Do Product Managers Understand What They’re Hearing?
That’s why we’re visiting with customers, talking with them on Twitter, conducting surveys, blogging, etc.
But, do we really understand what we’re hearing?
Doc Savage Told Me A Story Once
At a training seminar last week, the instructor (literally named “Doctor Savage” — and, yes, he was a little on the bronze side, thanks for asking) put the following sentence on the projector and asked us what it meant:
Woman without her man is nothing
Some people read it as, “Woman: Without her, man is nothing.”
Others read it as, “Woman, without her man, is nothing”. Those people were labeled mysoginists, and booted from the class.
The point of this “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” exercise was, of course, to get us thinking about communication and how our own biases can get in the way of hearing what others are saying.
“It’s Not You, It’s Me”
How do you blast through your own biases and really listen to the market?
Scott Sehlhorst has a fairly detailed list of active listening tips — if you haven’t read them yet, go check them out; they’re important — and the comments delve into some of the drawbacks to certain techniques while offering alternatives.
However, setting up your listening posts, and really listening to people, only gets you 2/3 of the way to effectively hearing what they’re saying.
Context Is King
The last leg of the listening trifecta is the good kind of discrimination, the kind that leads to comprehension — critically evaluating the sources and what they’re saying.
As Tom Grant points out in “When Communities Smother Your Product“:
Over time, a subset of customers emerge who participate regularly in user group meetings, discussion forums, the comments sections of blogs, groups in social media channels, and other channels of face-to-face and electronic communication. Because vendors are interested in feedback, this group of notables get increasing attention from product managers, product marketers, and the like. Unless the company takes deliberate steps to mitigate the Iron Law of Oligarchy, a small and often unrepresentative sample of users will wield disproportionate influence over the vendor’s thinking about products and services.
We spend so much time talking about listening, and doing it well, that sometimes we take away the wrong lessons, or an incomplete lesson.
Is it important to listen to customers? Absolutely; of course.
Just make sure you put their feedback into context — that you don’t become so attendant to the loudest subset of your customers that you cut yourself off from other customers. The ones without megaphones, who would value what you’re offering, too.