Resources > Articles

Listening to the Market: How to Learn From It

Post Author
  • Anjon Roy has broad expertise in technology product markets and financial product markets, having held senior positions in strategic product marketing, channel management, consulting, account management and policy analysis. He is an alumnus of Gartner Inc,  Royal Bank of Canada, the GAO?s Financial Markets Group and various startup firms. He became Pragmatic Institute Certified in 2011 and is a certified professional coach and an adjunct professor at the UDC School of Management. Anjon holds a BS in computer science from Connecticut State University and an MBA from Georgetown University. He can be reached at anjonroy@gmail.com and at www.linkedin.com/pub/anjon-roy/1/192/3b5.

Listening to the Market: How to Learn From It
Photo By Brett Jordan on Unsplash

So, you’ve decided to listen to the market to become better informed about what people need from your products. You diligently line up appointments to meet or talk on the phone, getting that scarce time slot on the calendar of a user or critical decision maker. You show up for the appointment.

Now what? Do you fall silent? Do you immediately start probing for pain points? Do you start recommending solutions that just happen to align with your distinctive competencies? Authentically immersing yourself in the market takes a deceptively challenging combination of 1) listening and 2) learning. It’s part art and part science. Here are some effective basic guidelines for everyone from seasoned pros to new product professionals.

1. ASK OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS

Starting your questions with “how” or “what” is a simple rule of thumb that usually results in more involved answers.

Conversely, starting a question with “is,” “any,” “can,” “do” or “will” almost always results in closed-ended questions that produce either a yes/no or a single-word factual answer. Don’t believe it? Take 5 minutes and brainstorm a series of questions using both sets of words and see what you come up with.

Sales professionals use closed-ended questions to enhance pain points and move a prospect or customer toward your solution—but sales is not your role when you are listening to the market.

Here are some example questions to get an interviewee to open up:

  • What are your biggest worries?
  • How can you explain these recent {adverse events}?
  • What patterns are you noticing with your {problems}?
  • What are your biggest competitive fears?
  • How are your users reacting to your latest {event}?
  • What are others saying?
  • How are you going to address your {challenges or goals}?

Asking questions like these provides you the opportunity to listen to the market and learn from it.  And being extra disciplined in sticking to the “how/what” rule helps those new to listening to the market further develop those skills.

2. FOLLOW UP AND REPHRASE

For a more engaging conversation and to explore answers in greater depth, ask follow-up questions—ensuring you continue to follow rule #1. Examples include:

  • What else?
  • What more can you tell me about {blank}?
  • What would it look like if you solved {blank}?
  • What would it mean to your organization if you solved/didn’t solve {blank}?
  • How would you feel if {blank}?
  • What else?

Notice a few things:

  • Keep your follow-up questions short. Your primary role is to listen, not talk.  Short and simple questions are the most powerful.
  • “What else” was listed twice. Typo? Nope! It’s a great follow up to get people to talk. You’ll be surprised how many times you can keep asking, “What else?”
  • Did you notice the “feel” question? Don’t be afraid to tap into emotions. Even highly analytical people from enterprise software professionals to financial product professionals can be sensitive to the challenges they face.  Connections are built when emotions are expressed.

Rephrasing can also be a useful technique of engaged listening. Rephrase what the interviewee is saying to clarify or drill down for greater depth. It keeps the focus on their challenges and away from your features, benefits and competencies. Rephrasing also keeps the discussion nonjudgmental about the interviewee’s issues, putting them at ease to be as transparent as possible.

3. NEVER BE CLOSING

Some sales professionals strive to “always be closing” (ABC). Sales representatives, be they consultative-sales professionals or transaction-oriented hunters, must be focused on getting a deal. That’s OK; it’s their job.

But listening to the market means never aiming for a deal, and market professionals should adhere to “never be closing” (NBC). Focusing on the deal can pollute the process of authentic listening, as well as risk your credibility with the interviewee.

NBC also means that we must resist the temptation to “jump to the solution” that the product provides when it fits with an interviewee problem. This may be particularly challenging for those closest to the product developers. There will be an understandable temptation to tout your distinctive competencies. Again, when you are listening to the market, your job is not to provide solutions, it’s to explore and listen for market problems, aspirations and knowledge.

Now, what do you do when you meet someone practically begging for your solution? In these cases, politely acknowledge their interest and give their contact information to your sales team so they can focus on their job, just as you focus on yours.

4. DON’T FORGET TO DOCUMENT

To the extent that your successful market visits produce “deliverables,” nothing is more tangible than what gets documented. Documenting is key for disseminating information and amplifying your volume as the “voice of the market” within your own organization.

Categorize participants based on where they fall in a variety of index ranges. Types of parameters can include:

  • Where are they on the spectrum of technical to non-technical?
  • Are they primarily driven by problems or aspirations?
  • Are the main customers they serve internal or external?
  • What is their short-term budget status vs. long-term strategy and financial position? Are they more attuned to one of those drivers than another?

Document patterns you see across market visits and the various parameters.

Finally, have a mechanism for disseminating your documented information to constituents within your company. As the voice of the market, include sales, executives, engineering, client services and marketing communications as target recipients for your documented deliverables. Be sure to provide high-level summaries for all to read (2-3 minutes or less) and more details for those interested.

To paraphrase a common saying: If nobody ever sees documentation of your market visit, did it really happen?

Author

  • Anjon Roy has broad expertise in technology product markets and financial product markets, having held senior positions in strategic product marketing, channel management, consulting, account management and policy analysis. He is an alumnus of Gartner Inc,  Royal Bank of Canada, the GAO?s Financial Markets Group and various startup firms. He became Pragmatic Institute Certified in 2011 and is a certified professional coach and an adjunct professor at the UDC School of Management. Anjon holds a BS in computer science from Connecticut State University and an MBA from Georgetown University. He can be reached at anjonroy@gmail.com and at www.linkedin.com/pub/anjon-roy/1/192/3b5.

Author:

Other Resources in this Series

Most Recent

The image features the term use scenario being revealed underneath a ripped piece of paper
Article

What is a Use Scenario [ +7 Examples]

The purpose of drafting use scenarios is to help your development and design teams to start thinking about solutions. Context is the foundation of innovation, and you’ll be providing a tool that will be the starting point for collaborative and productive meetings.
Article

[Comprehensive Guide] Product Owner vs Product Manager

Learn how to separate the roles of product owner and product manager on Agile teams and uncover some common challenges with confusing these roles. Including a short primer on the Agile revolution.
Article

Use Scenarios are Stories That Provide Context

The problem with today’s user stories is that they aren’t interesting. And they aren’t stories. The solution is use scenarios. It’s a narrative. It explains the problem in the form of a real-life story.
Article

Benefits of Bundle Pricing

Bundle pricing is simply a strategy where services or products are packaged together for one (often reduced) price rather than priced separately. This article covers some benefits of bundle pricing followed by a system for getting started.
Article

A Quick Guide to Value-Based Pricing

Value-based pricing begins with knowing the customer’s willingness to pay based on the perceived value of your product. You can charge less than a customer’s willingness to pay, and they feel like they’ve received an

OTHER ArticleS

The image features the term use scenario being revealed underneath a ripped piece of paper
Article

What is a Use Scenario [ +7 Examples]

The purpose of drafting use scenarios is to help your development and design teams to start thinking about solutions. Context is the foundation of innovation, and you’ll be providing a tool that will be the starting point for collaborative and productive meetings.
Article

[Comprehensive Guide] Product Owner vs Product Manager

Learn how to separate the roles of product owner and product manager on Agile teams and uncover some common challenges with confusing these roles. Including a short primer on the Agile revolution.

Sign up to stay up to date on the latest industry best practices.

Sign up to received invites to upcoming webinars, updates on our recent podcast episodes and the latest on industry best practices.

Subscribe

Subscribe

Training on Your Schedule

Fill out the form today and our sales team will help you schedule your private Pragmatic training today.

First Name*
Last Name*
Email Address*
Phone
Company
Job Title
Location
How can we help you?
Preferred method of contact
Privacy Policy*
Map Your Message to Its Audience with the Communication Compass
Map Your Message to Its Audience with the Communication Compass
Ensure your message hits the mark. This eBook helps you visually map communication styles so you can tailor your design story to a stakeholder or business partner.

Download Ebook

Demystifying Data Projects: A Guide for Business Leaders
While data science is a competitive advantage, data isn’t magic. Learn how to make magic happen by partnering more effectively with data professionals. This eBook delves into types of data projects, sample questions, tools and methods, key points and cautions—so stakeholders like you can initiate data projects with real business impact.

Download Ebook

Define Ebook Thumbnail
What’s the difference between a successful data analysis project and one that falls flat? 

Before you begin working with the data, you need to understand what you’re solving for. Gathering context and aligning around goals with your stakeholders from the outset will help you avoid disconnects and deliver actionable insights. Discover the most vital questions to ask before embarking on a data analysis project in our in-depth guide, “Define: Laying the Foundation for Successful Data Analysis.”

Download Ebook

Download Now