Channels for Generating User Insight

By Michael Bamberger September 24, 2015

The lean movement espouses shorter iteration cycles for generating user insight. And while running rapid prototyping experiments is instrumental, your product team shouldn’t be the only source of actionable customer feedback.

Getting out of the office is important, but sometimes the only trip you need to make is one down the hall. There are a number of often overlooked channels for user insight that you can tap into from within your office.

Sales

Your sales team is the front line of communication with potential customers in your target market. Because of the sheer volume of personal interaction they have with customers—and perhaps more importantly with prospective customers—they have valuable insights about customer needs, objections and behavior.

Your salespeople know what prospects like and dislike about competitors’ products. They know which product aspects could mean the difference between a sale and a missed opportunity. Sometimes the features expected to be the most valuable are not the same features that are actually seen to be most valuable during sales demos.

For example, one of our enterprise software clients had a robust marketing product. One feature buried deep inside the application was the ability to build on-the-fly custom reports that auto-updated as campaigns collected data. During demos, prospects appeared uninterested in the reporting suite until salespeople demonstrated the custom reporting feature with real-time data updates. Because competitive products didn't have that feature, prospects paid attention. Sales increased as a result. Without the sales team’s insight, the product team would have remained unaware of this feature’s value.

Customer Service

The sales team has an ongoing relationship with prospects but the customer service team is your front line of engagement with actual users and customers. They know the ins and outs of the product: where users get stuck, what features are broken, and how to potentially solve recurring issues. Yet in many organizations, customer service teams are isolated from product teams and serve only to submit bug reports as a last resort.

This disconnect between product and support/sales teams seems to be based on the misguided belief that the other teams are too busy. But that’s not the case. For the sales team, a product that better meets customer needs means more sales. For customer service, it means fewer support requests and more time to onboard and train customers to maximize product value. Product managers who practice empathy—not only in front of customers but also with interconnected teams—will immediately see results in the form of diverse user insights and narratives. Sales and support teams should be treated as other stakeholders in the product lifecycle, included early and often to understand and contribute to business objectives and user perspectives. On the second episode of This is Product Management, Sarah Judd Welch, founder of Loyal.is, discusses how some of the most innovative organizations rely on customer support and community management teams to source user insights by facilitating feedback. And there’s every incentive for them to do so.

Analytics

As many product managers learn the hard way, there is a distinct difference between what users say and what they do. That’s where production analytics and data teams come in.

Product teams have access to but often don’t utilize tools and services such as Google Analytics, marketing/sales CRM and Intercom. Each can provide different forms of valuable data. With onsite and email analytics, product teams learn what features users actually engage with, where in the onboarding flow they get stuck and the impact of incremental product changes.

These tools help provide three sets of metrics: primary, secondary and tertiary. Primary metrics are business goals or key performance indicators. For an e-commerce company, this might be purchases or dollars per purchase. Secondary metrics are indications that likely lead to improvements in primary metrics. These might be email opt-ins, traffic or time-on-site. Tertiary metrics are indications that secondary metrics are likely to improve, such as Google searches, mentions on Twitter and press coverage. Combined, these metrics provide robust user insight.

Competitors


If a competitor’s product is used by a large percentage of your customer segment, that competitor is probably doing some form of customer development. However, there’s usually room to improve on competitor products and features, and the second mover advantage can be significant. In fact, one study shows that pioneers were more successful than late movers in just 15 of 50 product categories. And while you may not be able to observe their customers directly, you can perform comprehensive competitive analyses to benchmark your offerings and understand market trends. It’s possible to learn from your competitor’s experience. As a result of your research, you’ll enjoy lower costs and make fewer mistakes.

When it comes to user insights, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Siloed in different departments, user feedback is only moderately useful. But combined, insights derived from sales and customer teams, analytics tools and competitors can form holistic and comprehensive user narratives. These user narratives can help product teams discover patterns and continuity of user needs and behavior.

Michael Bamberger

Michael Bamberger

Michael Bamberger is the co-founder of Alpha UX, a real-time user insights platform for enterprise product teams. He has been developing digital products for more than 15 years, serving in roles ranging from developer to product manager. He was previously a vice president at Greenhaven Partners, a private equity firm, where he managed digital strategy and research business units across the portfolio of companies. Learn more about Alpha UX at http://alpha-ux.co/.

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