Features Don’t Sell Products

Features don’t sell products. And often, if your product isn’t selling, it’s because you need to remove some features. 

Think about the last time you downloaded an app, used it for five minutes, and then deleted it. Would you redownload it today if someone told you they pushed an update that included social sharing? Guessing no. 

Or the last time you bought a car. Did you buy it just because it had seat warmers? Or was keeping your butt toasty an added bonus that came with the vehicle that best met your need to get from point A to point B?

Customers aren’t looking for features. They are looking for solutions to a problem, and your entire product or service must solve that core problem. Features can, at best, solve a subsection of a problem, but once you start down the road of “wouldn’t it be cool if…” you’re no longer dealing with the big issue.

This is most true before you have a product/market fit. In the early stages of any startup, all anyone will talk about is the MVP — minimum viable product. The MVP is the purest and simplest implementation of your solution to a given problem, where the one thing you need doing gets done. 

What you’ll hear less about, but what you should hear just as much, if not more, is MVM — minimum viable market. For any given problem, there are a number of people who have that problem in slightly different ways. When creating your customer personas, you’ll find that each one will have different MVP needs to solve their problem. Your job is to find the largest group of people with the same needs, and build your MVP for them. From there, features are the way you expand the solution to additional groups of customers with slightly different needs. 

Key point: this only happens AFTER you have sold the first, largest group of customers. If you do it before, when your product doesn’t solve anyone’s problems or isn’t selling, adding features can make it even worse. If you’ve built something that doesn’t solve a problem, features won’t matter. If you’ve built a solution, but you can’t sell it, adding more features just prolongs and adds complexity to the product or service.

So let’s say you have a product or service you’d like to sell — if you’re reading this, hopefully you do — and you’re having trouble acquiring customers. First of all, welcome to the club, your membership card is in the mail. Not really. But kind of.

More seriously, if you find yourself in this situation, your first consideration should be REMOVING features. If you have a product that no one’s using, but you know it solves a problem they all have, more often than not it’s because you have too many features. The problem you’re solving is getting obscured, either when you try to explain how it works, or when customers try to figure out how to use it. 

Stripping features helps you get straight to the point. Every founder should be able to say, “My product does X,” and X should not be a rambling list of options your customer may or may not need. X should be a solution to a problem that creates value. A valuable solution to a problem is what sells products. 

One last note about features: I actually hate the word “feature.” Features are just another word for functionality, but when you think about them in that way, it forces you to tie the feature to an intended outcome. When you are able to describe not only what you need, but also why, you’re adding functionality — and value — to your product or service, rather than just a random feature. It’s the difference between a user story (as a customer, I want to be able to filter search results in order to identify the best options based on my criteria) and a task (add filtering to search).

And if you don’t believe me, open up your Instagram account. Can you share someone else’s post yet? No? There ya go.

(Photo by Linda Xu on Unsplash)

5 comments

  1. @Eric, @Megan, thank you both for this thought today, “Features don’t sell products. And often, if your product isn’t selling, it’s because you need to remove some features”. As a lifelong product manager, I agree.

    To distill what I think ya’ll are saying:

    1. An MVP solves a core problem and addresses the initial market.
    2. An MVM solves a core problem and offers targeted features around the core to broaden the initial market.

    An MVP is what it is and an MVM is who it’s for?

    I also completely agree that a common product planning pitfall is missing the opportunity to *remove* a feature to increase appeal. It can also certainly be the case that a feature can cloud the access/sightline to core functionality.

    Solid lessons, thanks.

    1. Richard, sorry for the late response. I’m still getting used to the idea that people are reading the blog and leaving comments.

      I think you nailed it above, but let me restate one more time for clarity’s sake.

      As a market broadens, the customers become less homogenous. While the need is more or less the same, there are more and more edge cases and special requirements. The minimum viable market is the largest group of people you can service who have exactly the same need, requiring the fewest possible features.

      Happy holidays, amigo. And thanks for reading!

  2. This really hit the mark for me, and to go along with the theme of this URL, I’ll add another bit of obvious advice: this isn’t just for tech startups.

    I’ve seen products again and again from giant AAA game studios chase the next feature that promises to bump whatever KPI is failing. If only we had a clan system! If only we had social sharing! If only we had a photo mode! Next thing you know, you have a UX mess on your hands where nothing is effectively solving its goal.

    It’s a bit harder to define gamers as customers looking for a solution, but certainly a game provides some level of psychological needs fulfillment so I suppose the solution lies within there.

    So with that, what psychological need is your game trying to solve? Focus on that and solve it. Like you said, if you bog it down with features, you’ll just obscure that underlying solution. (Interestingly, looking at the current games market this statement certainly goes against conventional wisdom.)

    Anyway, thanks for the read! Been enjoying following these posts. 🙂

    1. We faced a different version of this when we were making games at Cyberlore. Independent game companies are usually forced to leave preproduction before a game is actually “fun” because of economic incentives. You don’t get big development checks until you’re creating heaps of content.

      The problem is that all that content essentially freezes a game in place. You’re turning a battleship instead of a cigarette boat. And it doesn’t matter if you have five levels or fifty levels, the game just isn’t fun.

      Also, Director of UI on Fortnite?!? What an amazing gig. Congrats. I’m earning serious nerd cred tonight with my kids just by saying I know you.

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