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Selling Is Critical (But It's Not Product Management)

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“I’m constantly researching the market; I go on sales calls all the time.”

Selling is important but it isn’t customer discovery. Customer discovery is a method of understanding your customers, their problems, their preferences, and their buying behavior.

In my book, Turn Ideas Into Products, I explain,

Many firms tell me they’re constantly listening to their customers.

“Our sales people and account managers listen to customers all the time.” Except… sales people don’t listen to learn; they listen to reply.

“Our support people listen to customer requests daily.” Except… support people don’t listen to learn; they listen to resolve.

Successful product leaders listen to learn; they listen to understand problems in their marketplace.

And even more important than listening is this: you should observe your customers. It’s truly amazing what you can see that no one will say.

As Margaret Mead, American cultural anthropologist, wrote,

“What people say, what people do, and what they say they do are entirely different things.”

Every product professional should spend time with customers observing—not selling, not dealing with a support issue, not training on the new release. Yes, selling, support, and training are important… but they’re not customer or problem discovery (and they’re not product management either. See “What Is (And Isn’t) Product Management?”)

If the car companies observed their customers, we’d have a ledge on the dashboard for our phones. Happily, we do now have USB and Bluetooth connections and, until Detroit catches up, you should definitely check out WizGear’s Universal Air Vent Magnetic Car Mount.

If television companies observed their customers, they would see how bewildering it is to control multiple devices with their not-so-universal remote controls. How many of us are trying to create a simple way to watch Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, and cable? Logitech has attempted to be the single point of control for everything but it’s not quite there yet.

IFTTT and Zapier clearly observed the problems connecting multiple disparate systems. Same with Zipcar.

Those products and services and apps that make you say “Finally!”—that you order immediately. And you tell your friends.

Selling isn’t product management; customer discovery is.

Have you been doing any product management lately? Make sure you’ve allocated time each week for a phone call or visit to a customer and a non-customer.

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