What was the question?

“Daddy, where did I come from?”

Every parent knows the gut-check that happens when a child asks, “Where did I come from?” Your mind races through the possible ways of illustrating the birds and the bees, “when two people love each other…,” how to offer medical explanations without getting too graphic.

Always answer the first question with a question: “Why do you ask?”

“Well, my friend Tiffany comes from Atlanta. Where did I come from?”

The customer asks Kevin, the world’s worst sales person, “How is the product priced?” Immediately, Kevin offers a diatribe about pricing and discounts. “The cost is $20,000 per year but for you, I’m willing to drop down to $17,000. In fact, if you need me to, I can probably get it down to $15,000.”

Customer: “Uh, well… thanks, but is it priced by usage or by storage?”

A developer asks, “What do you mean?” and the product manager designs a solution. “It should be a dialog box that invokes the API to issue an email to the address in the contact_name field.” We give detail when developers need context.

At a demo recently, an attendee asked, “how is it packaged?” The instructor went into a 10-minute spiel that I couldn’t follow—and I already knew the answer. I leaned over afterwards and said, “the software is bundled with the hardware.”

Maybe we answer questions based on our fears rather than on the question being asked. I fear the “parent talk” with my daughter; I fear our pricing model; I fear that I’ve not been detailed enough. We answer the question that has not been asked.

Communication is a two-way process. Understand the question before the answer is given. We all need to learn what is being said, not just what we’re thinking about when the question is asked.

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson was a founding instructor at Pragmatic Institute, a role he held for more than 15 years before he left to start Under10 Playbook. In his return to Pragmatic Institute, Steve supports the complete learning path for product teams, ensuring they are fully armed for success. 

Over the course of his career, Steve has helped thousands of companies and tens of thousands of product professionals implement product management processes. He has worked in the high-tech arena since 1981, rising through the ranks from product manager to chief marketing officer. Steve has experience in technical, sales and marketing management positions at companies that specialize in both hardware and software. In addition, he is an author, speaker and advisor on product strategy and product management.

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