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Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

Did you hear what I heard?

In Marketing on April 3, 2011 at 8:18 am

As a Product Manager (especially one who is customer facing), we have been given the daunting task of understanding the market, its problems and defining products and solutions that will address or resolve the previously definite problems. When done properly, the result is a successful and profitable product. When not done properly, we have the responsibility of trying to explain what went wrong and how we can learn from this for future products.

One of the most difficult tasks as a new Product Manager is separating what you hear and see in the market from your personal opinions. Many people think that it is only their opinion that matters. However, when it comes to Product Management, that is a formula for disaster. You may occasionally have a win, but chances are that there will be more failures than successes. As we learn to listen to prospects and customers and separate this information from our own personal preferences, you see products come together and be developed that are exactly (or pretty close) to what the market needs to solve the existing problems. More importantly you start to see that the solution is not necessarily what you would have created if had designed the product for yourself. This self-realization is a nirvana moment. You find yourself in a new state, and you can start to live out those out-of-body experiences you see in TV dramas and movies. The “you” represented by your personal opinions can┬áseparate itself from the situation, hover over the scenario and look from outside through the filter of this opinion. It is truly a change in your mindset, and it will change how you do things. Once you have achieved this, you then must constantly be vigilant to preserve this state of mind.

This ability described above, however, tends to create a new set of frustrations for a Product Manager. You start to realize that the people around you are doing what you used to do: the new product or solution should conform to their opinions, and not necessarily to what is best for the market. It is our job to try to make others understand this, but it is not always an easy task.

The major pushback you receive as a Product Manager when trying to confront this issue is that people who have spoken to customers believes that they are doing what you said. More often than hot, however, that person didn’t hear what you heard as a Product Manager. The person in question instead heard (but didn’t listen to) what was said, and then this information was filtered through their opinion of what should be done to validate it. For example, if you speak to a customer asks you “Is that the only color that is available?”, what does this mean for your product? For a non-Product Manager who thinks that there should be other colors or who doesn’t like the current color, this automatically registers in his/her head that the customer or prospect doesn’t like the color. For a Product Manager, however, this is just the beginning of the conversation. Due diligence must be taken to understand what is being asked without leading the customer or prospect down a path to the answer that you want to hear. A simple answer and follow up question could be: “Yes. Why do you ask?” Leave it open ended, and let the customer tell you in his/her own words. Don’t ask something like “Do you think there should be more colors?”

Continually use these types of examples to try to educate others within your company so that they can start to hear what you are hearing. Or at least if they have a different opinion of what was said, you are both speaking from a similar point-of-view that is not based on either person’s personal opinion.

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