Ask A Good Product Manager

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How can market research be best used for a growing product?

Posted on March 20, 2008 · 2 Comments

Question: What types of market research should a product manager conduct to help a product grow and expand?

Our product is now to the point where it has all of the “must have” parts in order to even compete in its space. We’re ready to take the product to a “game changing” place, and recognize that the best way to do it is with significant market research to identify the pains of the space.

What’s the best way to start conducting basic user and market research as your product grows and expands? What’s the proper mix of current clients vs. desired clients / prospects?

Answer from Gopal Shenoy of Product Management Tips: Regarding a mix of customers (current or prospects), I always lean towards more of prospects. Not that current customers are bad, but many of them could probably lead you in a direction to build a better horse buggy or in other words very incremental improvements to your current products.

I would approach this market research using the following steps:

a) What questions do you want to get answered?

Are you trying to figure out why prospects are not buying your current product? Is it because they have needs that are absolutely not met by your current product (affordability, ease of use, lack of localization, I could name a million things)? Or have you just got to a point that the market is saturated and there is not much growth left in the market? Who are they buying from and why? Or are they not buying at all? In which case how are they meeting their needs today? Are they willing to pay for this need to be solved, or in other words will they buy. Make a list of things you want to get answered.

Make sure that these questions focuses on customer problems that your products could solve and not focus on your product. If you start the conversation along the lines of how do you think we can take our current product to a game changing place, you have started off the wrong foot. Instead, you could ask them questions like

  1. Can you tell me about your business? What are the business challenges?
  2. What are the challenges that you face in our job today?
  3. Why do you have to do task X? (This is what your product does.)
  4. Can you walk me through what you have to do to get task X done? (Based on what they tell, dig deeper. If they slam your product/company, don’t get defensive. Instead, find out why — is there some unmet need even there? Or could it be bad customer service, or pushy sales people — don’t discount these)
  5. How do you get this job done today?
  6. What are the inefficiencies in doing the way you do today?
  7. What is the impact if this task is done incorrectly or not done? (This tells you the other things that are dependent on this.)

b) Which segments of the customer population do you need to talk to get all the different needs that may be out there?

Are the needs going to be different in different verticals? Does geography change the needs in the space? Will company size make a difference? Make some educated guesses based on your current experience. Then create a matrix and name 3 companies in each cell of the matrix. I would say you talk to about 10-12 customers.

c) How do you find these companies?

Work your network – internal sales people, win/loss analysis reports, business associations, your family/friends etc.

d) Do you call them/visit them?

I would prefer visiting these customers in their offices. But travel budgets or customer availability may put constraints. At the very least interview the customer over the phone and plan on visiting at least those locally. There is nothing more effective than doing customer visits especially in this kind of market research.

There are couple of resources I could point you to, for more details on doing this kind of market research

  1. Customer Visits: Building a Better Market Focus by Edward McQuarrie
  2. An article I had written on customer visits for Pragmatic Marketing Magazine. This article goes into more depth on what I have mentioned above.

I could go on, but hopefully this has given you information as to how to start.

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