The ‘lean’ movement espouses shorter iteration cycles for generating user insight. And while running experiments by rapid prototyping is, of course, instrumental, your product team shouldn’t be the only source of actionable customer feedback.
Getting out of the office is great—but sometimes the only trip you need to make is down the hall. There’s a number of often overlooked channels for user insight that can be tapped into from within your office.
Your sales team is the front lines of communication with potential customers. Simply due to the sheer volume of personal interaction they have with customers, they are likely to have gained valuable insights about customer needs, objections, and behavior.
Salespeople at your organization know what prospects like and dislike about competitors’ products. They know what aspect of your product could be the difference between a sale and a missed opportunity. Perhaps most importantly, they have ongoing relationships with the very people with whom you want to test new value propositions.
One particularly effective method for capitalizing on your sales team is to coordinate with them to create a formal beta program that customers can opt-in to at sign up to get early access to product updates in development. Not only does this create a free standing panel, it is made up of 100% relevant respondents who are motivated to provide reliable feedback.
While your sales team has an ongoing relationship with prospects, your customer service team regularly engages with actual users and customers. They know the ins and outs of the product—where users get stuck, what features are broken, and most importantly, what could potentially solve recurring issues.
In many organizations, customer service teams are isolated from product teams, serving only to submit bug reports as a last resort. The disconnect between product and support/sales teams seems to be due to the misguided belief that other teams are too busy. But that’s not the case. Sales and support teams should be treated as other stakeholders in the product lifecycle, included early and often to understand and contribute to business objectives and user perspectives.
On the second episode of This is Product Management, Sarah Judd Welch, founder of Loyal, talks about how some of the most innovative organizations rely on customer support and community management teams to source user insights by facilitating feedback. And there’s every incentive for them to do so.
For sales, a product that better meets customer needs means more sales. For customer service, it means fewer support requests and more time to onboard and train customers to maximize product value. Product managers that practice empathy not just in front of customers but also with interconnected teams will immediately see results in the form of diverse user insights and narratives.
As most product managers have learned perhaps the hard way, there is a distinct difference between what users say and what they do. That’s where production analytics and data teams come in.
Product teams have access to but often don’t utilize several tools and services, such as Google Analytics and Alerts, Marketing/Sales CRM, and Intercom, each of which can provide different forms of valuable data. With onsite and email analytics, product teams could learn what features users actually engage with, where in the onboarding flow they got stuck, and what impact incremental changes to the product have.
Overall, there are three sets of metrics these tools can provide. Primary metrics are your business goals or key performance indicators. For an eCommerce company, this might be number of purchases or dollars per purchase. Secondary metrics are indications that likely lead to improvements in primary metrics. Those might be email opt-ins, traffic, or time-on-site. Tertiary metrics are indications that secondary metrics are likely to improve, such as Google searches, mentions on Twitter, and press coverage. Combined, these metrics make for some robust user insight.
If a given competitor’s product is being used and enjoyed by a large percentage of your customer segment, they are likely doing some form of customer development. But there’s usually room to improve on their products and features, and the second mover advantage can be significant in many industries. While you can’t necessarily observe their customers directly, you can still continuously perform comprehensive competitive analysis to benchmark your offerings and understand market trends.
When it comes to user insights, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Siloed in different departments, user feedback is only moderately useful. Together, insights derived from experiments, sales and customer teams, analytics tools, and competitors can help form holistic and comprehensive user narratives. These user narratives help product teams discover patterns and continuity of user needs and behavior.
Take a page out of the book of software company formerly known as 37signals (now Basecamp). They don’t even keep a list of features users have requested. Because they’re tuned into so many different channels, they can simply prioritize the features that have been requested so frequently that they just know what customers will want.
Michael Bamberger is the co-founder of Alpha UX, a real-time user insights platform for enterprise product teams. He has been developing digital products for more than 15 years, serving in roles ranging from developer to product manager. He was previously a Vice President at Greenhaven Partners, a private equity firm, where he managed digital strategy and research business units across the portfolio of companies.