There have been epics written on ways businesses should be:
1. Identifying customers
2. Acquiring new customers from competition
3. Retaining customers
4. Cross selling and up selling into existing customers
5. Leveraging Customers for expanding business
For a Product Manager, who has to deal with many internal and external entities, Customer is by far one of the most business critical entities that he has to deal with. And rightly so, since it's the customers who not only pay for your product but help in innovation, evangelizing product and most importantly give you the credibility to make the right product / business decision and the confidence to stand by it.
Every organization has different dynamics around customer management. Hence as a Product Manager, once you get into a new organization you have to feel your way into the customer management dynamics. Let’s focus on some of the common trends and techniques used for successfully getting a handle on building successful Customer relationships.
1. Identifying Customers: One of the first and the foremost tasks is to identify the customer. There are two types of customer:
o Internal Customer: These can be folks within in your organization who use your product or service to assist your external customer or use the product / service on behalf of your external customer. As a Product Manager you should give their voice a significant ear, since they can not only share their experience but also be a voice for external customer. Another benefit is that since they are part of your organization you can leverage them for beta testing, brain storming ideas, hand holding external customer and even for evangelizing products
o External Customer: These are your paying customer. As a company you have made a promise to them for delivering a product / service and that must be kept. You should categorize the customers in terms of their value to the organization:
§ Revenue (current and potential)
§ Brand value
§ New market beach head
§ New geo beach head
2. Initial Customer Contact: Initial customer contact is a crucial point in your relationship with the customer. Hence it is critical that you do all the necessary research on the customer account prior to the meeting whether it’s in person meeting or on the phone. The per-call prep can help you gain insights into customers:
o Current issues
As part of this initial introduction to the Customer, you must establish credibility by highlighting your relevant past experiences and listen intently by being the fly on the wall. One the key things to remember is that as a Product Manager you must align and fit well into the Sales team dynamics, since they are typically the owner of the customer relationships.
3. Basic Ground Rules for Ongoing Customer Engagement: Once your initial introduction is done, managing the ongoing customer contact is delicate balancing act. A customer managed properly can help take your product to the next level along with its revenue.
o You must establish basic ground rules:
§ Reviewing meeting agenda with the sales team
§ Sending meeting agenda in advance to the customer
§ Follow through plan after the meeting
§ Set up meeting success criteria
o You have to be careful not to overwhelm the Customer with long and frequent meetings since it can cause confusion and delay in reaching your goal. This is especially true when you and your Customers are geographically apart. Crisp, succinct and to the point conversation is critical for ongoing communication with any Customer.
o Remember the Buddha story about teaching Nirvana to a starving disciple? As long as the disciple was starving, there was no way he would have been interested in learning about Nirvana. Similarly, focus on the immediate needs of your Customer before offering him advance solutions. Once you solve Customer’s immediate business problems, he will be interested in working with you since trust in the relationship is built.
o It’s critical to set expectations when you have conversation with Customers. Typically, if you ask customers to share their pain points, they will open the floodgates and expect those pain points to be fixed immediately. Hence before asking the Customer to open the floodgates, you should make sure that you set the right Customer expectations so that Customer doesn’t loose interest and let down. No one wants to tell the same story again and again, especially if your organization is expected to fix at some point. This same principle goes for sharing product and services roadmap. You should help Customers understand that documents like these are for confidential and for directional purposes only.
These basic principles for managing customer interaction will vary based on geography, industry vertical, business model, company size, number of products, product life cycle, etc. But, if followed consistently will take your business to the next level by forging long lasting relationships with your loyal Customers...