Categories
product marketing manager B2B marketing Customer Marketing Marketing skills product Manager

How many customers you should meet?

Can you pick a number?

You are Product Marketing Manager; your role is to build and deliver robust market understanding. More than your role, it’s your duty!
You know why you must meet with customers: Qualitative information are coming from customers, both existing and future potential. Therefore, your one and only way to collect qualitative data from customers is to meet them.
How customers you should meet?
Is 10 or 50 per year the right numbers? More?
Is it linked to your current task of delivering customer’s voice into an offer creation project? In this case, testing with customers along the project cycle require 10 or 20 or 100 interactions?
Just pick a number, write it down, and follow me through the following post to get the answer.

You are not allowed to fail

You can not Fail
Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

I always said that we must give room to failures, that’s one of the best ways to learn. However, as far as collecting customer’s voice is concerned, the Product Marketing Manager is not allowed to fail. Delivering usable customer’s voices, needs and pains, is the key value of his role!
A lot of new offers, products, software or services, are failing. Why?
– In 42% of cases, just because the offer requirements are not clear or change along the project.
– In 37% of cases, it’s coming from a wrong analysis of markets and customer’s needs.
These failures impact negatively your sales volume and your profitability.

Remember Philip Kotler’s quote:
Marketing is the science and art of exploring, creating, and delivering value to satisfy the needs of a target market at a profit.”

Therefore you have to interact with a lot of customers and users to deliver the right understanding that will lead to create the right values.
How many customers? How many users?

Start with your target

What is, or are, your target?
That’s the compulsory and earliest stage of your marketing strategy. If it has not been worked out, it means you don’t know who your customer are. Then you can’t say how many you must discuss with.
It’s never too late to create your segmentation and select your winning targets. (I’ll write about this in a future post).

Let’s say it’s done!
Great! How many market segments have you selected to be your winning segments?
There are more than 700 industries represented in NAICS coding!
Let’s imagine that your wise targeting ends with 20 market segments only.
Therefore you simply need to meet 20 customers, opinion leaders from each of your target segments.
Right? Wrong?

The actors of your targeted segments

Image by ElisaRiva from Pixabay

You believe 20 feedbacks from opinion leaders of your targeted market segments is enough? Of course not!
It goes without saying that you have to meet and understand the real users of your offers. But it’s not enough!
Between you and the final users of your offers, there could be several intermediary and influential players. They may act as prescribers, architects, designers, machine manufacturers, integrators, contractors, installers, or distributors. It’s 8 different influential players in this short list. You need to know who they are and what they do in the playground of your business.

They are all interacting directly or indirectly with your offers. Meaning that they can be satisfied or not with your proposals.
Therefore their opinion matters.
You have to collect the feedbacks of those 8 key influencers within your 20 targeted market segments. How many customers you should meet?Yes, it’s 160 influencers to be added to your interviews list.

Where are your targeted customers?

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

Groups from different geographies or different cultures have different expectations and different habits. Those differences matter.
Therefore, you must list your key targeted countries and know why they are different from each other.
There are several criterias that are impacting your customers.
Their countries are mature? Emerging new economy?
What is their level of education? What is the impact of their social environment? What is their lifestyle? What is their behaviour toward e-commerce? 
We could list hundreds of questions to qualify the differences between geographical areas. The fact is: those differences are impacting the needs and expectations of you targeted customers.
That’s not only the impact on the features of your hardware or software, but the impact on the languages, on the working habits, on the purchasing channels …

As example, if your geographical target is made of

  • European Union (28 nations),
  • North America (USA, Canada, Mexico) without forgetting that some states in USA can bring you different requirements,
  • and key countries in Asia (China, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia). 
    Even if we reduce the number in European Union by key influencers (North, South, France, UK, Germany, East), this short list is already 14 areas that can bring differentiations to the feedbacks.

Previously, we count 160 companies or organizations to meet with.
With the geographical variable that I just introduced, how many customers you should meet?
Now you must meet with 14 x 160 = 2240 companies.

The number starts to be huge. You may say that some companies are global, or that 10 key geographical areas is more reasonable.
Well, with 10 countries, it’s still 1600 interviews and observations to run.

Can do less?

Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

I wrote ” only 20 targeted market segments”, but it’s huge and that’s always a big challenge even for large organizations and multinational companies.
Let’s decrease to a limited 5 market segments (meaning that your targeting has been done professionally and is indisputable).
You still have 10 countries to cover.
And I recommend you to select 5 types of players that are influencers or deciders.

This is still 250 clusters in your list.

Saturation

The next question is: how many interviews for each cluster ?
What is the number to reach till you don’t receive any additional insight?
This is named saturation.

Usually, from the 10th interview in a homogeneous cluster, you are not getting much new information. To ensure reaching the saturation level you must meet a number of customer higher than the theoretical number 10.
By experience, I would recommend 12 to 15 interviews for each homogeneous cluster.
In the previous section, we count 250 homogeneous clusters, 15 interviews for each, how many customers you should meet?
Then you have to run through 15×250=3750 interviews to capture the qualitative information from your customers.

Regulations

Why do I suddenly introduce regulations in this story?

Simply because they influence how your offer must meet the user’s need.
Moreover, if you go to the market with a new technology, you will need regulations and certifications authorities to define the rules to fulfil. Even better, you must influence and co-write those rules; or influence to be part of committees that update existing rules
Those authorities can be global or local. Sometimes, it’s at the level of a state or a city.They can be public or private organizations, and I count all lobbying association (such as green lobby) within the private organizations.

I will not number those influencers you must meet. It always depends on the market you play in, the geographical areas you target, and sometimes the applications you serve. 
Nevertheless, they must be added to the list of interactions and meetings you must hold to complete your description of market need.

From theory to real life

I gave you a basic principle to estimate the number of interviews and/or observation you must do in order to bring robust customer understanding into your organization or project.
15 per cluster.
Cluster=homogeneous group of personas (market segments, influencers/deciders/real users, geographical/cultural)

So, the right number depends on your target, which you have to describe perfectly in your strategy and business cases.

A last example,How many customers you should meet?
[15 interviews] x [5 market segments] x [3 types of influencers/deciders/real users] x [5 geographies] = 1125 interviews.

Collecting customer information through interviews, groups meetings, and observation is the daily task of the Product Marketing Manager. The usable knowledge cannot be built overnight from one single shot interviews session. It takes years , that’s what we name the Experience!

Running 1125 interviews to feed a project with robust customer’s understanding is impossible, knowing that a project lead time is often defined before deciding of the content (cruel but real paradox).
This is why the experience of the Product Marketing Manager is of paramount importance. I mean years of experience fuelled with a lot of customer’s interactions.

The most valuable moment is the one you spend with customers

Consequently, you must organized your available time for customers (do not go to useless meetings and stop staring at your e-mail inbox all the day long).
Depending of your country’s law, you’ve got about 48 working weeks per year.
Trying to meet 4 customers or influencers per week (that’s a small number), leaves you 3 to 4 days each week for your important internal tasks ( meetings, reports, workshops, trainings, …).
As a result, you’ll do 192 customers interaction in one year (I’m very optimistic).
Then you’ll need about 6 years to complete the theoretical 1125 interviews and observations!
 Undoubtedly, nobody will wait 6 years for you to bring customer’s voices.

You must de-multiply and delegate your efforts. You’re never alone, lead and involve your colleagues sitting in other countries. Be curious of everything, knowledge is coming from your day-to-day observations and discoveries. The Product Marketing Manager is a treasure hunter.

Finally, take notes, shot pictures and videos. Write and share your customer’s meeting reports. If you keep your experience in an hidden place of your brain, that will be of zero value.

As a consequence and a corollary, you are not a Product Marketing Manager because you get promoted to the title. But you become a Product Marketing Manager when you accumulate and share decades of useful and usable customer’s experience.

Special thanks

Special thanks to Philippe Metayer who taught me and coached me several times about this topic.

Categories
product Manager B2B marketing Customer Marketing Marketing basics

Why you must meet with customers ?

Can you imagine that the genius who described customer’s needs, never met any customer? Not a single one?
Awkward question! One might therefore wonder why I ask.
To unveil customer’s need is the essential mission of the product manager. Being the customer’s voice in his organization, the product manager must deliver a useful and usable description of customer’s real needs.
However, I know many product managers who spend less than 10% of their time with customers. How a product manager can be credible when he is interacting with less than 2 customers per month?
For robust marketing, I always require product managers I work with, to build their own customer understanding.
How?
Product managers must meet with customers:
Despite we are in the digital age which simplifies and amplifies the search for knowledge, the face to face interaction is still the most important way to discover the true life. To understand the personas all along the life cycle of your product, you will spend time with a lot of them.
Hence, I explain hereafter the reasons for which Product Managers must meet with customers, and what should be asked.

What are you looking for ?

A product manager is a treasure hunter. His obsession is to collect quantitative and qualitative information.

Quantitative information.

Photo by Lukas from Pexels

The web is a goldmine for quantitative data. Through a few searches, using proper keywords you can access to financial reports, companies presentations and videos that contain a lot of quantitative data. Moreover, there are information companies which are competing to sell the market data you may need. Just to name a few : IHS, ARC, or MarketResearch. I list more in this page.
Searching for numbers takes time, but most of this task can be done using internet, in the comfort of your office.



Qualitative information.

Image by geralt on Pixabay

Let me phrase it simply :
those are all data that can not be given as a number.
The qualitative information are the key outcomes from customers interviews. They are coming as results of opened questions (mostly), using the magic of the 5 W and H. 
What, Why, When, Where, Who, How.


A poem to remember

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

 Rudyard Kipling in his “Just So Stories” a poem, accompanying the tale of “The Elephant’s Child”

Keep this poem in mind, you will never forget that the 5 W and one H tell you everything your know.

What a product manager must know ?

There are two priceless knowledge’s delivered by a product manager.
– The market understanding.
– The customer needs.
We all agree that market understanding is the result of quantitative data analysis. This helps to size business opportunities, attractiveness and accessibility.
But for customer needs, there aren’t any publication, any figures, any list of verbatim. 
The only way to learn about needs …. is to meet the customers!
Product Managers must meet with customers!

What are you looking for ?

Photo by Teddy Kelley on Unsplash

First of all, remember that you are not selling. You are discovering customer’s needs and pains.
Secondly, you are learning by listening to the customer. So just shut up and let them speak. The art of the marketer, the product manager, is to ask the useful opened questions and to reword when needed.
Hereafter is a list of  questions you will adapt depending on the context.
However, do not simply read this list of questions when interviewing a customer. You must do some homework, preparing your interview guide and adapt it depending on the context.

Who is the customer?

That’s the first understanding you have to build wen meeting a customer.
It’s not about knowing about his life and hobbies (not yet! You may come to this later. When your relationship is more of friendship). It’s about understanding about his business and his organization.
The best way is to ask him or her.

  • What is/are the activity of the customer ?
  • In which market do they act? Sell?
  • What is their organization structure? Who’s who?
  • What are their decision process? Who decides and how? Who influences the decisions and how?
  • What is their business figures? their business health?
  • What are the geographical areas of their business? What is their export ratio and why?
  • Who are their competitors? How do they fight against their competitor? Why are they better than their competitor? Why are they different from their competitor?

What are the customer needs?

Above all, that’s the product manager’s mission.
You can ask directly. The answers seldom helps to discover the real needs.
– Dear Mr Customer, what do you need from us?
– I’d like lower prices, higher quality, higher performances, better delivery services ….”

Those are not needs!
Most of the time the answers are only what the customer wants and it does not give any clue for creation of innovative offer.

The needs and pains can only be discovered when you explore the full life cycle at your customer’s :

How do your customer work?
  • How do you decide to create? Invest? Buy?  something new … Why?
  • How the purchasers work? Their tools, habits, preferences, like and dislike? Why?
  • How the designers work? Their tools, habits, preferences,like and dislike? Why?

Remember, it’s easy to observe and ask for each personas: the tools they used ( hardware and software), their habits, their preferences, their like and dislike. You just need to be on your customer’s sites.
IRL as gamers would say.

Listen to each and every department
  • How the engineering team works? Why?
  • How the blue collars works? Visit workshops, spend enough time to observe the workers. Come back if the time is too short.
  • How the supply chain is operating? Upstream? Downstream? Warehouse? Why?
    Visit the warehouse if there is one. You’ll discover more about habits in regards to used brands and products. As well as it will give you knowledge about handling stuff.
  • How their after sales and customer support are working? One more time, what are the tools they use, their habits, their preferences, their like and dislike? Why?
Opportunities to discover more

This list of questions is a simple guide to help you to discover your customer problems, pains … and workarounds.
Interviewing customer to build you understanding and discover needs is also impacting the interviewees. As a matter of fact, your customer will naturally discover that he needs some solution to untold issues, and may ask you about your proposals and ideas. But remember, you’re not selling or promising! You are learning! That’s opportunities to tell to your sales team, and opportunities for another face to face meeting when you have a new offer to be challenged and tested.

Learning customer’s needs is also coming from opportunities you meet everyday. When you commute to your workplace, when you travel for business, when you meet new strangers at your fitness club…There’s always discoveries with people you talk to. 

What is the customer experience?

Lost? Confused? Unclear?
Photo by Christopher Rusev on Unsplash

An interview with customer is also delivering some insights about his experience. His experience with your company, his experience with your offer, his experience with your competitor.

How is your customer aware of your offers?

How does he receive information?
What the sources he uses to search for information? What type of information?
Ask him to list the documents and media he is looking for? what for? why?
How are they easy to find? How are they easy to use? 
What is he doing when he does not find what he is looking for ?

That’s an opportunity to understand and test your documents, the promotional collateral’s, the catalogs either printed or digital, the technical documents and user guides. How are they used? By who when, where and why?

What is he buying? How is he buying?

Asking for an exhaustive list of products and solutions he is purchasing, it’s not enough! You will ask also:
Whom from? Why? What is missing?
How is he satisfy with what he is buying? Why?

Here you ask for more details about his satisfaction. Covering  pre-sales support, offer quality, delivery service level, pricing and values, etc.

The 5W and one H list would not be complete without asking more about how:
How is he buying? From outlets and shops?online? How could he describe the two experiences? How can he define the most efficient and enjoyable way of buying? Why?


Hunt for feedback

Image by Tumisu on Pixabay

A Customer interview is also a great moment to get feedback about new ideas, prototypes, even existing offers.
You may ask about your offer features, to check if you deliver the minimum viable product. In this case you ask about what the product is doing.
More important is to ask what the customer is using the product for, and why. His answer will tell you about the real perceived values.
Learning what the customer is doing with your offer can help you to jump to quantified interests: values pricing, projects and business opportunities.

When you get a customer who agrees to test your offer, whatever this is an existing offer, a prototype, or a field test, asking for his feedback face to face is of great value for both parties. Do not replace this face to face interaction by an impersonal and inhuman questionnaire form. Never!

More

Listen
Image by jamesoladujoye on Pixabay

In conclusion, Meeting with customer must be the obsession of every product manager.
That’s the only place where the real life happens. Where you can discover and experience.
That’s not easy?
It’s never easy if you are not prepared. The minimum is to write your interview guide. Not a questionnaire to be filled, but a step by step guide to help you during interviews.
Moreover, if you work with customers in different countries, having an interview guide means that you can give it some weeks before the meetings, to you local colleagues. Then, they can localize it and run the interview, with your support, within the native language of the customer. That’s proficiency!

We could talk during hours and days about customers visit. This short article is just an introduction.
Do not hesitate to share your comments and suggestions with me, I’ll be more than happy to update this article with your feedback’s

References.

This article is built from my 20+ years of experience and from web searches which I’m please to share the links to.
It is also the result of discussions I recently had with one of my good friend, Christian Pillot, and I’d like to simply thank him.

Links :
Who Is Your Customer?
by Filip Duszczak, CEO at Growthlab pl.

The 4++ times Product Managers meet B2B customers
by Phil Hornby, Product Focus Associate and Independent Consultant.

The rising importance of Product Managers in a digital transformation
by Emily de Vale, Marketing executive at UcaDO

10 Weekly Habits of Product Managers That Make a Big Difference
by Gabriela Araujo

Explaining user research to skeptics 
by Cameron Spilman, Co-Founder and Managing Director at Paper and Co-Founder, organiser and mentor at legup.social