• Margo Paap

Customerfocussed PD, yeah right..

Every company claims to be customer focussed, but what does it actually mean?

Do you accept any request from a customer to please him and ‘throw’ into the PD department?

Of course we don’t, everybody would say, but I can tell you this happens more in B2B organizations then you might think. There is always this exception for that specific customer and the problem is that the customer (without having the state-of-the-art solution knowledge) already has an idea what he wants.

What a customer wants is not necessarily what he needs. And that is the game for Product Development. Once I had a request from a sales rep to ‘integrate a construction of a competitor into our product. Of course the first question is always, why should we do this? And in most and also this specific case, the answer was, because this is what the customer wants and if we don’t do it like this we will loose the customer. 

This is a huge mental dilemma for productmanagers and productspecialists, they don’t want to get the blame of losing a customer. They need a great team-up and back-up from salesmanagement and directors in order to service customers in the best possible way.

So how to handle these requests? There are different ways to approach this, but I would love to share mine.

1. Ask WHY they want this, what problem is causing pain for the customer or what is the customer trying to gain from this? Getting the right answer to this WHY, does not always come natural from sales. Some can, and if they are used to this methodology of working they probably get better in it. 

2. If you can’t get to understand the why via sales, join them with a visit to the customer. This will give you so much more insight of underlying needs. With every visit to a customer you get industry knowledge, which is important to be a successful productmanager.

3. Ask for a tour and see how your product is used and see what problems they would like to solve. As a productmanager you are much more neutral than a sales rep. You and probably the sales rep will be surprised on how much customers open up on issues they would like to solve.

4. Bring the feedback together and screen what would solve the problem for your customer and immediately reflect if this is a single customer problem or a problem that is valid for a substantial group of customers. 

5. Look into what standard solution could be offered that does the job for the customer or else start with small en feasible modifications aligned with the value it has for the customer. Don’t overdevelop..

6. If large innovations are required, discuss with your “product”board as this requires much more time and resources and needs to be screened from a product-strategy perspective.

Coming back to the question, customer focused to me means:

Solving problems for your customer that adds value and that can only be done by understanding the WHY, the pains and the gains. Linking your solutions will lead to reaching or exceed customers expectations. 

By the way if I had integrated the competitors solutions in above mentioned case, I would not have solved the customers problem and I would have become an apple to apple comparison which eventually would have lead to price pressure. Our solution was embraced by the users as it exceeded their expectations in terms of comfort, use and in the end for the employer, reduction of sick-leave” Our own new construction has lead to great product insights and was successfully incorporated in new collections. 

My Motto:

Productmanagers, be curious, be openminded, be innovative and be pragmatic, but more-over be with your customers, and consider customer problems as a gift.

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