Being Better At Getting Customer Feedback

We product managers are not our customers. Without good market information, we can’t make good product decisions. So, we need to spend a lot of time talking to customers and our market to find out what we should make.

This episode is about how to get better at getting this customer and market insight. The approach we describe is not very theory-driven, but there are three main points:

  1. Always go in with the expectation that you can’t trust what people tell you about what they need or why they need it. There is always another reason behind the surface reason and it’s your job to discover it.
  2. Use techniques like “asking why five times” to get access to the underlying needs.
  3. Pay attention to open-ended versus closed-ended questions. Open-ended questions are generally better for eliciting information. Closed-ended questions are also useful, but more for “trial closes.”

Many people try to get customer feedback by showing something they’re making and asking whether people like it. This is NOT a good technique. Try not to do this, especially if it’s something big. It’s much more effective to validate they have the problem you think you’re solving, and are actively looking for a solution, before you show anything.

In fact, one of my previous companies was sunk by some market research of the form “We’re thinking about building this thing. Would you buy it if we built it?” No one, especially your cronies (this market research was done by the new CEO, asking his friends) is going to say “No.” In the end we made maybe $300,000 in revenue from this product, that we spent $multi-millions building.

We recommend that PMs learn some of the techniques of good salespeople. Salespeople are taught, and have to practice, how to ask open-ended questions, how to validate that the customer has a problem, when to use a close-ended question, and how to do “trial closes.” All are great techniques for product managers when talking to customers and prospects.


Three Things You Can Do Right Now To Improve Your Customer Feedback

And of course we include our usual Three Ways You Can Start Using This Information Today – this time including a zeroth point and three extra things!

  1. (Axiom) You are not your customer
  2. (Main point) Your customer doesn’t “know” best – and you can’t trust what they say. You need to use techniques to improve the value of the information you get from them.
  3. (Technique) Learn to ask why five times
  4. (Thing NOT to do) If you show before discovering, or ask closed-ended questions, you’ll get unusable answers. But they’ll seem usable. It’s on YOU if you act on this information.

And three extra points to keep in mind:

  1. Gather your feedback as latently as possible. Especially if you’re wondering how people use your product, don’t ask them. Instead, watch them, or instrument your app to collect this data. Remember, you can’t trust what your users say.
  2. Be aware of implicit biases in the market sample you talk to – your friends will give you very different answers than prospects who *didn’t* buy your product.
  3. Be careful not to ask leading questions.

As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback. You can reach us at all the normal ways:

Many thanks to Neat Beats for our amazing intro and outro music. Definitely check them out on Spotify and Bandcamp!