Better Product Managers, and Product Management

All Customers Are Not Created Equal (part 2)

You can read part 1 here.

So how can you apply customer development techniques to large enterprise customers and existing customers?    They’re still people, so fundamentally they also have problems and pain points and constraints.  But there are some things to keep in mind if you want to maximize how productive your conversations are.

Large enterprise customers

  • Expect anything they see to look ‘good’. This doesn’t mean that you need to show a working app — trust me, big company folks are plenty accustomed to being sold products by PowerPoint deck — but it does mean that you should spend a few hours or days turning your Balsamiq wireframes into visuals that are simple, specific, and polished-looking.   Don’t use lorem ipsum, take the time to write the actual text that a customer might see.  Don’t use clip art.  Correct your typos.   If you don’t, you’ll immediately take a credibility hit.
  • Need a memorable narrative. These folks are constantly being pitched.  All the features and benefits and overblown language like “best-of-breed” and “cutting-edge” blend together into a haze.   What they’ll remember is a story: “Let’s say you have an employee, Jill, and here’s what Jill does each day when she…”
  • Are accustomed to hearing “yes”. Sales tends to say “yes” to everything in order to close a deal; this means that saying “no” may end the conversation abruptly.  (This doesn’t mean you have to agree, it does mean you have to be very creative in how you proceed when the customer is asking for something that you have no intention of providing.)
  • Are often pleasantly surprised by being asked “why”. All enterprise customers have been burned by hearing “yes” and then finding out that that “yes” has a lot of exceptions or additional cost.  Having someone who actually listens, and asks thoughtful questions, may shock them into revealing a lot more about how their business works.
  • Offended by being told what to do. A multimillion dollar widget-making company does not want to hear from you that they’re making widgets wrong.  If you try to sound credible by flaunting your widget-making expertise, that is unlikely to go well.   Be humble: acknowledge that they’re the expert, and you’re the one trying to understand.  (Note: this is always good advice.)
  • Have a lot of stakeholders. The end-user is probably not the buyer.  The decision-maker is probably not the implementer.  You will need to talk to a lot more people in order to validate your assumptions.   You will also need to approach them in different ways (the way marketers perform due diligence or assess your credibility is usually very different from how the IT department does it.)

Existing customers

  • Are really easy to get in touch with. There’s a perception that customers “don’t want to be bothered”, and I don’t know where this comes from.  This has never been my experience!  As long as you’re clear that you’re not trying to sell something, current customers are usually eager to talk to you.  Remember, they have already invested a lot of effort in learning your product – it’s in their best interest for you to thrive as a company.
  • Their top priority is their current product/service. Have you ever been to a concert where the artist kept playing all the songs from his new album instead of the greatest hits that you wanted to sing along with?   Start by answering their existing questions, and make sure you learn as much as possible about how they’re using your current product or service.  Once you’ve covered that, they will be far more receptive to answering questions about potential new use cases or products.
  • Hate change. Hold off on the mockups for as long as possible.  You want the customer to recognize that they have a problem first, before you threaten them with something new and different.
  • Are biased by what they’re already using. They have strong opinions on the solutions they want, and are highly motivated to push those solutions instead of talking about the problems.  It will require a lot of conscious effort to keep directing the conversation back to why/how questions.
  • Need reassurance that you’re not going to de-prioritize or drop their current product. If they think that answering your questions might cause you to stop working on your current product (remember, the one they have already invested effort in learning), it’s going to be a short and pointless conversation.  You can cut this off before it starts by immediately reassuring them that their current product is safe, that this is early/exploratory research.

Hope this is useful in encouraging you to extend customer development to some new audiences.  If there are additional concerns or pratfalls you’ve encountered, I’d be happy to address them in a followup post.

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  • http://smartsoftwaremarketing.co.uk/ Giles Farrow

    ‘There’s a perception that customers “don’t want to be bothered”, and I don’t know where this comes from.’
    I think one place this comes from are account managers who want to keep full control over the account. Unless you’re helping them upsell, they often prefer the customer to be left alone, in case
    - anyone gets upset, distracted or contradicts what they told the customer!
    - the customer feels they are providing a favour to the vendor by spending their time
    - expectations are unduly raised

    Great article Cindy

  • Aaron McWilliams

    Thanks so much for writing this Cindy! Really helpful for us who don’t fit in the normal Cust Dev model.

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