The concepts behind structured customer visits are powerful tools that allows the product manager or marketing team to quickly validate their assumptions, and ensure that the market matches the internal view.
However, since you often must rely on groups that have an underlying agenda to select customers to visit, and also to coordinate the visits, there is a very real risk in this process. No, not the “familiar well” risk, where you run the risk of only visiting a small group of friendly customers, thus limiting the variety of opinions you listen to.
I am referring to the risk of being ambushed or trapped in your meetings.
Last month, at the SVPMA‘s monthly meeting it was a treat to have Steven Haines, a luminary in the field of product management to conduct a cross functional product team meeting role play.
As part of the session, he gave away a copy of each of his books via a raffle. A cool touch indeed. One of his books was new to me, The Product Manager’s Survival Guide, geared to the new product manager, who finds themselves needing to come up to speed rapidly.
I was piqued, as I had been kicking around the idea to write an ebook on what to expect in your first product management role, as most people fall into it, and while there is a wide body of knowledge around the internet, it can be daunting for the truly uninitiated.
Our last post was an overview of what is a structured series of customer visits, and a high level overview. This next post in the series will dive deeper, and discuss the importance of structured customer visits being cross functional.
Even though structured customer visits are technically “marketing” research, for them to be valuable requires that many of the key groups in the organization are involved. Assuming that the program of visits is to either verify, or confirm your assumptions about a customer need that you are targeting a development program around, there are many stakeholders that have a dog in the hunt.
The lifeblood of product management is customer interaction. Getting out of the office, and sitting down with customers is a powerful aphrodisiac, and allows you to get unalloyed feedback. We do this as often as possible, hence why the typical product manager job description specifies 25 – 30% travel.
However, left to our own devices, much of this travel is less effective than it could be. Yes, it is important to go on sales calls to important accounts, and to do well customer visits, discussing roadmaps, support issues, and the state of the market. We are quite good at packing a lot into a week, but that doesn’t always translate to effective visits.
How can you make your customer visits more useful?
One of the core responsibilities of Marketing in an organization is to effectively define and track the marketing segments. This is far more than just an academic exercise, but is essential to many other key tasks within a company.
Segmentation is crucial to effective pricing strategies. You can often target addressable segments with different prices, giving opportunities to both increase volume (units shipped) and profit. By having a well established segmentation model for your business, you can then work on fencing strategies to maximize your revenue and profit in pricing.
One advantage of my many career stops, and the multitude of different industries I have been associated with is the wide range of experience with different sales organization structures.
When you are putting together a business, the sales channel is one of the crucial early decisions to make, and your early choices can have lasting ramifications on your long term business.
While it is not strictly a product management responsibility to define and implement a sales strategy, you likely do have a seat at the table during the discussions, and with it, some influence. Regardless of the structure, it will affect much of your strategy and roadmap. Particularly your pricing and cost structures need to be aligned with the sales structure you will work with.
One topic that seems to trip up both new and experienced product managers is the process of pricing. As a recent post highlights, the most important lever we have in our bag of tricks to influence the profitability of our products and business, is the price. Yet, establishing a good price, and holding variance to a minimum is a top concern of the product management function.
Judging by the amount of shelf space taken up by books on Pricing, and how much I have personally invested in the process, I suspect that many of my peers and much of the Product Management community also shares this struggle.
While much of the literature I have read is focused around either the brass tacks of the process, and how large organizations often have a team who is 100% focused on pricing effectively, I have found that often, even when there is a Pricing organization, it falls on the shoulders of the Product Manager to define and implement the pricing strategy.