4 Ways Product Managers Can Let Their Customers Make Their Product A Success

by drjim on October 22, 2012

Image Credit Product Managers don't have to do it all by themselves – customers can help!

The one thing that every product manager wants more than anything else in this world is for our product to be a success — this should almost be a part of the product development definition. We are willing to work very hard to make this happen. However, maybe we’ve got it all wrong – it’s not what we do that will make our product a success, but rather what our customers do. Let’s take a look and see how we can let them show us what we need to be doing…

Welcome To The World Of Social Web Sites

One of the biggest advantages of living in the 21st Century is that we’ve got this great thing called the Internet. All of a sudden, product managers now have an easy way to both get and stay in contact with the customers of their product. Having a communications channel like this is great; however, it doesn’t come with any operating instructions…

All too often, product managers try to control how our customers use the Internet to talk about our product. What a lot of us have done is to set up web sites where our customers can come and talk about our product. However, that’s it – all we want them to do is talk about our product. Oh, and don’t you even think about saying something bad about the product – we’re going to tightly police what is said and delete any negative comments.

The end result of these kinds of actions are rarely visited web sites that are of no value to your customers or to you. This is not something that you’re going to want to put on your product manager resume. It turns out that there are other types of social web sites out there that discuss products (such as those that talk about just about any Apple product) that are wildly popular. What’s the difference between these two types of web sites?

4 Ways To Create A Brand Community For Your Product

The big difference is that those other web sites have been successful in building a so-called “brand community”. This is a site where customers can learn more about a product, discuss problems and how to solve them, and talk with other people who use the product.

I’m going to guess that you’d like to be able to create a successful online brand community for your product. If so, then you’re going to need to follow the following four steps to create a successful social web site for your product:

  1. Hand’s Off!: When you set up a social web site for your product, you get to set the rules. However, if you limit the discussion to only product-related items or if you prohibit negative comments about your product, you’ll be shooting yourself in your foot. A social web site is just that – social. Let your customers talk about what they want to talk about – they’ll always eventually come back to talking about your product. Also, let them make negative comments about the product. Both of these types of discussions will provide you with great insights into both your customers and how they are using your product.
  2. Keep It Diverse: Who do you really want to come and visit your product’s social web site? Do you really think that your market segmentation is 100% correct? Don’t limit use of your web site to one particular type of customer or even to people who have already bought your product. Instead, throw the doors open and let anyone who has an interest in your product participate. This is when the real learning for you will occur.
  3. It’s Not A Support Site: If your social web site was just an extension of your customer support department, then visitors could open trouble tickets and get them answered. Instead, you need to provide your customers with ways to interact and communicate with other visitors. Don’t make it a customer-to-company discussion, make it an anyone-to-anyone discussion – that’s what “social” is all about.
  4. Unofficial Is Ok Too: There is no way that there will only be one web site that deals with your product. In fact, there may be many others. As a product manager you’re going to need to come up with a plan to at least monitor what is being said about your product on these other sites. An even better plan is to participate in them. Become a contributor and you’ll be able to harness their customer feedback in addition to your own site.

What All Of This Means For You

As a product manager, we can accomplish a lot. However, we may not be able to make our product a success simply by our own actions. Instead, it turns out that we need the help of our customers.

We can get the feedback that we need from our customers by creating social web sites that they can use to talk about, among other things, our products. However, in order for these types of sites to be effective, we need to follow the four things that we’ve discussed. The ability to set up this kind of effective customer communications channel will probable soon become a part of every product manager job description.

We live in fantastic times – never before have product managers had so many tools that can allow us to connect with our customers available to us. However, we need to learn how to use these tools correctly so that we can ensure that our products will be the success that we know that they can be.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that you should delete comments that customers post that talk negatively about your product?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

How is your product priced? Are you playing a “price it and forget it” game? How about the “price it and then discount it down to whatever the customer will pay” game? You would think that product pricing would be a standard part of the product development definition, but all too often we skip over it because it seems too hard to do. No matter how your product is priced today, there is a good chance that it could be priced much better if only you knew how to do it. That’s what we need to have a talk about.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

John Mansour October 24, 2012 at 7:21 am

This looks great for B2C products but what about B2B products when they’re all part of an integrated suite and sold together as solutions. Is a website for every individual product that valuable or does it simply reinforce the silo mentality?

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson October 26, 2012 at 6:30 pm

John: you make a very good point. If you are selling products both individually and as a part of a suite, I’d suggest that you have a single brand community for your customers (B2B or B2C doesn’t really matter — a user is a user). This way when someone has an issue with a product no matter if it’s standalone or part of a suite, there will be more community members to step up and help them get answers to their question…

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