Writing by Peter Hilton

Visit your customers and ask them questions

How to get them talking about your product’s value proposition - 11 February 2020 #product

Taking notes in a meeting

unsplash-logoAmy Hirschi

As a product manager, you need to talk to your customers to understand their problems. Despite the time they take, customer visits give you valuable insights. To start with, customer visits can help you discover your product’s value proposition.

The more customer visits you do, the more techniques you will learn to use, and get better insights. Learning starts with listening, but that can lead to awkward silences if your customer expects you to run the meeting. A few standard questions can help to get them talking: try the following, for discovering your product’s value proposition.

1. What business problem do you intend to solve?

You need to get your customer talking about their problems, which will teach you more than their software features wish list. Several things can make this difficult, so you may need to approach this question indirectly.

First, your customer prefer starting with something concrete than an abstract question. You can ask about what their current work involves, before pursuing a broader context, so you can ‘better understand their business’. Most people love talking about what they do, which helps.

Second, your customer might already have a list of features they want in your product. If they bring a spreadsheet to the meeting, then you will probably fail to switch the agenda to open questions about their problems. You will have more success by first listening to and acknowledging their ideas, and using them as the basis for a conversation about which problems those ideas address.

2. What did you use before using our product?

Asking customers about their current or previous solution helps you understand their business problem from another angle. You can test whether you understand the problem by checking that you understand the alternative.

Talking about the previous solution lets you follow-up with: why did you switch? Understanding what they didn’t like about another product can point to why they prefer yours.

3. Why did you select our product?

This question verges on directly asking them to articulate your value proposition. Expect a lot of variety among answers to this question, including the occasional revealing insight.

Look for opportunities to dig into your customer’s reasons for selecting your product. You’ll learn more about their goals than about your product, if they tell you what they care about, but also the relationship between these goals and your product, i.e. the value proposition itself.

4. Does our product satisfy your expectations?

The final questions test the difference between what you promised your customer, and the reality of their experience. A dissatisfied customer may indicate a value proposition that doesn’t work. Happy customers, on the other hand, merely confirm what you learned from the previous questions.

5. What would make you more successful?

Looking to the future invites less useful speculation, but can also highlight gaps in your value proposition, or in product execution. Asking what would make solving a problem with your product more successful may only start a feature discussion, but can identify a customer who only likes your product because they hated the previous solution more.

In the end, these questions give you several ways to approach the core questions a value proposition answers: who will buy your product, and what value will they get from doing so?