6 Steps to a better understanding of your buyers
Do you know your buyers? Really?
Successful companies are successful because they have a deep understanding of their buyers and the problems they encounter on a daily basis (not just the problem your product solves). A rule to live by is that a good product manager will know her customers’ problems better than the customer does. And the process of understanding your buyer and the buyer’s problems is a continuous process. Better buyer understanding translates into better products - products that buyers want to buy.
It’s easy to spot a company that knows very little about its markets and its buyers. Their conversations focus on the features of the product. Little discussion is on the buyer and the buyer’s experience. Their explanation of their target markets is broad and lacks details. They use descriptions like “Financial Services” to articulate their target market segment.
Why do companies get into this situation? They have talented engineers designing and building cool products that don’t sell. They resort to discounting, assuming the price is wrong. Some individuals are arrogant enough to believe they understand the problem space based on a single work experience and that talking with buyers is a waste of time. Others are afraid to learn bad news. Still others are blocked by cultural constraints that prevent them from talking with customers. The only way to fix it is to engage in a conversation with your buyers and make it part of your culture.
Many product managers lament that with the demands of their position, they don’t have the time to talk with customers. That is a huge mistake. Marketing leaders know that a product manager that doesn’t dedicate time to meet with buyers is not going to be effective. If you don’t believe this to be true, you may be a conspirator to the problem and don’t realize it. You need to demand that your product managers dedicate a percentage of their time on meeting with buyers. The amount of time can vary but there should be an understanding that a minimum amount of time must be dedicated and it is a priority. When other activities prevent the product manager from meeting with buyers, someone needs to step in and fix it. Quickly.
Steps to a better understanding of your buyers
Call 5 customers each week - if you have a customer base use it. If you’re a startup and don’t have customers yet, reach out to individuals that could be buyers. Start your conversation with “Hi, I’m ________ and I’m a product manager for ________. I’m responsible for bringing new products to market and would like 5 minutes of your time to see if I’m heading in the right direction…”
Don’t lead the witness - when you make contact with potential buyers, be sure to ask open-ended questions that will ensure discussion. Don’t ask questions that will get you the answers that you (or your boss) want. Your goal is to create a dialog that will result in a better understanding of the market and the buyer. The moment you seem to be selling the conversation will end.
Don’t argue - it can be frustrating when the person on the other end of the phone doesn’t “get it”. Consider that maybe you’re not explaining yourself in a way that your buyer understands. Arguing with your buyer or implying that they are wrong is a waste of time. Your goal is to learn.
Document each discussion - who, when, and summary of the discussion. It may be helpful to create an outline to keep you on track and remember what information to capture (e.g., job title, reports to, department, how long in the position).
Attend an industry trade show as an observer - even if your company is not exhibiting. Use the opportunity to mingle, talk with other attendees, visit booths of competitors and partners, talk with analysts and media. You may not get this opportunity for another year.
Block out 1 hour per week researching industry publications - take those magazines and analyst publications and dive in. Tear out the articles and items of interest. Find out what is being discussed and why.
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