If you were going fishing, how much luck catching fish do you think that you would have if you didn’t use any bait on your hook? Sure, there are probably some either dumb or near-sighted fish that might still bite, but you’re going to be doing a lot of sitting around waiting. Is it possible that as a product manger you are fishing for customers for your product without bait?
The Problem With Market Assumptions
As a product manager you work hard to create a product that meets what you think the needs of your customers are. Once you’ve got the product ready to go to market, you whip up some sales brochures that are loaded with your marketing message, create a slide presentation or two, and then dump them on your sales teams and tell them to go sell, sell, sell!
Now this is all find and good if you’ve guessed right. Or maybe a better way for me to have said that was it’s all good if you’ve correctly guessed what your customer’s needs are. If you haven’t, then you’re sending your sales teams off to fish without any bait.
Your market assumptions are those points that you build your marketing message around. Market assumptions are the reasons that you believe that your customers will be willing to purchase your product. If you get this wrong, then nothing else matters.
An Example Of Marketing Mis-Alignment
These types of things are always most clearly understood when there is a good example. In this case, the writer (a title=”Who is Geoffrey James” href=” http://www.geoffreyjames.com/ “>Geoffrey James has uncovered the case of the product managers at Ascent Healthcare Solutions getting their marketing message misaligned.
Ascent takes used medical devices (catheters, drill bits, bags, etc.), cleans, sterilizes, and tests them before selling them back to hospitals for about half of their original price.
The product mangers at Ascent thought that they understood their customer very well – price conscious hospitals. Their marketing assumption was that if they convinced their customers that reprocessed products were safe, then they would buy them. It turns out that they were wrong.
When sales didn’t take off like they were supposed to, Ascent brought in consultants to sit down with Ascent’s customers and find out what was really going on. It turns out that hospitals were already convinced that Ascent’s products were safe to use. The problem was that Ascent’s product mangers had assumed that switching over to collecting and tuning in medical devices to be reconditioned was an easy thing to do. Hospitals didn’t see it that way.
Just like every large organization, any sort of change is always a real pain. Hospitals saw the need to set up special recycling bags just for the devices that Ascent could recondition and then teaching the hospital staff new procedures to use was going to be more hassle than the savings were worth.
Once Ascent learned about their marketing mistake, they quickly corrected their message out to the market. They no longer assume that hospitals will view reprocessing as being easy, they have changed their marketing message to now state that “Ascent makes reprocessing easy.”
What All Of This Means For You
Right now you are operating under a set of marketing assumptions about your customers. You might be right or you might be wrong. If your assumptions are incorrect, then you could be missing out on a lot of customers.
The first step is for you to write down just exactly what your current marketing messages are. You are probably going to need an outsider to help you do this because you may be too close to your material to be able to “see” your messages.
Next, you are going to have to test your messages. This is going to require you to work with the sales team and start to have discussions with customers. This includes not only existing customers, but ones who have left you. Ask them if what you think are their most pressing needs really are driving their decisions.
I speak from experience when I tell you that you are probably in for some surprises. All too often, just like the product managers at Ascent, we can start to believe our own marketing material and that’s how we can get out of alignment with our customers.
What do you think is the best way to test your market assumptions without going broke?
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
2009 is dead, long live 2009. Ok, so it’s not quite dead yet; however, even as your sales teams are running around trying to close the year out on a high note you as a product manager need to start to set your sights on what you’re going to do to get ready for next year. Got a plan?