Product Managers Don’t Like Surprises: Know Your Product’s Customers!

by drjim on October 10, 2011

How Well Do You Know Your Product's Customers?

How Well Do You Know Your Product’s Customers?

I find myself telling the product managers that I’m working with that they need to understand that one of a product manager’s most important jobs is to give good direction to their sales teams: who will buy your product. You may think that you know the answer, but like the product managers for 5-Hour Energy Shots you might be wrong…

The 5-Hour Energy Shot Customer Surprise

Have you heard about the energy shot products? These are drinks that come with names that would make any product manager who has ever done branding become instantly envious: “6 Hour Power”, “Nitro2Go”, “ZipFizz” and of course, the market leader “5 Hour Energy”.

These products are loaded with caffeine stimulants and a bunch of other stuff (vitamins and herbs). The promise is that they will allow the drinker to stay alert for hours after drinking one.

As a product manager, who do you think that the audience for this type of product would be? Just on a gut level, you’d think that probably students and people who work long hours (think truckers and police) would make up your target customers. You’d be right, sort of.

For you see, it turns out that the brand managers at all of these energy booster shot products seem to have overlooked a very large and important market: senior citizens.

How You Can Make Sure That You Are Not Surprised

What’s happened is that they have just recently come to realize that all of those Baby Boomers who are starting to get close to retirement age don’t want to slow down.

The brand mangers didn’t really do any big market study to find this out. Rather stories started to get back to them. It was little things, like big spikes in sales when the product just happened to be located right next to a product that senior citizens were buying (like wrinkle cream) in a store like Costco it would sell out.

Once they started to realize that there might be something here, they started to use a proven communication channel, the American Association of Retired People (AARP) to reach this demographic. They ran ads in their magazines and attended their trade shows and handed out products.

Clearly, the energy shot brand managers had a huge potential market sitting right under their noses for a long time before they realized that it was there. How can you prevent this from happening to your product?

The key is to keep your eyes open and take a look at the sales of your product – the sales people will only care about making the sale, you need to care about how much was sold and who bought it.

It turns out that if there is a dip in sales of your product, that can tell you a lot also. You have some assumptions about how much of your product will be sold and to whom it will be sold. If that’s not happening, then you need to take a closer look and find out where your thinking went wrong.

What All Of This Means For You

As product and brand managers, we are responsible for identifying who we are going to sell our products to. The energy shot product mangers thought that they had done a good job of doing this, however, their market came back and told them that they had overlooked a very large segment.

In the case of the energy shot product, the senior citizen market had a huge need for their product – they don’t want to slow down and they view the product as being able to help them keep going. Once the product managers realized that this market existed, they were able to adjust their marketing and start to address it.

As product managers we need to make sure that we are not overlooking large segments of untapped customers for our products. Carefully looking at who is buying our products and making sure that we investigate unexpected peaks and dips can reveal untapped customer segments. That should give you something to think about the next time you are chugging one of those energy shots!

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

Question For You: Who do you think is responsible for identifying new markets for your product?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

If there was such a thing as a standard product manager job description, then you’d think that it would contain the phrase “… be responsible for developing products that solve problems and sell well…” The product managers over at Dell recently had a fantastic opportunity to create a tablet product that would take over the world. How come they missed the mark…?

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