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Be Expert On Market Problems

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In product management, our primary job is to be expert on market problems. That means we must spend time with customers and non-customers so we are in a position to notice problems.

If we can find problems and solve them at a profit, we’ll succeed.

Problems exist. We just have to find them. And to find them, you have to be looking.

Some product managers are simply order-takers. They just add every idea to the backlog. “A customer wants a feature.” (Add it to the backlog.) “We need this to close a deal.” (Add it to the backlog.) “I had this idea in the shower.” (Add it to the backlog.) “God spoke to me in a dream.” (Add it to the backlog.)

We don’t want to build features for a single customer; we need to build solutions to widespread market problems.

But, alas, many product managers don’t have time to visit customers because they are so busy with sales, marketing, and development issues—responding to an RFP for a potential sale, writing copy for the web site, reading aloud to developers from Jira. Supporting these other groups isn’t product management.

I had a long argument with a sales friend on this sales support issue. He said, “Product managers are great on sales calls.” (Which is true.) I said, “Yes, they are but sales support isn’t product management.” (Which is also true). He said, “But they’re great!” (True.) “Not the job.” (True.)

My friend’s problem isn’t a product management issue; he needs sales engineers. The complex product he sells often requires deep technical discussions which is why he needs a technical expert on most customer calls. He doesn’t need a product manager. He needs qualified sales engineers and, because they’re understaffed or under-skilled, he relies on product managers to address his need.

Here’s another way of thinking of product management. Don’t love the product; love the problem. Product managers (and product marketing managers too) need to be experts on market problems. (Maybe we should call them Problem Managers instead.)

Visiting and observing customers is the most important job in product management.

Every consultant will tell you that customer interviews provide deep insights on the product, its promotion, your sales team effectiveness, and your company strategy. What they often fail to do is explain, exactly, how to conduct an interviewing program. Download the free ebook, Customer Interviews: A Field Guide.

Do you have recent experience in the market? If so, you can empower the rest of your organization with details about the problem so they can design a brilliant solution.

How often do you need deep insights on customer problems with specific use scenarios in your internal meetings? Where will you get these insights? Hint: They’re not in the building.

Visit customers and non-customers frequently. Ask about their frustrations. Observe their activities. Learn about problems you can solve. Make problem discovery an ongoing part of your product management schedule. Set up a call with a customer today.

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