NIHITO (Nothing Important Happens in the Office) is a term that captures the qualitative work involved in market visits and research.
However, there are new challenges with getting out of the office. Specifically, how do you “get out of the office” when you’re working from home? Or, how do you meet your buyers when they’re more distributed and remote.
There are barriers to traveling right now that weren’t there before 2020. But, even after a pandemic, you might face smaller budgets that don’t allow for booking flights or hotels.
It can also be hard to access your market. So, how do you conduct NIHITO interviews even when times are tough?
Sometimes, product professionals find themselves buried under an endless amount of tactical activities, and there’s no time for strategic work like market visits.
For many reasons, you might find it hard to get face-to-face with customers and prospective customers. We’re going to outline a more sustainable path that overcomes these common problems. We’ll even discuss some advantages if we think of these circumstances not as constraints but as opportunities.
Barrier #1: Face-to-face meetings aren’t an option for market visits
Obviously, for many companies, employees are working entirely remotely and we can’t get out of the office all that easily.
This is a good opportunity to highlight that there are certain things you can do when you’re using tools like Zoom that you can’t do, or at least not as easily do when you’re face-to-face.
For example, during a NIHITO visit with someone and we’re face-to-face, I get to see their native habitat. That same opportunity isn’t as easy in a virtual setting. You can ask them to scan their desk or office with their camera, but sometimes that’s easier said than done.
However, when I get on a video conference, I gain the ability to record their screen, which is perfect if you’re building software. I can now actually ask them to share and record the process.
Barrier #2: There is no travel budget for market visits
Even if you’re sold on the idea that getting out of the office is the key to successful market research, one thing remains true: it’s a strategy that costs money.
For some, meeting the market might mean boarding a plane, booking a hotel or buying lunch. If your budget doesn’t support those activities, you might feel like you simply can’t do the work. However, there are some simple approaches that can remove this type of barrier.
The first strategy is you could draw a hundred-mile radius around the office (or your home) and discover who it is you can talk to that is in your market.
If you have global products, there is pressure to make sure you’re capturing a large sample size and you’re talking to people across different geographies. Don’t let that pressure prevent you from starting locally.
The second strategy is to conduct market visits virtually.
When you aren’t conducting face-to-face meetings you lose a significant amount of nonverbal communication, but video conferencing technology can eliminate some of those challenges.
But for now, we have to recognize that some of your customers may not have video capabilities, but whatever technology they do have you should find a way to leverage it to communicate with them.
If the only choice is conducting an interview over the phone (which most everyone has access to a phone), then call them; it’s better than nothing. Use the conversation as a starting point, even without advanced technology.
Barrier #3: There’s not enough time to speak with a meaningful sample size
Who says you can’t bundle your sessions together?
We always want to be sensitive to people’s time, and maybe now, through technology, we can meet with three of our customers at the same time.
Maybe create an event like a webinar or office hours with your marketing team to capture attendees. Then, once there, you can give them something valuable. At the end of the event, you tack on a short NIHITO session. Your market might be more open in this setting.
Barrier #4: Discomfort in asking to share space or screen share during video meetings
Sometimes, if we show ourselves or our space on video, that vulnerability can help customers feel comfortable doing the same.
You can just also have a conversation in advance that during the visit you’ll ask them to show their workspace or screen share their tools.
You can say something like:
“We really like to observe certain behaviors or see your workspace. We also like to know what different tools you use and how you use them. Is that something you’ll be comfortable doing during our conversation?”
Barrier #5: Carving time for market visit strategy when tactical is pressing
It’s not uncommon for product managers to find themselves saying, “I don’t have time to do market research” or “I can’t do market research because I need to complete these demos or presentations.”
First, take a look at the Pragmatic Framework. The product manager or even the product team doesn’t have to be responsible for all 37 boxes. You can divide the labor.
There are collaboration opportunities between the product team and marketing, sales enablement, sales and pricing teams.
There are all sorts of people who can participate in owning the framework. That will give you valuable time to study the market.
Then, the second way is you can be ruthless in the prioritization of your time.
If you aren’t, then what ends up happening, is the most tactical, firefighting noisiest part of your job dominates and takes over.
Pretty soon all the strategy gets laid to the wayside.
Consider creating a schedule. For example, block out two hours every Tuesday or Thursday morning to strategy.
Your team will start to build discipline and respect that time that you have blocked. You just need to be accountable to yourselves. You need to be accountable for what you’re trying to accomplish.
Use that time to study data, schedule appointments, conduct a win-loss interview or analyze the win-loss interview data.
Eventually, it will become part of the culture.
Barrier #6: The sales team is preventing market visits.
Sometimes, sales can put up a barrier and say, “you’re not talking to my customers.”
If sales are in the room, it changes the tenor of the meeting. It makes it less productive from a research perspective.
One thing you can initially do right if your sales team is giving you pushback is to pursue your potentials.
In the Foundations course, you learn about the three subgroups of your market: customers, evaluators and potentials.
Customers can be both your customers and your competitors. Evaluators are people who are actively shopping for a solution to their problem. Potentials are the people who we assume have the problem, but they have not started looking for a solution.
So if sales is the barrier to you conducting a market visit, we would encourage you to go look at the potential group because you do not need permission to talk to them.
Sometimes, it helps to bring your salesperson with you for the first couple of meetings, but make sure that the first couple of meetings you schedule are with users of your product, not buyers.
Your salesperson will learn that this work isn’t the best use of their time and they’ll also see it is non-threatening. Start with users just to try to build that trust and buy-in, but we’re not at all suggesting you don’t do market research with buyers.
Barrier #7: Getting sales buy-in for win/loss interviews
I would say the number one thing is taking the judgment out of win-loss. This type of work is not about judging sales, right? Salespeople are one part of the overall process of getting someone to buy something.
So a good win-loss is not about the sales team. Good win-loss is about changing the way an organization approaches marketing and content development through lead generation, through the sales process and after the sale by getting a referral. It’s about that entire thing.
So how do we, as an organization, need to change? Not just, how does the sales team need to change.
Build a partnership with them and get their buy-in. So rather than thinking like the product team is trying to do this to them, it was what they are trying to do for them.
Explain to the sales team: here’s what we’re trying to accomplish and the types of questions we intend to ask. Then ask them, “Do you have suggestions for additional questions?”
Pull them in so that they can be part of the process.
Barrier #8: Research doesn’t feel appropriate during a crisis
Product managers have struggled with the question, “are market visits appropriate in a time of crisis?” since early 2020.
In these moments, research is even more important. Just because we’re having a difficult time, doesn’t mean we should put our products on hold. It doesn’t mean we should freeze our research efforts.
It might be absolutely critical for many of you depending on the industry you’re in and the type of products you create. The lifeblood of your product team is their ability to drink at the fountain of market knowledge on a continuous basis.
And if you stopped drinking from that fountain, eventually you’re going to go dry. We can’t afford to let things go dry.
For example, in 2020, 3M was manufacturing N95 masks and selling them through channels to distribute to hospitals. Overnight, everything changed and they pivoted to engage in a more direct-sales model. They’re also developing strategies to sell directly to the government in ways that they’ve never done before. The product teams played a big role in identifying and addressing the new market problems.
That being said, you have to be gentle in how you frame these requests for research during times of crisis. But people want to buy products that solve problems that are relevant to them.
So if you go to them and say:
“Hey, we’re dealing with these challenges. Part of my job is to make sure that we, as an organization, are solving the right problems for you, and that we’re solving them in the right way. Do you have the time to meet with me?”
If we frame up a conversation like that, people will think, “okay, this is not a sales engagement; this is something much deeper, and they’re trying to be real with me. They’re trying to be human. They’re trying to solve problems. They’re actually doing work on my behalf”
It makes it a lot more of a receptive conversation; even during a crisis.
The only way you can move past barriers is to take action. Here are some specific action items to help move your market visits forward.
- The first thing is to set up your interview matrix. This is a Pragmatic template. However, you can create this spreadsheet on your own, but essentially it’s going to help you walk through which part of your market segments do you want to hear from? Who are you not hearing from?
- Set a goal for the number of market visits you want to conduct during the next 30 days.
- Outline the approach by knowing the technology you might need like Zoom or WebEx.
- Analyze your current data. It could be from past NIHITO visits or web analytics. Start to do a trend analysis for things outside of NIHITO to amplify the market research that we’re going to tackle in the next quarter.
- Schedule your market visit. You must strip away the excuses and get it done.
The point is whatever metric is right, you have to have some sort of interaction with your market. You must drink at that fountain of market knowledge and do it continuously. So set a goal, execute it, and see how you did to know how you can improve.