Startups

A Customer-Centric Approach to Scale Product Teams

Growing your product is a top priority. Go from product-centric to a customer-centric approach and scale your startup to the next round.

7 min
February 28, 2022
Andrew Verboncouer
Partner & CEO

For your company to raise a Series A round, you had to be scrappy and hustle. Maybe you had team members working long hours, hired people who showed up at the right time, and put out a lot of fires.

That was fine when you led a small team, but now you’ve raised your Series A. It’s time to be more strategic.

You need to go from scrappy to scalable.

Check out our in-depth discussion on this topic in the video below.


What got you here won't get you there

To push your startup to the next level, you will need to grow your team this year — by a lot. As you make hiring decisions and onboard new employees, it’s important to give some thought to how your teams will be structured.

To scale seamlessly, you must organize your team in a way that’s both efficient and effective.

Your team must understand

  • Big-picture goals
  • What’s expected of them
  • How internal decision-making works
  • How to make use of the tools, platforms, and systems they need to be able to do their jobs
  • Above all else, they must keep your customers front and center.

The answer lies in a customer-centric team structure.


From product-centric to a customer-centric approach

circular diagram explaining the importance of customer-centric strategy for your product team.

A customer-centric team is designed to keep the needs of the customer at the forefront of their work. To never lose sight of the company’s reason for being. A customer-centric team is intentionally structured around customers instead of by discipline.

The friction of structure by discipline

Many SaaS companies organize teams by discipline. On the face of it, that makes sense. But when you take that approach, it’s easy for individual teams within your company to become siloed.

Design may be off in one corner doing its thing; product in another corner; customer experience in yet another. The end result is the three teams may communicate by passing tickets back and forth.

The downsides of ticket system collaboration in a vacuum

Most product teams function through a ticket system, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There has to be a way for your development needs to be internally communicated and prioritized.

When teams are not communicating around the shared value of creating a valuable customer experience, items in a queue will still get completed. But completing tickets without understanding the context of why they were created in the first place is a wasted opportunity.

Don't focus on tasks, focus on outcomes

Your startup will function (and scale) better if you structure them around customers rather than disciplines. When design, development, and customer experience work together closely to serve the same customer segment, the needs of each become more tangible. When each team member is able to see how their work impacts other teams, and how that collective work impacts the customer experience, you’ll have a more thoughtful product and happier customers.

Customer-centric teams are aligned around owning outcomes for their customer segment

A customer-centric structure doesn’t just bring your internal teams into greater alignment. It also creates better results for the people you serve.

product team structure with customer-centric strategy example
product team structures with customer centric strategy example


Example

When a developer is tasked with addressing a feature request that will take five weeks to ship, it’s important they understand the nuances of why a particular group of customers has requested that feature. From there, they can identify the piece of that feature that will make an immediate difference for your customers and ship it faster.

Bottom line

A customer-centric approach and structure empowers each team within your startup to “own” a particular segment’s outcomes (including problems and wins) while delivering on the technical aspects. As a result, each team coheres around a set of shared goals, and each customer segment is represented by its own dedicated, cross-functional team.

It’s a win-win.

New employees need to be onboarded to your approach

To create a customer-centric organization, you'll need to do more than design the right team structure. You'll also need to recruit team members to a customer-centric approach and mindset. And that begins with onboarding.

During onboarding, team members should learn:

  • What is expected of them
  • What resources are provided to ensure they can successfully perform their roles.
  • Get up to speed on your internal principles, including the high value you place on your customers.


Aligning on principles doesn’t mean having strict commandments, sent down from on high. Instead, think of it more as aligning on an ideology and mindset. Rather than providing strict language that directs your team on how to interact with customers, your team should be guided toward a way of thinking about customers.

By the end of onboarding, your team should be able to answer questions like:

  • Who are our customers, and how are they represented in the form of personas?
  • What matters most to your customers, and why do they use your product?
  • How should customers be treated?


Coaching your team on how to use tools and processes

Now that your company has received its Series A funding, you are on a track for accelerated growth. You need to pay attention to how you organize your team and implement systems for their success.

If you don’t, you could end up with a mess of a team — one that doesn’t have a clear, uniform way of accomplishing tasks, communicating, or remaining focused on customer needs.

Each team in your organization has its own way of doing things. And that way of doing things should be well-supported by tools and processes. Necessary tools should be readily available.

Examples

Design Systems

Figma UI kit, coded components, and a documentation/usage glossary

Discovery Lifecycle

How you identify new features and opportunities to serve customers, prototype ideas, decide where they get implemented into your sprints.

Delivery lifecycle process

How features that are planned get fully designed and developed, through QA, and measuring their impact to live.

There should be clear processes in place to answer questions, submit work, collaborate, and receive feedback. The idea of processes may seem prescriptive at first mention, but that’s not the intent.

Process creates efficiency

If an employee or team must reinvent the wheel every time they start a new project, it’s going to slow them down. Your team won’t be able to think of your customers if they’re constantly worrying about whether they’re equipped with everything they need to do their job.

Instead, their role becomes a productivity play, in which they’re shuffling through tickets trying to look busy while attempting to figure out a workaround for a missing tool or process.

Trying to look busy is a surefire way to diminish creative, strategic thinking.


Provide a transparent view into each team’s results

To deliver a quality customer experience, your team needs to feel they’re making a noticeable impact. One of the worst feelings in the world is to spend months or even years working on a project without external validation.

Talent retention and success

People who are doing work they enjoy and seeing the fruits of their labor generally make for happier employees.

If an employee in your company isn’t happy in their role, that’s going to trickle down to your customers’ experience.

Example 1

Imagine you’ve decided to start working out. You do so religiously for months, but the scale doesn’t budge. When you finally wake up one morning to find that your pants are loose, you have no idea what exercise was effective.

How would you determine where to focus future efforts?

And let’s be frank: If this were the case, you would lose interest in working out long before the results became visible.

The same goes for work completed by your team. If they don’t receive feedback that confirms their efforts are useful, they may lose focus and stamina. Can employees see, through the looking glass of data, that they are making a difference and adding value?

Example 2

Let’s say your team makes an adjustment to a previously problematic area of a feature. Sharing the change in the number of support conversations that come in with questions about that area is a great, and easy, way to show the team the impact of their work.

Quantitative and qualitative metrics are sometimes going to show failure. But the reality is that everyone fails, and failure should be viewed as an opportunity to learn. If your team is not given permission to fail, they won’t learn as much.

If you have hired the right people, trust them, and you’re providing enough leadership to help them when they need it, failure is one of your team’s greatest opportunities.

startup team career development on zoom

Successful employees need a path for career development and advancement

Customer-centric teams create better value for your customers. But to keep those teams happy and value-producing, you’ve got to stay in conversation with team members.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you know who wants to go into management and leadership versus being a high-value senior contributor?
  • Does your team understand the paths for career growth at your company?
  • Does your team know what’s required of them to level up their role, responsibility, and compensation?


Fulfillment is a powerful drug

If your team gets to work with customers and see firsthand the impact of their work, they will be more likely to remain excited about their work.

Now that your company has received your Series A funding, it’s time to find the best possible team structure to take your company to the next level of success.

And that structure should be centered around your bottom line: your customers.

Actionable UX audit kit

  • Guide with Checklist
  • UX Audit Template for Figma
  • UX Audit Report Template for Figma
  • Walkthrough Video
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