Customer Led New Product Design: Notes From The Field

by drjim on August 5, 2009

How A Product Manager Prepares For A Face-To-Face

How A Product Manager Prepares For A Face-To-Face

This post is an invitation for you to come along with me as I work with one of my clients to help them get ready to present their solutions to a customer in the hope of getting them interested enough to start to move forward towards a sale.

You’ll recognize a lot of what we’re going to be doing, but there just might be a couple of surprises along the way.

Meet The Customer

My client has already met with their potential customer and presented three high-level IT solutions to them. The customer appeared to be interested in all three of the presented solutions and asked for a follow-up meeting in which more detail would be presented. This is where things currently stand.

I got brought in to help out because my client doesn’t actually have any of the three product solutions that they presented – they are all POSSIBLE products. Even if you’ve never done this before, you may have done something similar in presenting features that were not quite “there” yet…!

The Plan

When I sat down with my client, we started the discussion with the one question that every product manger should ask before meeting with a customer: what do we want to get out of this meeting? The client has a pretty simple goal: they want to collect enough information to slim down the list of three possible solutions to just one and get the ok to make a proposal for that solution. How hard could that be?

The Preparation

All product mangers will recognize this challenge – limited time before the meeting with the customer. Since the three possible solutions have already been presented to the customer, this was the best place to start. However, there wasn’t going to be enough time to dive deeply into any single solution – we were going to have to cover all of them down one or two more levels.

Face time was the budget that we had to spend. The meeting with the customer was scheduled for two hours in the afternoon. Clearly, that would be too long to spend doing a product presentation. My client and I agreed that targeting an hour for the presentation and the remaining time for pre-discussion and post-presentation wrap-up. Now all we had to do was decide what we wanted to talk about.

Planning The Presentation

My client had planned on doing the traditional In-Focus projector darkened room presentation; however, I talked them out of it. When I had asked them how many people would be attending from the customer’s side, they had said that they estimated about four. I told them that since it was going to be that small of a group, it would be a better idea to change the “feel” of the meeting from a presentation to more of a working discussion. They liked the idea.

Presentation Content

This all lead up to what was going to be in the presentation itself. I pointed out to my client that they couldn’t be neutral about this – which of the three solutions would THEY like to implement. For a variety of technical and, of course, financial reasons there was one solution that was the clear winner for them.

Every solution has its advantages and disadvantages. I convinced my client to present the other two solutions first and then conclude by presenting the solution that they wanted their customer to select. This was a variation on the Goldilocks “too hot, too cold, just right” strategy.

Finally, as my client was creating the material that they would cover during the meeting, I had them include enough detail for each solution so that the customer would be able to visualize how the solution would look if they implemented in their company. The specific details of how it would be built or interfaced to their existing systems were left out – “to be discussed later”.

Final Thoughts

As product mangers it’s rare that we have an opportunity to be present at the birth of new product let alone one that is being directed by a customer. When these opportunities show up, we need to be able to guide the discussion with the customer so that their pain points are revealed and we are able to design a product that best meets their needs.

If you can find a way to do this successfully, then you will have found out how great product managers make their product(s) fantastically successful.

Questions For You

Have you ever had a customer drive the creation of a new product? How detailed did they get about what they wanted the new product to do? Were you able to steer them in a particular direction that was best for your company? How successful was the product? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As product managers we are tempted to look to our competition for guidance on what we should be doing when things get tight. However, maybe that’s the wrong thing to do. Instead, maybe this is when some of that “outside of the box” thinking might come in handy. Who could show us the way? Maybe a grocery store?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Randy Whitcroft August 20, 2009 at 8:36 am

Interesting post. I am looking forward to reading how this plays out.
To answer your question, we have had a number of our clients businesses and well as their products/services driven by customers. The key to the approach that we have found is to not only truly understand the clients requirements and needs but rather to really to focus in on the areas where value can be recognized and measured. The thought process here is that if it is not measured…chances are it is not that important in the overall scheme of things.
Rather than doing this with just one customer it is about doing the exercise with multiple customers and then building the solution to meet the common needs of these multiple customers. This eliminates having a product built for one customer only.
Great post. I agree with you to get rid of the projector and focus on the conversation. Whiteboards are a great resource at times like this.
Again I look forward to seeing how this comes together.
Thanks
RW

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson August 27, 2009 at 10:08 am

Randy: thanks for the comments – I agree with everything that you said. The challenge that we all have with listening to our customers is that sometimes they don’t know what they really want – they do know what their problems are and that’s the key information that we need to be able to pick up.

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