Do you remember the TV show Lost in Space? It was one of my favorites when I was a kid. I used to watch the reruns on days when I was home from school.
In case you don’t know, the show from the 1960’s is about the Robinson family’s adventures through space as they look to colonize another planet. Their trusty Robot was along with them to protect the family, especially their son Will. You might remember Robot from his famous line, “Danger! Danger Will Robinson!”
For those of us in Product Marketing or Product Management, it would be awesome to have Robot on our team to warn us of impeding dangers as we try to innovate and bring successful new products to market! It’s not easy to keep a diligent focus on answering the questions that matter most:
- Do customers care about the problem and are they willing to pay for our solution?
- Is there a large enough market of customers with this need?
- Can we make money?
- Technically, can we build it?
- Operationally, can we deliver it to the customer?
Voice of the customer (VOC) research is critical in answering these questions, especially numbers 1 and 2. Many companies have a formal VOC program in place, which is the good news. The bad news is that not very many companies have a centralized place for capturing and sharing customer feedback and learning, which presents a problem and an opportunity.
In my old company, we had a formalized VOC program. It was a pretty damn good program actually! We created VOC guides in Excel and our product managers were asked to complete these guides as they met with customers to validate the need for new products. In our governing meetings we asked, “did you do VOC?” and product manager would then provide a brief summary.
Danger Will Robinson!
In our governing team meetings, we reviewed 20, sometimes 30 projects. We didn’t have time to dig into the details. And there was no way to know if the product manager was:
- Meeting with right customers in the target customer segments
- Meeting with the right buyers
- Asking the right questions to validate the opportunity
When VOC is so critical to launching successful products, there has to be a better way to evaluate whether we truly have enough customer insight to move onto the next phase of development.
Then there was the “new ideas” that we would start working on. And about 50% of the time, someone on my team would ask “didn’t we try something like this about two years ago?”. So the next logical question I would ask was “ok, so where are the VOC guides that the product manager at the time did?”……[sounds of crickets]
Danger Will Robinson!
Our product managers and product marketing managers were moving around constantly. And from time to time we’d lose someone to another company. Every time we lost someone, invariably their knowledge of customers and the VOC went with them. So what would we do? We’d go do some more VOC and repeat the cycle!!! Those customers weren’t very happy with us either, answering the same questions as the last time we interviewed them.
Don’t Let Your VOC Get ‘Lost in Space’!
Excel, Word, Evernote, etc. are great for capturing unstructured stream of consciousness during interviews. But recording interviews isn’t enough.
Here are four things you can start doing right away to improve your ability to gathering meaningful insights and avoid losing customer knowledge….
STEP 1 – Define Your Hypothesis
Before you talk to or observe a customer, have a hypothesis and a purpose for the interview or observation. Define your hypothesis and what you want to learn from the customer. Have a plan, then execute!
STEP 2 – Execute the Interview or Observation
Ask probing questions. Walk a mile in your customers shoes and see how they deal with the problem today. Don’t focus on your idea, focus on the job to be done and how to make it better for your customer. Dig deep and ask the ‘five why’s’ questions to determine what’s been keeping the customer from solving the problem in the past.
STEP 3 – Document the Learning
At the end of the interview or observation, take some retrospective time to look back at your hypothesis, assess what insights you have gained from your VOC activity, and summarize what you learned. Then determine what, if anything, you might change from your hypothesis or do differently as a result.
STEP 4 – Share the Learning
Keeping VOC tucked away in a note taking app or Word file is a bad idea. Make sure to share the learnings in a centralized location so that others can benefit from your experience and insights.
Don’t let your VOC get ‘lost in space’! Follow the steps above and make sure you have a plan, ask probing questions of your customers, synthesize what you learned, and share the learning in a centralized place for the entire team to benefit.
Doing so will help you make better investment decisions about new products and your customers will be delighted that you are truly listening and solving the problems that they care about.
Shameless plug – our Haka Innovate Product Portfolio Management (PPM) solution is 100% native to Salesforce and provides product teams with a home for documenting and sharing customer learning and making better investment decisions.
P.S. The second version of the Lost in Space theme was soooooooo much better than the first! Google it and see for yourself.
About the author: Colm Lennon is the Founder of Haka Products (www.hakaproducts.com). Colm previously held Marketing and IT Leadership positions in a Fortune 100 company. In addition to his LinkedIn profile, you can also interact with Colm on his Twitter account @ColmLennon.