Can anything really replace a good face-to-face customer meeting?


By Saeed Khan

Recently I managed to get out for a few days to meet with some customers. I talk to customers every month, but the vast majority of those discussions are by phone/webinar. And while a fair number of those calls are informative, it’s easy to forget what you lose in a conversation, when the other person (or people) are simply disembodied voices traveling across the phone line.

Meeting across the table vs. across the Web

One of the people I met with on the trip (let’s call her Sachiko) was someone with whom I’ve been communicating for about 18 months. We’ve had quite a few calls over that period of time discussing how she was using our products. She’s provided some great feedback over the last year and a half, and has introduced me to other members of her team. And I’ve had a couple of calls with a couple of them as well.

Having said that, there was a certain dynamic in the meeting that was clearly different than any of our phone-based discussions. As we were talking, the people in the meeting — Sachiko and a couple of her cow0rkers — provided details of company initiatives and issues we’d never discussed previously.  They also opened up about some product issues, previously unmentioned. It was a great discussion.

As I wrote up my notes that evening, I wondered why they’d never mentioned these things before. It seems there was a level of openness (or maybe trust?) that existed in the face-to-face meeting that wasn’t there over the phone. Perhaps actually seeing the person you’re speaking with and shaking their hand and greeting them in person changes our mindset about the person we are speaking to.

User Group Therapy?

The next day, I attended a local user group meeting. In this meeting, there were about 20 local area customers  who came out to a hotel for a day of education, discussion and networking. I love going to user group meetings because I always end up getting into great discussions with customers. Sometimes these are over lunch, or out in a hallway, or during some planned round-table sessions.

What’s surprising in these meetings, even though there are people from many companies there, honestly and openness abounds. Now I have to do a bit of initial prying to get people to open up, but once they do, and they feel comfortable,  the discussion blossoms. And there I am, the Product Manager, trying to figure out the best way to answer their questions, and at the same time get the input and opinions of almost two dozen customers seated right in front of me. How valuable is that?

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that if I’d taken some basic human psychology classes in university, they would have benefited me greatly in my current career. Although we spend a lot of time figuring out the best ways to manipulate technology to deliver great products, the real value we can deliver is to truly understand the people who we call our customers and prospects.

Face -to-face customer meetings are an investment, not an expense

And while I completely understand that given current economic conditions force us to be prudent with how we spend money — and air travel, hotels etc. can be quite costly — having face to face meetings that have NO sales agenda, should be seen as an investment with a huge payoff. Aside from the obvious additional insight gains, meeting people face-to-face strengthens whatever relationship you have with them. It’s basic human nature.

We are social creatures, but the huge irony of communication technology, and “social media” is that they claim to increase “connection” and “engagement” while simultaneously minimizing human contact. Sounds to me like a problem, not a solution.

What do you think? How important are face-to-face customer meetings in helping gain insight into your customers’ or prospects’ needs?


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The Most Important Skills for Product Managers are …

By Saeed Khan

Last week, I asked you (the readers), to answer the following questions –

What are the base skills, tools, knowledge etc. that are either necessary or VERY useful to have to be a great Product Manager?

And what’s typically missing that people should go out and learn?

There were a lot of great responses.Here’s a summary of what you said:

  • Communicating with customers. Being able to understand how they use the product and what they need is crucial.
  • Ability to talk to different audiences (from the high level discussion with the top management to very in-deep discussion with support)
  • Presentation skills
  • Understanding the technology behind the product
  • Domain knowledge for their products
  • Understanding development processes
  • Understanding UI/UX processes and working with those team members
  • Project management skills
  • Leading by influence
  • Market knowledge (current situation and what may happen on a short&long term, your market share, understanding of the competition)
  • Market research techniques
  • Customer vision (which are your customers, what reasons have they had when choosing your product, which are the competition’s customer, which is there profile, etc)
  • Ability to create medium and long term strategy
  • Enthusiasm and humor spirit
  • Analytical thinking, logical thinking

So what do you think of this list?  It’s not a bad list, but I’m surprised no one mentioned business skills and sales skills! Does that mean they are not important, or are not an issue with most PMs, or simply that they just weren’t mentioned?

Is there anything else missing? Are there tools or skills you’ve learned along the way that you’d recommend others learn about?

What would you say are the most important skills that most Product Managers (and their bosses) need to learn? i.e. that they don’t have today?


Tweet this: And the most important skills for Product Managers are… #prodmgmt #education

Guest Post: Creating Brand Advocates Without a Special Formula


NOTE: The following is a guest post by Amy Swanson. If you want to submit your own guest post, click here for more information.

Creating Brand Advocates Without a Special Formula

As someone who (at times) falls into the narcissistic Facebook user category, I regularly believe that my friends care about the brand of laundry detergent I use and the kind of coffee brand I love. I can’t help it; when I find a new product that I really love, I tell others about it. I blame part of this on my marketing degree—since I know that every brand impression helps grow a company—and on the fact that I do genuinely want to help others.

Highly-engaged consumers help your brand become adopted and advocated by others, and they will ultimately create more recognition for your brand and product. How you get them on your brand’s side, though, is the question.

What’s the Secret?
Adoption of your product can be tricky, but don’t make it any more complicated than what it is. People will only want to adopt your products if they exceed expectations, so you should aim to please. Your goal is to get to the point where consumers can’t even imagine not using your product every day!

To get there, remember the following:

  • You need to properly identify the needs of your target market. What Consumer A wants may not be as important to Consumer B.
  • Internal motivations (personal needs, aspirations, and ideal self) as well as external motivations (need for acceptance among peers) are major factors in whether or not a product is used. Be sure to address both motivators accordingly for the highest level of success.
  • When your mom said “life won’t always be like high school,” she wasn’t being completely truthful. Popular and trusted endorsements can greatly influence adoption, since all that really matters to consumers is what the ‘cool kids’ think. Figuring out who exactly those cool kids are is different for each market, though.
  • When a product improves the user’s life at every stage of interaction, emotional bonds are built and loyalty and a strong brand relationship are strengthened. Once those bonds are established, your brand will be easily adopted into your customers’ everyday routines.

Advocate, Don’t Annoy
When you hear the word ‘advocate,’ there’s probably an outdated image of a protester from 1960 burned into your mind. Brand advocates don’t quite fit that stereotype, however; an advocate of your company wants to share the discovery of a product or brand that improved their life and can help others do the same.

Just like the product adoption process, you need to completely shatter their expectations (not just meet or slightly surpass them) in order to gain an advocate. If it’s necessary, you’ll want to update your image before taking on such a task. To increase your brand advocates, understand that consumers want to feel understood, appreciated, and rewarded for their passion of sharing your brand with others.

Have you ever experienced that feeling of knowing something that nobody else around you seems to understand? That’s exactly what consumers love feeling, too! If you’re ready to get some advocates on your side, here are some tips to remember:

  • Make them feel knowledgeable about your product by providing as much information as you can about it on your website. Give them all the facts and stats so that all potential questions can be accurately answered.
  • Keep up on your Twitter account and Facebook account. Engage with your followers and fans on a regular—not on an excessive—basis. Try not to exceed two posts a day on your Facebook account, but more frequent posts on your Twitter will keep people checking back to see what you’ve posted.
  • Make fans feel heroic for passing on your brand’s attributes and benefits to their friends and family. Sincerely thank them if they post on your Facebook wall or if they send a Tweet telling you they’ve introduced new people to your brand. Also, offering them a coupon or a discount can go further than you think!

Ask, Don’t Just Assume
Whether you consider yourself a narcissistic Facebook user or not, chances are you’re at least friends with a few of them. Embrace those advocates and find out why they’re adopting your product and how you can further that interaction by having them share with their friends. You may even find that they love your product for some other use you had never considered before, or you could even market to another group you didn’t initially think to target. You’ll find that the formula for success isn’t so secret, just maybe one you hadn’t thought of before!


Amy Swanson is a part of the marketing department at Quality Logo Products and regularly contributes to their promotional products blog. She is a self-professed newspaper and business nerd.

Tweet this: Guest Post: Creating Brand Advocates Without a Special Formula #prodmgmt #socmedia #innovation

Open Question: Top skills every Product Manager should know/learn?

By Saeed Khan

Last week I had the pleasure of hosting my second #prodmgmttalk Twitter chat.

These are held weekly on Monday 4PM PST (Tuesday morning in Australia) and are setup and run by Cindy Solomon (@cindyfsolomon) and Adrienne Tan (@actan).

The topic was Essential Product Management Education, Knowledge and Skills. You can see a full recap of the talk here.

Here’s the question:

Given there are few formal education programs for Product Management, and that most of us got into this field “accidentally”, and likely learned on the job,  what are the base skills, tools, knowledge etc. that are either necessary or VERY useful to have to be a great Product Manager?

And what’s typically missing that people should go out and learn?

So, I’ll stop there, and leave the responses up to you.

Please answer in the comments on this post. I’ll summarize if needed in the near future.

BTW, I’ve also posted this question on Quora — here — in case you are interested in reading what that community has to say.


Tweet this: Open Question – Top skills every Product Manager should know/learn? #prodmgmt #prodmgmttalk #education