I used the process below to meet personally with 100+ customers per year. Including my team, we got into the hundreds. You don't have to worry about reading customers' minds when you can ask them good questions directly. Having the entire product team and engineering leadership also meet weekly with customers brought our customer awareness to new heights. Product and Engineering teams cannot "outsource" customer insights to the customer facing teams (sales, marketing, client success, customer support) and expect to make products that win.
Including the product development team in customer meetings brought our thought leadership to bear every week. Not only did this show more empathy for customers, it resulted in better products coming out of engineering.Attend 100 meetings per year with these practical steps:
— Matt Parsons, EVP, Client Success, Registria
- Meet with 2 customers a week (one hour each)
- Tap into the existing meetings with prospects and customers. No need to create additional meetings as your client facing teams should already be having meetings every week.
- One or both of the meetings can be with a prospect (sales call)
- Ask the client facing teams to arrange the meetings and put them on your calendar without pre-approval (discuss this first with the company leadership so that client facing teams aren't surprised by the request)
- Require your entire Product team (Product Managers, UX Designers, Analysts) and your Engineering leadership (Directors and above) to do the same
- Have a consistent role in these meetings (described below)
That's two hours per week per person to start spreading customer insights throughout the entire product development organization.
Constant contact with customers keeps them top of mind. Many of our internal ideas fell to the way side when presented to customers. And many of our best ideas originated from customers.Overview of the process for sustainable customer meetings:
— Erik Skurka, Head of Product, ReviewTrackers
- Require pre-meeting questionnaire
- Follow ground rules for meeting with customers
- Write down observations in a consistent way
- Ask customers consistent questions
- Demo potential products and ideas to elicit feedback
Require pre-meeting questionnaireTo be useful in the meeting and to make preparation for the meeting painless, I asked the client facing teams to fill out a one page questionnaire about the prospect or customer and put it in a known location on our shared drive. (Having a shared drive such as Google Drive, Box, or Sharepoint is crucial to efficiency). This questionnaire had no more than 10 questions and provided exactly enough background on the customer and the state of their relationship with our company that I could be a credible participant in the meeting (same for my team members). The client facing team should know this information before getting on the call anyways so it shouldn't be that much extra work. I could read the questionnaire in the 60 seconds that the video conference was booting up. Sample questionnaire questions
- Names and job roles of the people from the customer or prospect who will be on the call
- Size of the customer/prospect in revenue dollars
- Did they have an in-house development team? If so, how big? (helps with the buy vs build conversation)
- Where are they in the evaluation process of our offering?
- What products in our offering are they interested in?
- What vertical/industry are they in? Are they a seller, distributor or end customer in their industry? (Manufacturers can have different priorities than distributors, retailers or end customers)
- Do they have a physical presence (stores, warehouses) or are they an online only business?
- What key points about our company should I emphasize if I have a chance during the meeting?
- Is there an NDA signed with the customer or prospect?
Follow ground rules for meeting with customersSo what do you say in these meetings with customers and prospects? It is assumed that you, the product team and the engineering leadership are the company experts about the company product offering and how companies use that product in the market. The client facing teams often don't have that depth of knowledge and from my experience really appreciate having an expert on the call. Some companies use Sales Engineers to fill this role but not every call has a Sales Engineer in attendance and your team can fill that role. Make sure that these basic expectations are followed by you and your team when participating on client facing calls. Unless otherwise agreed to by the company leadership, you should follow a few simple ground rules. Ground rules for meeting with clients and prospects:
- Don't promise any additions to the software platform (it's always tempting to be a pleaser)
- Don't share any information you aren't authorized to about unreleased software
- Don't share any unpublished future company plans
- Don't talk poorly about the competition (it reflects badly on your company)
Write down observations in a consistent wayFor most of the meeting, you'll be in listening mode. Feel free to jump in and clarify things for the customer but take your colleagues direction on how much to talk. After a few of these meetings, you'll see how your colleagues represent your company and your product offering. You'll also get the hang of when to talk. While you're observing you can take the following notes. Observation notes to take:
- Company/Product representation.
- When you first attend meetings you might be surprised about how the company's product offering is being sold. Note down anything to add, modify or remove about how the client facing teams represent the company's product offering.
- Burning issues.
- Is there anything making the customer burning mad? Fixing a customer problem is key to retaining them. Don't be silent if you can help fix a problem.
- Feature requests.
- Write down all product features requested by the client. You don't have to agree, but you have to write them down.
- Product feedback.
- Write down any feedback about the current use of the product offering. Please make sure this information is not hearsay. You want to know that the person delivering the feedback on the call knows what they are talking about. If they don't, then ask for a contact within the customer or prospect who you can follow up with. Get the right feedback.
- Marketing insights.
- Write down any testimonial feedback that can be used internally and perhaps externally to positively represent the product.
Ask customers consistent questions
So you're not just there to be an observer. Typically, the product development team creates several slides to present at the end of the customer meeting. Everyone uses the same slides and the slides are updated once per quarter. These slides cover the current state of product development and strive to get insights from the customer. You want to pull information out of the client at this stage not just keep pushing information.Include these items in your part of the presentation to the client:
- Recently released features (with business benefits)
- Upcoming releases (that you have high confidence will actually launch)
- Questions that spark discussion (see below)
- Include experimental ideas or demos to discuss
Quickly (but smoothly) go through the product update portion. Then transition to a discussion meant to extract insights to benefit the entire product development organization. Engage the customer in a series of questions to understand their situation with the goal of understanding how to be indispensable to them now and into the future.Questions to ask of the customer or prospect:
- Where do they think your product offerings make the most positive impact on their business?
- Where do your product offerings underperform their expectations?
- Is the customer using or planning to use your offering in new ways?
- Anything else the customer can add to the discussion about the product offering?
- What are the most important issues at the customer that are related to your product offering?
- What are the most important happening at the customer that are top of mind and NOT related to our product offering? For example, is the customer expanding overseas? Transitioning to be mobile-centric? Entering new lines of business? Opening more physical locations? This section helps you envision where clients are going outside of your product offering. Perhaps, there's an offering you can make to serve them in these new areas.
Demo potential products and ideas to elicit feedbackOnce you've covered the larger questions, you can spark discussion about the future direction of the product offering. For some ideas, you might need an NDA to proceed. For existing customers, this should already be in place. It's a good idea to remind the customer that there is an NDA and that these discussion should be kept confidential. For prospects, it might depend on whether they have signed an NDA.
For new software not necessarily in development, it's a great idea to get early and often feedback (don't develop in a vacuum). This is the beginning of a Customer Development Program and certainly not the only aspect. Some companies insert a disclaimer slide about future offerings to explain that they are not guaranteeing the delivery of the products about to be described. I would always add that these products are not being sold yet and that we are using these demonstrations to elicit feedback from customers. If enough customers declare interest in buying the software then we would proceed with development.
I might do a screen share and show a prototype or just describe the potential product. Then you want to capture the interest of the client by asking what problem it would solve for them and whether they would pay for it. Make sure to find out if the solved problem is big enough for the customer to spend money or just an annoyance that they would not seek a solution for.
So there you have it, in two hours a week, you can meet 100 customers in one year and get insights into your product offering and the customer's business as well as getting directional feedback on the usage of your product and their interest in your potential future offerings.
Remember to transcribe these notes immediately into a centralized folder or even a centralized document. Each week, these consolidated notes should be passed around and reviewed by the product development team. Highlights should be brought up by individuals at group meetings to make sure that key insights are being disseminated. Learnings should be incorporated as soon as possible into the product development offerings.
This is the start of the continuous dialog with customers and prospects that keeps the product development team and its product offering relevant and important to the market.
Summary: Find a sustainable way to meet with customers and prospects every week. Involve the key product development team members in the process. Revise your product offerings and product direction with this feedback.
Read about my evolution in appreciating customers: How I Make Great Products by Learning to Love My Customers