How Product Managers Can Find More Customers

Finding new customers requires a bit of multitasking
Finding new customers requires a bit of multitasking

Image Credit: Ryan Ritchie

I’m pretty sure that we all know and understand that product managers don’t work in sales. However, our career is very closely tied to the success of the product that we are responsible for. So, while we don’t have primary responsibility for selling our product, we are however quite motivated to make sure that the thing gets bought! This is why when we become aware that sales are not where they should be, the sales part of every product manager has to spring into action…

Getting Existing Potential Customers To Buy

I recently had a chance to work with a small software vendor who was getting by, but only just barely. They had a good product development definition. The software product that they had created websites for their customers and they had done a great job in creating this software. Their challenge was that not enough of their potential customers understood the value of a website and were willing to pay for their product. Their product managers were highly aware of how things stood and knew that they needed more sales in order to keep the doors open.

When I first met with them, we had a talk about what was going to be possible. They knew that one of their highest potential markets consisted of state employees. However, they were not sure how to reach this market. The firm was small and so creating a large advertising campaign was out of the question. So to was creating a fancy mailer to send to their potential customers even if there was a way to do that. The product managers found themselves in the typical scenario: they knew what they needed to do, they just didn’t know how to go about doing it.

I suggested that what they really needed to do was to strike up a conversation with their potential customers. In order to do this, they were going to have to get the email addresses of as many of their potential customers as possible and then start to send them emails on a regular basis. No, not everyone would read every email, but some would some of the time and that’s what it takes to turn a potential customer into a real customer. Since they didn’t have any of the email addresses that they needed and didn’t have the cash to buy lists of state employees, we did the next best thing. We went to the state’s websites, found lists of employees and their email addresses and with a little bit of software development were able to create files with properly formatted lists of names and email addresses that could be fed into the company’s emailing tool. Now that’s the kind of thing that you can put on your product manager resume. Problem solved!

Opening New Markets

The next challenge that the company faced was trying to grow their market. They already had two sets of very different customers who were purchasing their online website services. However, in order to grow the business the product managers realized that they needed to grow beyond these two markets. Now the big question that was facing them was where to go next?

One of the problems that we all face is that if we spend every day trying to capture more of our existing customers, then we’re going to be hard pressed to be able to see beyond our existing markets. This is the situation that these product managers found themselves in. It’s not that they weren’t willing to seek out new markets, it’s just that they had spent so much time going after the two markets that they were currently in that they had lost the ability to identify new markets.

I worked with them to start to find new markets for their product. As you can well imagine, our first step in this process was to do some Google searches. The key here is that you need to be able to phrase your searches correctly in order to get the answers that you are seeking. With a bit of word smithing we eventually started to ask the right questions and what we discovered is that lawyers generally do a very poor job of creating websites. Combine this with the fact that successful lawyers often have the financial resources to outsource the creation of their website, this sure seemed like a market that would be worth the company’s time to investigate.

What All Of This Means For You

As product managers we realize that it’s in our product manager job description to sell our product – generally there is a sales team that takes care of that. However, when the company that we work for is small or when times get tough, it’s time for the product manager to step up and see what we can do to help more sales start to happen. Recently I was working with a small software vendor who was facing this very situation.

They had two problems. The first was that they were struggling to turn their potential customers into new customers. The reason that this was so hard was because of the company’s limited financial resources and the fact that they didn’t know how to contact their potential customers. We found some email address lists and transformed them into mailing lists. Next they needed to discover new markets. Using Google and some well-crafted searches, we discovered that lawyers might have a need for their product.

No, there were no magic solutions here and I think that if you take a look at the things that were done you’d agree that they are pretty standard product management tasks. However, knowing what you need to do and then doing it is the key to being a successful product manager. Learn from this example and you can go out and convert more potential customers and discover new markets for your product!

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

Question For You: How often do you think that you should get in contact with potential customers when trying to turn them into real customers?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I’m pretty sure that by now you’ve heard about “the cloud” – it’s the mythical place where companies can get their programs to run and their data to be stored in such a way that they don’t have to buy any computers or storage systems. Another company takes care of all of the day-to-day activities required to make this all work out. This cloud thing is estimated to soon be a big deal and it turns out that the product managers over at Oracle are getting ready to go to battle with the product managers at Amazon in order to own a bigger chunk of it.