You want to talk to customers – ask me, I was a customer once …

Have you heard this one before – I have – internal pundits claiming they know what the market wants because at one point in time (read “eons” ago, before your market segment even existed), they used to be in the customer’s shoes.

“Hey, I used to do product design”


“I used to be a salesman”


“When I used to run YYYY department”

they say ….

I have found a quick counterattack for this –

“Great, when did you do that?”

“In 1997, I used to work at XYZ Co.”

“Hummm, 11 years ago – so you mean to tell me that the world has remained stagnant and nothing has changed in those 11 years – did I hear that right? (OK, not exactly in the words above, but you get the point).

That usually stops this “we have answers here in the building” or “the way I did is how the world works”.

Yes, there are certain product decisions that you have to make drawing on your past experience, but saying that we know what to build because I was a customer once, is nothing but a recipe for failure – especially in the high tech arena, where the way you did it last month is probably not valid anymore.

It amazes me how many companies claim to be customer driven, but then they limit their product managers from traveling because the travel budget is tight, but on the other side the product development budget is a big leaky bucket funding products no one will ever want to buy.

2 thoughts on “You want to talk to customers – ask me, I was a customer once …”

  1. Hi Ivan,

    Great ideas – all the ones I try (especially 3) given the constraints. My point of the post is that product managers have to find ways to talk to real people who will buy your product rather than listen to internal opinions – internal people do not buy your product.

  2. Gopal:

    I hear you. I have worked at several companies where there were in-house “experts” or “that’s just the way it is” was the motto. It’s very frustrating.

    Even if the travel budget is tight, there are still ways to talk to customers and prospects–

    1. Get on the phone
    Even if you can’t travel to the customers’ office, you can still call them and talk to them.

    2. Arrange a webex/placeware/remote meeting
    Ask if you can watch them use your product (assuming it’s software) via a remote connection. Then you can see how they are REALLY using your product.

    3. Look for local customers
    Unless you work in a shack in the forest, there are likely to be some customers nearby. Find them and utilize them first. Then you can go back to your manager with concrete details on how it’s beneficial to visit customers.

    4. Arrange for a meet up at a trade show
    You may be already traveling for this and so might your customer. Invite them to come by the booth or meet you at a session. If you have some money in your budget, treat them to a meal. It builds goodwill and makes them more willing to talk freely.

    5. Volunteer to go on sales calls
    Sales Engineers are sometimes at a premium, so check with some local reps to see if you can tag along on a sales call when they cannot get an SE. It usually makes the prospect feel more important if their is someone outside of Sales in the meeting and you get to at least listen to what they want.

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