Product Managers play a central role at the crossroads between identifying valuable market needs and the development of solutions to address them in a manner that can support a successful business model.
There are many skills and practices we must learn and master to be great practitioners. Our practices have undoubtedly evolved over the years along with technology, business practices, complementary disciplines, and market expectations. Further, depending on the context we are in, different practices will be a better fit.
So when new product managers ask me for one piece of advice on being successful personally and driving successful product I like to echo Steve Blank’s startup often repeated advice to founders – Get out of the building.
More broadly – be curious.
That’s it. Curiosity. That is the superpower that I hope you were born with. Frankly, it is not something that I have seen easily learned. Yet it is one of the most important tools we have as Product Managers to achieve results.
💥 Curiosity Drives Customer Insights 💥
Understanding your customer and their needs backwards and forwards is how you become a great product manager. No matter your industry or other context. It all starts with deep understanding of your customer, their pain/desire, and the ability of your solution to address it well.
What Customer Insights?
There is so much to know about your customers and prospects. Here are a few of the things you should be very curious about.
Customer Stakeholders (aka Pesonas). Who uses your product? Who buys it? Who influences it? Who pays for it? Who are their customers? How does the problem you are solving impact them?
Deeply understand the problem you are solving for your customers and how to segment them to make more nuanced analysis. What is the value of solving this problem for each customer segment? Do they care? Why?
External Stakeholders and Market Forces. Who influences your customers buying and usage decisions? Do you understand the pain a new regulation is causing your customers? What happens their business and needs if a pandemic causes their business to collapse? What will happen if it recovers sharply?
How do users work with your product and what are the actual jobs they are trying to get done? What is their operational environment and context?
Typical buying cycles in your market for solutions like yours.
Competitive Alternatives. If they didn’t have your product what would your customer do?
How do you gather these Customer Insights?
Your ability to continuously gather customer insights is largely based on the strength of your superpower. With training and experience you develop a toolbox full of techniques and practices for answering your curiosity.
Some of the tools great product managers develop:
Customer Interviews – Call your target and existing customers to learn. Ask a few open ended questions as a form of generative research and you are off to the races. If you are listening well, you will take these opportunities to continuously expand your understanding of the market and specific customer situations. Share design ideas and prototypes to get feedback on solution alternatives. Always dig deep with techniques like 5 Whys or just be honestly curious and see where it leads.
Surveys – There are a variety of survey techniques that help you generate ideas, focus and prioritize potential solution areas get the pulse of your customer base. Examples include tools like Kano Model and NPS.
Observational Research – A range of techniques for observing users work with your software in their context can be utterly enlightening and uncover both needs and potential solutions customers never contemplated. Examples include Basic Observation, Thinking Aloud, and Ethnographic Studies.
User Groups – In B2B software, so much good comes from getting customers together that want to discuss their challenges and stories about working with your product. Listening to how they talk about your product with each other, how they present case studies, and what they want to focus on when together provide insights. These may come in many flavors attracting different customer stakeholders like true User Groups, Advisory Groups, and Industry Groups.
Research what customers say online – Whether using your products, competitors, or not yet paying to solve this problem you can find out a ton from your customers online. You just need to find out where they hang out. Whether this is industry forums and publications or generic sites like LinkedIn Groups, Quora, Twitter, or Reddit. Personally, I like to search for presentations on SlideShare too.
Sales Support – Every good product manager knows that you ned to meet with customers outside of sales situations because the discovery you can do is very different. Still, there is a ton to be learned from sales meetings. Try to be present as an active listener asking questions, and not only when pitching or demonstrating your product.
Customer Support Feedback – If you have a customer support desk analyzing support tickets is great. Even better, is to actually listen in on support calls or handle some directly yourself.
Product Analytics – A lot of questions about customer needs are answered through various forms of qualitative research. Yet, we can’t overlook the massive value that analytics can tell us about user behavior.
What can you do with Customer Insights?
Here’s the magic of your superpower. There are so many benefits to being curious about your customers that the list in nearly endless. Just the same, here are a few ways you, your product, and business will benefit:
Improved product design
Improved product strategy and prioritization
Enhanced Product Intution, aiding better decision-making
Improved product positioning
Better product marketing and sales tools through stories / anecdotes
Own your Curiosity superpower. Ask questions and continuously explore the problems of your customers to become a great product manager.
In fact, customer insights are just one of the benefits of your curiosity. Elsewhere your curiosity can guide you in conducting market intelligence, deeply understanding your business, needs of internal stakeholders, how your product works, and how to continuously improve.
A little bit more useful than freezing breath (unless you have to deal with gigantic bugs).