Who should talk with customers?

If you want to be a bad product manager, don’t let other people developing products talk with actual customers. It’s your product, after all, and it’s your job to collect requirements and then pass them on to development. Why would they need to talk to people using the product? That’s time they could be spending enhancing the product and adding new features. They don’t need to know where the requirements are coming from — why customers are requesting certain things — they just need to know what to do. If they have any questions you can provide answers, or if they really need to know more you can give them a summary of your interviews and discussions.

If you want to be a good product manager, encourage others within your organization to learn about customers and users through first-hand interaction and help facilitate it. As a product manager, it’s your responsibility not just to document what the product needs to do but also to make sure others understand why the product needs to do that. In fact, it’s probably more important to communicate the market problems than anything else. If your product development team has a good solid understanding of the market problems and unmet customer needs, they can come up with innovative solutions to solving those.

Having product development staff interact with customers directly is a great way to get everyone to understand the customer needs and reinforce your vision and strategy. One hour with a customer can often be more powerful than dozens of hours recapping market research. When questions come up later, you can refer back to the customers you met with and provide specific examples that everyone will remember. It gives the team a shared understanding and helps build a common vision. Many people find it helps make work more meaningful, as once developers and designers and production staff meet with customers they get a much deeper appreciation for the impact of their work and the value it creates for the users. Good product managers not only encourage everyone to interact with customers, but help faciltate by creating opportunities and making arrangements to give everyone a chance to learn directly from customers.