Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Product Manager’s First Camping Trip

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Product Manager’s First Camping Trip

Sherlock Holmes takes his favorite Product Manager on a camping trip. After an evening of ghost stories and riddles, they settle into their sleeping bags. Around midnight, Holmes nudges the Product Manager awake.

“What is it, Holmes?” the PM asks.

“My friend,” Holmes says seriously. “Look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”

The Product Manager considers a moment. “I see trees and stars.”

Holmes nods. “And what does that tell you?”

The PM isn’t really in the mood for more riddles. But he remembers how Holmes planned and paid for the entire trip… the PM’s first-ever camping trip… so he puts aside his grumpiness and plays along.

“Well,” the PM begins. “Judging by the location of the Big Dipper and the North Star, I’d say that the time is approximately midnight. Theologically, it’s evident that God is all-powerful and that we are not. And based on the clear skies and pleasant temperatures, it seems we’ll have a nice day tomorrow.” He pauses. “Why, what does it tell you, Holmes?”

“It tells me,“ Holmes says, “that someone stole our tent!”

Stakeholder Support For Customer Interviews: Missing The Forest For The Trees

Sometimes when we’re too close to a problem, we can miss what’s right in front of our faces. When it comes to customer interviews, sales can abscond with our tents by fostering a culture that prevents product management from interviewing customers. But if we’re smart about it, we can recognize the missing tent and take action rather than just laying back and admiring the stars.

In the Udemy course “Insightful Customer Interviews for Product Managers” by Todd Birzer and Vivian Harris, the instructors provide several helpful ideas on how to reframe the internal conversation around customer interviews and build organizational support.

First, they acknowledge two truths:

  1. When sales and product management speak with customers, the goals are different
    • Sales wants to complete the sale – answer questions, dispose of objections
    • Product wants to explore – to deeply understand needs, motivations, provoke conversation
  2. Given sales’ goal, they’re concerned PMs will obstruct deals
    • Reality: Inexperienced PMs could talk with customers in a way that delays deals

The instructors then offer these suggestions for gaining support on customer discovery:

  1. Avoid large, active, sensitive deals
  2. Focus on less sensitive accounts – mid-size or smaller accounts, no immediate renewals
  3. Understand the account before engaging them in an interview

The advice resonated with me, especially tip #3.

In my experience, taking the time to understand the history of an account is critical — including current open issues. That way you can minimize the risk of putting yourself in front of an angry customer who is more interested in yelling at you than they are in providing insights and direction.

And who knows? You, sales, and the customer may end up enjoying the stars together under a nice, big tent. Just remember to bring your pipe and monocle.

Bonus Content

Comedian Ryan George recreates the totally true story of the first person to ever go camping:

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