Times are tough, budgets are being cut, there is a travel ban in companies, so as a product manager, how do you get a travel budget so that you can get out of your office for on-site customer visits? It is hard, but here are two creative ways you can make it work.
1) Think local – It is one thing to walk into your boss’s office and try to convince him/her that you have to fly to Hawaii to do an on-site customer visit. More eyebrows will be raised out of suspicion of your desires, no matter how relevant your product is to the Aloha market. It is a totally different and easy sell, if you want to ask permission from your boss to visit your local customers. Do you have customers within a 75-mile radius of your office that you could visit. If yes, what are you waiting for? If not, do you have any within a 200 mile radius that you could drive to? Yes, it could take 3-4 hours to drive to get there, but by announcing that you are a creative boot-strapper and that you are willing to even drive 3 hours to better understand customer needs, your management will very likely appreciate your initiative. Day-trips are cheap because there are no hotel stays, no expensive dinners or flights involved. Even in companies where travel budgets are tight, I am sure there is still a few hundred dollars to support a product manager’s day trip to a customer site. And if there isn’t, then your company probably does not believe in building products that are in-tune with customer needs or might be in deeper financial trouble than you think and you should start looking for a new job.
2) Piggyback – Are you scheduled to travel for any trade shows? In which case, most of your travel expense is already a sunk cost. Do you have any customers at or near the place where the tradeshow is going to be held? If yes, extend your stay for a day or two and visit those customers. The incremental cost to do this will not be much and approvals are easier to get. Piggyback on that planned trip to do customer visits. Are you going to go on a personal vacation, traveling for a wedding? Is it possible for you to extend your stay for a couple of days and mix in some business as part of your trip? If yes, ask the company to pick up the tab for your extended stay. Get creative and make sure your management knows that you are going over and beyond what is expected of you, to make sure that the products you build are in-tune with customer needs. It is such employees who will be valued the most when push comes to shove.
Does this make sense? How have you managed to do a customer visit during the tough economic times?
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Image: Courtesy of piperreport.com