guest blogger product management

The Product Manager’s Secret Menu

Guest Post by: Anthony Lazarus (Mentee, Session 8, The Product Mentor) [Paired with Mentor, Patrick Hoffman]

Recently, there’s been a great deal of discussion around the topic of ‘customer centricity’. A customer-centric approach focuses on providing a positive customer experience to drive profit and gain competitive advantage. There is one key tool used by successful customer-centric businesses that most product managers disregard.

Customer-centric companies make decisions that drive customer satisfaction. From a product manager’s perspective, it’s important to focus on product-centricity, which means having a product or service that responds to customer needs and then getting as many customers as possible who have these needs. Of course, some customers might not be satisfied by the products offered on the traditional menu or catalog so product managers need to cater to these customers by offering a secret product menu.

What is a secret menu?

A product manager manages the product roadmap/product lifecycle. To visually show one of the main responsibilities of a product manager, the graph below shows product lifecycle stages, including launching new products (introduction), adding product enhancements (during growth stage), and discontinuing products (during a decline stage).

Aside from these three stages, there’s a fourth category that doesn’t get much attention since it only makes up a small percentage of total sales – the secret menu. McDonald’s is an example of a company that successfully uses a secret menu to cater to customers. Vegetarians who want a hamburger-style sandwich, for example, could order a grilled cheese off McDonald’s secret menu. This menu means that McDonald’s can fulfill a customer’s needs, even when the customer isn’t enthused about anything on the traditional menu.

Most people aren’t aware that McDonald’s has an extensive list of secret menu items. This includes the Big McChicken, which is similar to a Big Mac except the beef patties are replaced with fried chicken patties. Another secret menu item is the Mc10:35, a McDouble and an Egg McMuffin merged into one sandwich. It can only be ordered from 10:35am-11am.

McDonald’s isn’t the only restaurant with a secret menu. Chipotle has the Quesarito, a customized burrito wrapped in a cheese quesadilla. Starbucks has a Green Eye, which includes three shots of espresso poured into regular drip coffee. Burger King offers a side of ‘frings’, which is a serving of fries and onion rings.

The secret menu framework

One common trait that I have found in all fast food secret menu items is that they leverage existing ingredients to slightly modify items on their menu board. I’ve found it helpful to explain the different kinds of menu items by contrasting between the level of effort and complexity by using a diagram.

When a company wants to create secret menu items, there are four main ways they can do this:

  • ReDesign- Use existing ingredients and create a new product from scratch
    • (e.g. Chicken Nuggets into Fish McBites)
  • ReSource- Use existing products and introduce a new ingredient
    • (e.g. Bread + Source New Ingredient –Nutella)
  • ReModify- Use existing product and slightly modify the features
    • Expand the BigMac statement of line by adding a smaller and larger version
  • ReMix- Combine several existing products together to create a new product
    • Substitute chicken patties into a BigMac instead of using the standard beef patties

Customers ask for custom products, and organizations should be able to meet these requests if they are in the ReMix and/or ReModify category (lower quadrant). Offering secret menu items will expand an organization’s customer base and could drive some of these benefits:

  • Higher customer satisfaction and confidence
  • Higher revenue and market share
  • Builds brand

If you want to take a product-centric approach to product management, a secret menu will delight customers and is an excellent way to gain a competitive advantage. Start taking steps to discover product modifications that respond to your customers’ unmet needs.

How to create a secret menu

Before creating a secret menu, you’ll need to research to find out which products you should offer. There are a number of ways you can research your customers’ unmet needs.

  1. Tap into your internal team. Learn from your sales team and customer support on past projects, inquiries, bids, etc. to understand special requests. Your team can also help you understand areas within your product categories and services that are easy to modify with low effort.
  2. Tap into your customers. Talk to your customers directly to get feedback on gaps in your existing product features.
  3. Tap into third parties. Understand services that your suppliers can provide to help develop your products.
  4. Tap into analytics. Use historical analytics to identify trends and opportunities for your products.

As a product manager at a contract furniture manufacturer, I was able to identify an unmet need for heavy duty ergonomic task chairs to support larger and/or taller users. Customers wanted a task chair with a wider seat that would be rated and warranted for users up to 400lbs. Instead of developing a new design from scratch, our team leveraged existing models and components, which would classify this project into the ReModify quadrant.

Once you develop and launch a product modification, start promoting your secret menu and let your customers know that it exists. Align internally on the level of visibility you’d like to promote your secret menu items. For example, Coffee Bean has a section on their menu board that screams “YES, WE CAN MAKE THAT.”

Alternatively, you can let it fly under the radar and educate your sales team on the secret menu without any marketing material. My task chair product launch was not published in our catalog, but we trained our sales team and customer support on the new heavy-duty program. Now, if a customer requests heavy-duty chairs, we can easily accommodate their needs.

Lastly, launching a new product modification will allow you to get feedback from early adopters, which will guide future development efforts. If your product modification starts to take more market share, start thinking about adding it to the product roadmap as a standard offering. If your product modification doesn’t stick, start thinking about new development opportunities or discontinuation. Keep evolving and developing your secret menu items and focus on being more customer & product-centric.


About Anthony Lazarus

AnthonyAnthony Lazarus is currently a Product Marketing Manager at SitOnIt Seating, responsible for managing the product life cycle for the office seating category. He has a proven track record in delivering successful product introductions and financial results within the contract furniture industry and Fortune 500 companies. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Operations Management from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and an MBA in Marketing and Entrepreneurship from Loyola Marymount University.




More About The Product Mentor

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Each Session of the program runs for 6 months with paired individuals…

  • Conducting regular 1-on-1 mentor-mentee chats
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  • Mentors and Mentees sharing their product management knowledge with the broader community

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Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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