Product managers can separate needs from solutions by asking the right questions in the right way.
One of the skills you need as a product master is customer and market research. We explored this earlier with Gerry Katz in episode 071. It was an episode several listeners really appreciated and I have invited Gerry back to share more of his expert experience with market research. Specifically, he discusses market research mistakes product managers too often make, including:
- Confusing qualitative with quantitative research.
- Talking to the wrong customers.
- Asking customers what they want.
- Not separating needs from solutions to needs.
- Translating customer vernacular into company-speak.
- Hearing only what you want to hear.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[0:50] How do product managers confuse qualitative research with quantitative research?
Qualitative research is about words and feelings and things that needs to be said; quantitative research involves ratings and rankings. If your entire questionnaire is open-ended questions, it should be treated as qualitative research and done as an interview. That way, you can ask follow up questions and get clarification when needed. If you’re going to be asking questions that require a verbal response, it’s best to treat it as qualitative research. If you’re looking for ratings, that can be done as a questionnaire. If you’re doing quantitative research, you’ll want to pay attention to the laws of statistics and make sure your sample size is large enough to be representative.
[5:22] What should a company consider when defining its customers?
Customers are much more than the end users of your product. There are lots of people in between like influencers and financial decision-makers and people in the distribution chain. One of my colleagues was working with a financial service company who sold mutual funds and they only considered brokers to be their customers. A few years later, this colleague worked with another company that only talked to investors or people who bought their funds. Both of those groups are customers and product managers need to talk to all of them in order to have valid market research.
[8:10] How do you make sure that you’re talking to the right people?
This is not the place to talk only to your biggest or best customers. You need to think more broadly and include your competitors’ customers, your former customers, and even noncustomers. You’ll learn more from people who aren’t happy with what you have now. Once you’ve identified that customer group, don’t directly ask them what they want and need. Most customers aren’t creative to come up with new ideas or features, so they repeat things that are already in the marketplace. If you take their advice, you’re going to end up creating something that’s already been done. Instead, get them to tell you stories from their experiences and what they were trying to do. The real needs will come out of these conversations.
[12:40] What’s the difference between a need and a solution to a need?
We can use Henry Ford as an example. If he asked customers what they wanted, they would have said they wanted a faster horse. Their real need was to go faster. Ford understood that and came up with a better solution. The customers aren’t engineers or designers; their only job should be to clearly articulate what they need. You can then take that need and figure out what the solution should be, just like Ford did when he invented the automobile.
[15:02] What’s the best way to identify those needs using market research?
Do interviews and focus on what they want to accomplish but can’t currently. An interview should be filled with “why” questions. Asking “why” will get people to move beyond what they already know or what they think you want to hear and get to the heart of what their needs actually are.
[17:36] What role does the customer’s voice play?
It’s a fairly common practice in market research to take words a customer uses and translate them into company-speak to make it more comfortable. Every time you do that, you lose the true meaning of what they’re saying. One example of this is a study we did in the airline industry. Customers described being “herded like cattle,” which was translated into “orderly planning and deplaning of passengers” by the airline. This loses the emotion and reverses the need. It’s best to hear it exactly the way the customer said it rather than making it sound cool for the industry.
[20:10] How do product managers make sure they’re accessing authentic customer feedback?
The best way is to be there in person when these conversations are taking place, either in the room or maybe behind a one-way mirror. The next best alternative is watching a video, followed by listening to a recording or reading a transcript. The closer you can get to the data, the better you’ll understand it.
[21:47] How can you avoid confirmation bias?
We all go into research with our beliefs and look for confirmation that our view of the world is right. People tend to twist what the customer said to fit their view of the world. It takes courage to say that you’re wrong about something. Being a good researcher requires intellectual honesty with yourself. It’s tough to do, but removing those biases critical to doing good market research.
- Applied Marketing Science, where Gerry is the Vice Chairman and expert market researcher.
- Connect with Gerry on LinkedIn.
“We already knew that!” -Gerry Katz
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