Why Talking to Users is the Most Important Thing a Product Manager Can Do

One of the most important job of being a Product Manager happens outside of the office. Product Managers will often hear the phrase, “Get out of the building.”

GOOBGet out of the building — Coined by Steve Blank to refer to the process of going out and talking to users instead of staying inside speculating about what they want.

Customers who are actively using your product will want to tell you what they most enjoy (or loath) which can give you insights and power to make decisions and trade-offs. The only way to really understand your product value is to speak with the people who use it the most—your customers.

There are times when in your company, you are not allowed to talk to users or customers. Sometimes it’s because the sales heads want to control all such access, or maybe it’s because marketing is supposed to be the interface with the customer, or perhaps the product is sold through a channel. You should first try convincing your company authorities to change that policy or allow you to speak to customers, If that doesn’t work, dust off your resume and find a place where you can practice your craft and have a shot at creating successful products. It is important for PM’s to spend time with users and listen to what they need, how they manage their day-to-day and understand their problems so you can build products that solve them.

How you can interact with customers apart from directly calling /meeting them –

Sit on at least ten customer support calls – I have personally attended more than 25 customer calls, to understand how the customer support team engages with customers and based on customer feedback suggested actionable changes in product.

Customer support team is constantly fielding questions and issues from customers. They are the ones blocking and tackling the tough questions that bubble up from customers and partners. Listen to the feedback and questions that customers bring to the team.

Your goal is not to get users to tell you your product is great, but to find out what their problems are so you can design a product that solves them or do relevant changes in your product which will make it more user-friendly.

So I have done some 150 user calls in my present role and have spoken to users in depth to understand their pain points, expectations, what next they are looking at. Based on those calls, here are few questions which Product Managers should definitely ask during customer calls /interviews –

Firstly –

  • Develop a rapport with the customer
  • Introduce yourself
  • Ask warm-up questions
  • Ask them about their role at their company and their day-to-day life but not in too much detail
  • Listen | Listen | Listen
  • Don’t lead the customer, let the conversation flow, this will be useful in developing a rapport with customers

Ask them questions like:  

  • What are the top three challenges you face with our product?
  • If you had a magic wand and could instantly get rid of one problem, what would it be?
  • How do they rate your product with respect to competition?

What do they like about your product / or about your competitors product – Answer to this question can give you lot of hands on information on your competitors product, this information will be really useful for Sales team when they are pitching your product in market

  • What motivates them to use your product? < This question will help you to find out usage trigger points of your product>
  • Are they willing to recommend your product to their friends / relatives? <Remember nothing can beat word of mouth marketing, 1 happy user can help you to generate 100 more users>
  • Which all features you have tried <check if they are aware of any of the new features which you have recently launched, answer to this question will be really useful for your product marketing team, are they communicating properly to customer about new feature launch / major bug fix>
  • What would be biggest reason for you to buy a particular product?

If you want to read on this in more detail you can click here

As you meet & interact with users, you’ll start to naturally find that some are much more useful to you than others in terms of fitting your target profile, or the level of insight they can provide. For these people, establish an ongoing relationship, get their phone number and e-mail address and keep them handy in your office. They might be great candidates for additional user testing / beta testing. You can Show them the mock-up, but don’t show them how to use it, let them try out the mock-up. Simply, ask them to use the product and note their reaction. If they are confused by a design or feature then you know what you need to change, and probably end up with great ideas on how to change it.

You have a sales manager / sales representative who aggregates customer input and pass it along to the product manager. Or you’ll find customer service managers who are responsible for monthly reports on the top issues. All that input is fine, but it is in no way a substitute for the product manager getting the direct interaction with users he needs to do his job. So, whether in person or through other mediums (customer support tickets, phone, video conferencing), you should be spending time with your customers to understand that what your team is building is useful / valuable for your customers.