This will probably be a more "touchy-feely" guide than some others I've written, and the word "understanding" in the title really underscores that. We are going to focus on how to connect with your customers beyond the sale to figure out their overall needs, journeys, and missions. That will allow you to position yourself as someone that can solve their problems and will partner with them to do so.
We will identify opportunities based on needs, journeys, and problems in this guide, but It is also important to note that this guide will focus on being an understanding and empathetic product manager and help you stand out from the rest of the crowd.
The first thing we are going to do in this guide is figure out how to understand your customers overall and, most importantly, who they are. This might seem obvious to a more established business, but we will learn why this isn’t always a given. Then we will jump into working on their needs, journeys, and problems.
How can you understand your customers? The easiest way is to talk to your customers. A lot of product managers tend to get nervous or shy away from this method, but keeping open lines of communication shows your customers that a) you want to listen, and b) you want to partner and not have only a transactional relationship.
How you do this depends on the business. For example, if you are a large enterprise selling $10M deals to other large enterprises, you are more likely to know exactly who your customers are and be able to pick up the phone and call them. However, if you are a large enterprise that sells a consumer-based good, and you sell one million units at $10 each (note that this is the same total amount of revenue as in the first example) then you may not have a one-on-one relationship with these million users. In fact, I bet you don’t. If you want to understand who your customers are in this second example, you are going to have to conduct some market research. You can do that internally (depending on whether you have a market research department) or you can hire a company to figure out who these consumers are.
Additionally, you might be a newer business without many customers yet. In this case, you would also need to conduct research to understand who your potential customers are. For a newer business, you would be better off using a market research company to do this.
Whether you are a B2B company, a B2C company, or a brand new company, you need to start off by understanding your customer.
Now that you have determined who your customers are, you need to understand their journeys. There are two ways to look at a customer journey:
A customer’s personal journey, which relates to what the customer is doing for their own self (B2C) or business (B2B)
Let’s discover the customer’s personal journey first. B2C companies are different because, as I pointed out, if you sell a consumer product you will likely not know all of your consumers. Conducting market research will help you understand your customers' wants and what their journey looks like specific to your product and solution. I recommend my guide on [Data Gathering to Create Customer-Focused Solutions} (app.pluralsight.com/guides/data-gathering-to-create-customer-focused-solutions) to understand more about getting insights to build solutions for your customers.
The B2B customer journey is going to be similar to your company's journey. This business has a strategy and road map, the same way that you have a strategy and roadmap. Speaking to your customers about their roadmaps will ensure you have complete clarity into what their journey looks like. It will enable you to link arms with your business customers and build products and solutions that can help them on their journeys. In addition to giving them exactly what they need, it is going create a great relationship where the customer feels valued and heard. Partnering with your customers and creating this kind of relationship sets you up for success together in the long run.
I recommend reading my guide on understanding how to execute a research plan Craft and Execute a Research Plan to help you further understand exactly how to conduct market research.
We discovered your customers and their journeys, and now we can look at opportunities. By understanding who these customers are and what their journeys look like, you can easily identify opportunities.
These opportunities are the easy part once you have done the background work to understand your customers. The mistake people make is that they identify opportunities before they understand their customers. However, you have truly understand your customers and their journeys in order to identify opportunities. It takes much more work on the front end to do this, but it is cheaper and more effective in the long run.
If a customer has problem, that is your opportunity—to solve it.
Understanding your customer is going to help you stand out from the crowd. "Understand" is the key word, and showing them that you do understand is even more key. You want ensure you are positioned to solve their problem and that you are listening to their needs.
Understanding a customer is about partnering with them instead of just making it about a transaction. Transactions pay the short term bills, but partnerships build companies—not just your own, but also your customers.