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Away From My Desk – The Key To Success In Product Development

James thought leader in product marketing and product management leader

James Luizzi

October 17, 2017

As product managers at times, we wonder what could be going on with our products. We often wonder what might be wrong with them, what improvements we could make, or what challenges they may face. Often within the confines of our own office, we assume answers to all of these questions, and figure because we are product managers we must be correct.

It is common for product managers to assume the problems and work to solve those. And while we may celebrate a success or two, we have likely wasted much of our time creating ideas and business cases that resulted in underwhelming success.

All the meanwhile, 75% of business cases do not meet their stated objective! This easy problem and assumption role could be the very reason!

SO here’s a solution, why don’t you ask your customers, your consumers, your retailers, OR your targeted segments? Whoever your audience may be, it is imperative to get the answers from your target audience and solve the problems that they are facing.

While it is not always easy, it is imperative that you ask the RIGHT questions and LISTEN to their responses.

Away from my desk quote product manager probelms and assumptions

My Story

 Let my customer journey begin.

I own a pool; it’s an above ground pool with a deck that wraps around the outside. Last year, I realized that the cover (only a few years old) had ripped and could no longer be used. On top of that, the water bags that held the cover in place were also damaged and could no longer be used.

Summer has since ended, and unfortunately, I am now tasked with both covering the pool, and replacing the damaged items from last year. In an effort to do so, I headed to the pool store. I walked in and was greeted by a pleasant salesperson, eager to help. As I explained that I needed to winterize my pool, he stacked all the materials he felt I needed one-by-one. Then, something interesting happened.

The salesman walked over to the water bags and said, “you’ll need these, but they never last through the year.” He continued to tell me about the problems with the water bags, how they don’t hold up to weather, how animals eat them etc. I calculated that I needed over $150 worth, and decided there had to be a better option. As I walked out I realized, if I were the company making these water bags, I would undoubtedly want, and need to have this information so that I could make something better, and prevent people like me from walking out empty-handed.


So I ask this – why aren’t more product managers properly getting away from their desk and interviewing their segments to gather this sort of data?

In the Levels of Feedback that I have discussed prior (Level 1, Unsolicited – Level 2, Solicited – Level 3, Observed) my story relates to the importance of Level 2 Feeback or solicited feedback.

When done correctly the impact of a properly planned and engaging interview (a solicited feedback session) can truly help product managers uncover product issues. One of the most common pitfalls for these sessions is that product managers sometimes confuse visiting a customer through sales visits, or customer calls an interview. I would define a proper interview for product management and product development as “a thoughtful, planned and organized meeting that is designed with the specific intent to learn more about current and future customer needs as well as one or many aspects of a product or service” In order to do this we need be sure we ask the right questions, follow the right “rules”, and most important, listen to the interviewee.

Asking the Right Questions

It is important to identify the three categories of questions that should be organized and asked in a proper interview. It will be important that we ask a blend of these questions in order to truly go deep into information gathering, not just to be build product for tomorrow, but for the long-term future.

Here are a few definitions and examples to get you started in your question and interview planning.

Transactional Questions:  

Closed-ended questions, typically looking for some numeric data or proof

Ex. “Approximately how often do you find yourself running into this problem a month?”

Needs ‘Uncovery’ Questions:

Big Open questions that help you identify potential needs that the customers or target segments may not even know that had.

Ex. “Please help me understand in what fashion you are currently utilizing this product, and how does it solve your problems”

Strategic Questions:

Long-term questions meant to help you see the longer term picture to better plan for future product changes and enhancements.

Ex. “How do you see your business changing in the next 3-5 years”

Outside of just the types of questions, there are many other pieces that are important when planning a successful interview. Sequent Learning Networks offers a Gathering Market Insights workshop, which goes through this and much more.

Contact Us if you are interested in learning more about how we can help you or your team in gathering the most impactful information from your customers.


About The Author

James thought leader in product marketing and product management leader

James Luizzi

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