Let’s Go Visit The Customer, Product Manager…

by drjim on October 8, 2008

Product Managers Need To Prepare To Meet With Customers

Product Managers Need To Prepare To Meet With Customers

So much has been written about how important it is to get in front of your (potential) customer that I am almost hesitant to add to the pile. However, in reviewing what’s out there, nobody really seems to have spent the time to lay out step-by-step what a product manger needs to do before and during a meeting with a customer. Well good news, today that changes!

In my world, a product manager would never be able to meet with a customer without having a sales rep along for the ride. This is actually quite ok. I consider the sales rep to be my wingman and look forward to meeting with customers. Since we live in busy times I always expect the customer to be busy and for us to end up having less time with them than was planned. What this all leads to is that the key to a successful customer meeting is to prepare, prepare, prepare.

The best way to prepare to meet with a customer is to get your questions in order. By this I mean that you need to come up with roughly 10 different questions that if you can get the customer to answer during your time together then you’ll have the opportunity to collect the real type of product information that you need to improve your product. One of the reasons that you need to have a list of questions is that it will help you to shut up. Yes, you heard me right – the reason that a product manager visits a customer is to learn more about the customer’s needs. The more talking that you do, the less opportunity the customer will have to tell you what they want. Having good questions means that you can be actively listening to see if the customer is answering one of your questions instead of talking too much.

The world of sales has been doing this for a long time and they are actually quite good at it. One trick that they use is to come up with two different ways to ask each question. This allows them to re-ask the question if the customer really does not provide an answer the first time around.

Finally, you need to understand that you are not the only product manager in the world. There are a lot of them out there and they are also probably trying to get in to see your customer. If you were able to get an appointment, then they will probably be able to do the same. This means that you need to come up with a way to make your time together more memorable than anyone else’s.

The best way that I’ve found to do this is to provide the customer with information that they can’t get anywhere else. This can include late-breaking info about their competition or their customers that you pulled out of today’s paper or off of the web. Alternatively, it could be some obscure feature of your product that would appeal to them or maybe even an update on your release schedule. Just make sure that it is important information to them.

When was the last time that you got to meet with one of your customers? Who did the talking while you were there: you, them, or your sales rep? Did you come away from the meeting with new product information that you could use? Leave a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Gopal Shenoy June 24, 2009 at 6:26 am

Jim,
You raise great points here – especially the one about “do less talking and more listening”. I also recommend sending the 10 questions you have to the customer before hand so that they have some time to think and prepare.

I have written seven tips on listening to the voice of the customer on my blog (http://productmanagementtips.com) that you may find helpful. I have provided the links below.
Tip #1 – Start with softball questions (http://budurl.com/voicetip1)
Tip#2 – Role of Explorer (http://budurl.com/voicetip2)
Tip #3 – Five Why’s (http://budurl.com/voicetip3)
Tip #4 – Practice active listening (http://budurl.com/voicetip4)
Tip #5 – Hear the “user vocabulary” (http://budurl.com/voicetip5)
Tip#6 – Don’t listen to the same voice (http://budurl.com/voicetip6)
Tip#7 – Tackling the language barrier (http://budurl.com/voicetip7)

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Mike Darnell July 9, 2009 at 2:40 am

Great post!
I too was particularly fond of the sensible advice regarding to listening and the “eye-opening” regarding the fact that we are far from being the only people on our clients’ agenda.

It all boils down to this
The less you talk, the more you listen.
The more you listen, the better the quality of the intel you’re bound to collect, and intel is valuable stuff…
Personally I run tabs in my head during meetings – “How much have I learned? How much have I given away in return? Am I ahead?”

Mike
I tweet @pop_art

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Dr. Jim Anderson July 9, 2009 at 9:41 pm

Mike: I like your technique. Oh, and yes it is REALLY hard to shut your mouth more and let the customer do the talking!

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Gopal Shenoy July 9, 2009 at 10:18 pm

I learnt this technique from one of my colleagues – he used to write in my big bold letters “DON’T TALK” at the top of his notepad so that he would see it often as a reminder to himself to listen more and talk less.

I also have developed this habit of putting my right index finger with a fisted hand on my mouth so that I have less tendency to talk and interrupt the customer. I have found that both of these work well at least for me.

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