Have you ever wondered why people bother? Why do they bother to participate in a survey or add a comment to a blog post? Certainly there are those in your company who think that no one will respond to anything unless there’s a financial incentive for them. But is it true? Is it true for you?
I’ve found that people are not only willing but anxious to share their passion on a topic. They have experiences that they’re delighted to share. They have points of view that they’d like validated. But only with people they believe will listen. Only with people who themselves have passion on the subject. Isn’t that why Facebook is successful? And why people spend hours editing articles on Wikipedia?
Yet many product leaders seem to avoid customer interaction. They know that customer insights are invaluable in defining products, prioritizing features, determining the market message. But knowing that, many still can’t find time for the customer. Why is that?
Some product leaders fear customer confrontation. The last release was buggy or some clients have loads of implementation problems. And truly, it’s hard to engage with a customer if you’re anticipating getting beat-up over some product issue. And many sales and support people expect product managers to do this time and again. They connect a product manager with a client specifically to put him or her in the hot seat. “It’s your job,” they say. (You know what? It isn’t.) Ideally, we would hope that our customers are happy; sure we would. But also that not every customer engagement is with a problem customer. Sure, there are unhappy customers but go see a happy customer, and hear something nice about your company and product once in a while.
Another reason product managers avoid customer visits is that product managers are simply too busy. And they are. Survey after survey reports on the number of activities that product managers are tasked with and the incredible number of hours that they spend on these activities. But let me tell you, many of these activities would be simpler, accomplished more quickly, or perhaps eliminated altogether if you had intense customer knowledge at your fingertips. Being able to answer definitively that an issue is related to “78% of our lost deals” is more powerful than “I don’t know,” and “let me see if I can find out.”
[If you really don’t have time, do one a month (or even one a quarter) and call Primary Intelligence for the rest. We offer win/loss analysis services for touchpoints all along your customer’s implementation life cycle.]
Perhaps the biggest issue driving any behavior is support from above. It’s hard for an employee to get excited about any activity that their execs don’t value. And this lack of perceived value is expressed in many ways. Leadership says they require some activity or focus but they won’t provide budget for training or travel. They say they support it but pay bonuses on something else.
So I get it: you’re tired of hearing complaints about the product; you’re busy; your boss doesn’t value it. We put up many barriers–some real, some self-imposed–but most product managers and product marketing managers know that customer research is part of the gig. So how do you do it?
My favorite research activity is phone interviews with customers. You’d be surprised how easy it is to interview a customer immediately after a sale or prior to a production rollout. Phone and Skype interviews are cheap. And people tend to be more forthcoming over the phone than in surveys or onsite visits.
It seems every product leader has a success story resulting from a win or loss interview. Do you?
One product manager got some incredible information from interviewing a lost customer. The client complained that the product manager’s product was better but the procurement buyer had ignored his technical recommendations and bought the competitor’s product instead. And the tech buyer was livid. He proceeded to tell all the dirt on the company’s procurement process and the weaknesses of the competitor’s product. And he sent the product manager a PDF of the internal evaluation document. Sounds like a good day.
Nowadays it seems few buyers want to spend time with a sales person yet people want to share their experiences–good and bad. Customers are anxious to spend time with a product manager if only product managers would leave the office once in a while.
I believe in Karma. That the good deeds you do will be repaid tenfold. That sending positive thoughts into the universe makes it a better place for us all. That “what goes around comes around.”
People have passion about your product. So do you. Create the place to share it.