Three more reasons to involve customers

The inaugural issue of Product Collective included a statistic from Deloitte & ToucheCustomer-centric companies are 60% more profitable than their peers.  If that’s not enough, here are three more reasons to listen to customers…

Enable the sales force

Product Management and Marketing must enable the success of the sales force. As Peter Drucker says:

“The aim…is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him (or her) and sells itself.”

The only way to do that is to understand how customers will use the product, how it will make their life easier, and how much time and money it will save. 

Engagement with target and prospective customers can help enable sales in other ways too.  I’ve personally found that when I seek out prospective customers for their subject matter expertise, it creates a sense of ownership and greater willingness to buy, essentially seeding the sales funnel. 

It’s also valuable to seek out those prospects that are NOT fans of your product, or who are not likely to buy.  These customers can provide insights on the buying obstacles, and help you define features or develop messaging that the sales force can use to overcome these obstacles.

Prioritize the backlog

It is in the best interest of Product Management to get the customers’ collective perspective on the backlog priorities.  The true customer priorities rise to the top, customers witness the prioritization process and the end result first hand, and Product Managers can’t be accused of playing favorites or listening only to the “big guys”.

In the past, prioritization has occurred at Customer Advisory board meetings, limiting customer input to those with travel budgets. Thankfully, with today’s technology Product Managers can gather feedback from any customer group at any time.  

Obtaining customer input is great, but you have to act on it.  I like to keep a scorecard of customer-ranked priorities and open with it at every virtual Customer Advisiry Board meeting.  This lets customers know that their voice matters, and it keeps them apprised of the status of the features that are most important to them.

Sidebar:  Now there is a way to have a dialog with all of your customers, as though they are speaking with one voice.  The <remesh platform harnesses the wisdom of a crowd in real-time and turns it into a single Intelligence you can chat with.  On <remesh, a single 15-minute conversation with a crowd gets to actionable insight, which would take weeks or months to acquire with traditional polls, surveys and social media. 

Validate assumptions and requirements

Customers LOVE to provide solutions.  I’ve often heard, “If there was just a button on the screen that did x, y, and z, it would solve all of my problems.”  As Product Managers, we have to dig deeper, and understand the actual problem.  We need to determine whether other customers are experiencing the same problem, and we need to establish a solution that works for all of them.

 What customers say and what customers mean are often two different things.  In addition, the way we understand and interpret customer requirements is biased by our role as a product manager.  When a customer expresses the problem, we may assume that we’ve heard it before and group it in with similar requirements without truly understanding the nuances.

 I’ve found ways around these challenges by showing the product to customers as it evolves, watching customers use the product, and asking questions about why they do or do not interact with the product in a particular way.  It’s much easier and a lot less expensive to make iterative and incremental course corrections during the product development cycle than it is to come to market with a product or set of features that misses the mark because we didn’t truly understand the customers’ problem.  It’s extremely difficult to remove a feature, no matter how misguided, once the product is in the marketplace.

Final thoughts

Customers are one of our greatest assets.  I’ve found that customers like to be involved if they feel that their voice is heard.  They feel honored that you’ve sought out their feedback, and the interaction and relationship creates goodwill and breeds product loyalty.  Customers are the key to creating and selling fantastic products, so use them wisely.