What You Should Really Ask Your Customers?

Paul Gray from Brainmates recently wrote a blog post on Five Questions Product Managers Should Ask Their Customers. In his blog, Paul lists them as:

  1. What are the reasons that first led you to buy our product?
  2. What problems does our product solve for you?
  3. What do you like most about our product?
  4. What do you like least about our product?
  5. If you could change one thing about our product what would that be?

While these questions make sense, I’d like to offer a slightly different approach that might be more beneficial and rewarding:

  • Don’t start with your product. Most organizations don’t buy a product. They invest in your company. Rather than asking them the reasons that led them to buy your product, ask them ‘why did you choose us’. You might realize that they care less for the next version of your product and more about how you can help them gain internal adoption.
  • Forget the features. Most customers don’t know what features they want. They do however have a good idea for what they want to use your product for. Rather than focusing on their problems, ask them what use cases they are solving or wish they could solve. I guarantee that while you go through this outcome driven approach, they will not only tell you what they like, don’t like or wish to see in your product but you might realize that they want to use your product for a completely new scenario (and potentially great revenue opportunity for your company)
  • Ask them if they would invest in you again. Yes, invest in your company again. You might be surprised by the answer. In fact, while there is little chance that they might say ‘no’ (they probably would not have accepted to talk to you in the first place), there is a strong likelihood that they will say ‘yes’ followed by ‘but’ and a few good pointers that you can greatly learn from. For example, yes but if we were to do it again, we would invest less in the software to start with and a little more in the supporting services, or yes although I would also consider this other vendor that has recently entered the market etc. Ultimately, lots of great insights that you would not have gotten otherwise.

One last point: as you engage with your customers, make sure to not only talk to the direct users but all the stakeholders who are indirectly impacted by the value your product brings to the organization, starting with the senior management team.

They are usually the ones holding the purse.

Image Credit:  Flickr

9 thoughts on “What You Should Really Ask Your Customers?

  1. I would also suggest going deeper into how they are measuring the success of the product. With those use-case situations they are trying to solve ask for details about what disruptions they are having now and how results will be measured.

    1. Tim,nnGreat point. Asking the customer how he or she defines success is another critical question. And most importantly how the key decision makers within the organization define success.nn- Bertrandnn

  2. Tim is getting at the important relationship between use cases and prospect problems. Business-level use cases are the context within which prospect problems occur. The use cases give us a lot of insight into the business and user context, but we also need to elicit the key challenge points that occur within them.

  3. Thanks for your great post Bertrand and expanding on my original. I think it’s important that the context of my questions is included.nnIn the full post I said “Product management as a profession is about understanding customer problems, needs and wants and then delivering products that satisfy these.”nnI totally agree that one should start without the product in mind. Find out what it is the customer wants to do, needs or what’s stopping them from achieving some goal or objective. nnMaybe my list should start with question 2 first instead of question 1. The subsequent questions can help perhaps more with in-life products rather than new product development.nnUltimately, any connection with customers to learn more about their problems, needs and wants is a great thing for product managers to do.nn

  4. These are great questions! “What do you use it for?” heads right into “Now what?” which we often forget to ask. nnDepth at the first level “I’d really like it if the graph could have more colors” is fun and easy to talk about. nn”Now what” takes us directly to value – “The graph is high at this point. I’m wondering is this an important peak, or is it in normal range? What’s causing it to be high? What might I do about it?” All of the questions don’t have to be answered by a product, but we need to make it easy for our product to participate in the process.

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