still not off the hook. Demonstrating value to your existing customers can be just as challenging as it is with potential new customers. Proudly showing months of “nothing” happening may not come across as a win if your customer doesn’t see or understand what or how the product contributes to their company.

Demonstrating Product Value is in the Data

We find that the best way to handle the invisible product problem is through the use of data and visual analytics. Say you’re using antivirus software and want to show your customer how well it’s working. You can pull data on how many times your client was attacked, and from there, start to extrapolate how (if those attacks had been successful) they would have had a negative impact on their software. You can then say to the executive you’re working with: “You have 10,000 endpoints that were under X number of attacks, and we prevented 99 percent of them.” You can give yourself concrete, visible data to support what you know is true about your invisible product.

Sometimes just telling your customer about the data, or even showing them the data directly, isn’t enough. Visual analytics can be a huge help in conveying the importance of invisible products. Visual analytics can be:

  • Graphs
  • Charts
  • Images
  • Tables
  • Infographics

By visually presenting your data you tell the story of the value your customer has realized, or could realize, through the use of your products. You can translate the invisible work into stories through compelling visualizations, leveraging our brain’s ability to process visual information faster and more effectively than text-based data. You can take out some of the guesswork and subjectivity, and show your customers exactly what could have happened with an unprotected system.

Visually representing the risk potentials, exposing vulnerability, and showing how many attempts were neutralized allows your product managers to display the concrete value of a product that otherwise would be completely invisible.

Key Takeaways

  • Invisible products—like anti-virus programs, anti-phishing infrastructure, and file backup systems—are products that are designed to make sure that nothing bad happens as a result of them being installed and working properly.
  • The difficulty with invisible products is in displaying their value, as by their very nature, they work quietly in the background to ensure that systems work as they should.
  • Product managers can use the visual representation of data to display risks, vulnerability in points for a system, how many phishing or hacking attempts were neutralized, and finally, what the potential issue would be if any number of those invasive attempts were successful.
  • Visual data allows product managers to assign significant value to a product that would otherwise be completely invisible.

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Originally published May 19, 2020

About the Author

Charles Caldwell is the Vice President of Product Management at Logi Analytics. Charles came to Logi Analytics with a decade of experience in data warehousing and business intelligence (BI). He has built data warehouses and reporting systems for Fortune 500 organizations, and has also developed high-quality technical teams in the BI space throughout his career. He completed his MBA at George Washington with a focus on the decision sciences and has spoken at industry conferences on topics including advanced analytics and agile BI.

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